I am sure the diagnosis came as a shock. It was cancer and the prognosis was not good. The man must have looked at what he had made of his life, weighed the good and the bad against one another, and realized that his 13 year old son was his crowning achievement. He was a good kid, honest, innocent and open to the experiences of the world, but not without that streak of mischievousness that all boys his age had. He would, in time, become a fine man but there remained a long road to manhood. A road he would soon have to walk alone.
The man knew he would miss so many important moments in the boy’s life, the baseball games, high school, his first date, his graduation, college and career. He would never meet the boy’s wife or be there to see him hold his children. Still, there was one thing he could do, never mind the fact that there were years left to go before the boy could get his driver’s license, a rite of passage that had bound father and son together for decades. He could buy the boy his first car and then pass on in the knowledge that he had been able to help his son reach at least one of life’s great milestones.
I was always on the lookout for a cheap car. Of course I had a fairly late model Dodge Shadow at home and didn’t really need another, but the old Plymouth Scamp caught my attention the moment I saw it sitting alone and unloved beside the ramshackle trailer house. I knew all about old Plymouths and Dodges, my family had enjoyed a long relationship with a 1968 Dodge Dart so I knew the old cars were solid. My father had found it for sale under a coat of thick dust at the edge of a farmer’s field and brought it home for my oldest sister, Lee, when I was about 10 years old. It was as plain as they came, as simple as a stone axe and, with its venerable slant six engine and an automatic transmission, practically as indestructible.
After Lee had finished college and switched to a brand new Chevrolet Chevette, the Dart had gone to my other sister, Connie, who hated its Spartan simplicity. She chaffed at is lack of style and sluggish performance and eventually dumped it into a ditch beside the highway, tearing the front suspension out from underneath it. My father had it towed home and proceeded to fix it in the driveway with nothing hand tools and a big damned hammer in less than a day. Despite her hopes to be rid of the basic old car, Connie ended up using it for another three years before finally splurging on a little, white convertible and then, eventually, to a Nissan 200SX.
The old Plymouth piqued my interest and I kept my eye on it for a week or two. It sat, forlorn and unloved with the grass growing up around it and when I was satisfied that it never moved, I turned into the driveway to make my offer. I was met by a tired looking woman, a man who I took to be her husband and several kids ranging in age from a few years to mid-teens. The woman was eager to talk about the old car, it was supposed to be her son’s she told me, and from there the whole story spilled out. Her former husband had purchased the car for the boy prior to his death, had it put into good mechanical shape and then passed away. Despite the tragic back story the boy, she told me, had no real interest in the car. His father, it seems, had also left a motorcycle and the boy wanted that instead.
After a bit more conversation, we struck a deal and I took the car home. There were a couple of small mechanical issues to sort out, but once it was up to snuff the old car ran like a top. It was a fun weekend cruiser but eventually I headed back to sea and I ended up using the little Scamp as a pier car. When I was at sea, the car spent most of its time stashed under a viaduct near the Port of Tacoma waiting for me to roll in from a 35 day trip to Asia whereupon it would be put into immediate service carrying me on a full day’s worth of errands before being returned to its place just before we cast off for another run. It made my life a lot easier and I was glad I had it, but when I gave up the sea for life as a college man I let the car go.
I won’t say I didn’t enjoy the old car. It had a sort of honest, upright styling that seemed so old and outdated at the time and so enviably classic today. But looking back, I’m not sure now if I should have purchased it. There is something sacred about a man’s dying wishes and his desire to be there for his son after he is gone. It doesn’t matter if his widow and her new husband, or even the son himself thinks different, the man’s desire to help his son into manhood should have been honored. It’s sad to think that his final act of love was worth just $800. Sadder still that, in the end, I may be the only one who remembers it.
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast, he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.