After I got my Driver’s License, I drove my dad’s car – a hulking, white Ford Galaxie 500. Those cars were HUGE, like battleships on the street. One night I was out with my girlfriend and I decided a car that big would work as an off-road vehicle. I turned down a dirt road that was really more of a horse-trail or something that led back into some woods. In Florida where I lived at the time dirt roads are mostly sand. And this one was muddy. I don’t know what I was thinking.
Actually, I do know what I was thinking but I don’t want to go there.
It wasn’t long up that road that the tires started spinning faster than we were moving. I decided I better back out. But the tires just dug in. The car wouldn’t move. The back tires had settled into a muddy dip in the road and weren’t coming out. I tried to rock it out, frantically slashing the gear shift from Drive to Reverse and back again, over and over. But the car wouldn’t budge.
My dad’s car wouldn’t budge.
I hopped out and told my girlfriend to get into the driver’s seat. I sprinted to the back of the car and dug into the muddy sand as best I could. I put my shoulder against the wide rear of that car. I told my girlfriend to gun the engine.
As you might imagine, mud and sand pelted me until I yelled at my girlfriend, “STOP!”.
Panicked, I started digging around the tires with my hands. It was my dad’s car. His transportation to work. My dad was big on taking care of things, making them last, returning them in better shape than you took them. I had to get that car out of there . . . or else.
After several minutes of fruitless pawing at the mud, I stood up, exhausted. There had been a phone booth (remember those?) not too far back on the main road. My girlfriend and I began to walk. I wasn’t an unChristian yet, but I already had lots of doubts about God. On that walk, I offered God a variety of deals. Get the car out and I’ll go to church willingly. Get the car out and I’ll read the Bible. Get the car out and I’ll never “go offroad” with my girlfriend again. Get the car out and . . .
We reached the phone booth, and I started calling my closest friends. I’m not sure what I thought they could do, but it didn’t matter because it was Friday night and none of them were home, anyway. Finally, I had one dime left.
And one more prayer. “God, please let my mom answer the phone.”
“Hello,” my dad said.
Briefly I thought of telling him I’d “lost” the car. “Don’t know what happened to it. One minute it was there . . . ”
But I knew he wouldn’t buy it. So I told him I was stuck and where I was. He said he’d be there as soon as he could.
He didn’t say anything when he got there but it was clear he was mad. I was in the worst trouble of my life. I’d gotten my father’s car stuck and he was nothing if not practical. For him, the car was a tool, and you didn’t play with tools. And what was I doing driving down that dirt road in the first place? I don’t think he bought my, “We were looking for a place where we could talk alone because we never get to talk just by ourselves.”
After he saw the car wasn’t going to budge, we walked back to the pay phone where he called a tow truck.
Then came a looong, silent wait. Eventually, the tow truck got there and pulled the car out. I watched my father paying – every bill he put into that driver’s hand felt like a slap upside my head. It was like he was counting out the days, months . . . years of my impending grounding. I was sure my driving days were done.
After the tow truck pulled away, dad said, “Take you girlfriend home and come straight home.”
I didn’t talk to my girlfriend at all on that drive. Fear will silence you that way. I was also waxing nostalgic about driving. After all, this was probably the Last Time I’d Be Able To Drive, at least until I got out of college.
When I got home, I really looked at the car for the first time. It was a muddy mess, inside and out. I took my time examining the car – I was in no hurry to get into the house.
Finally, I went in, and there was my father in his La-z-boy recliner.
Except he wasn’t reclining.
There was no point in excuses or explanations. “Dad, I’m really, really . . . really sorry.” He kind of glanced at me, and I wondered what kind of punishments were going to be heaped upon me besides not driving – grounding, extra chores, the rack?
Slowly, dad rose from the chair. He looked right at me, and said, “I know you’re sorry. Just get the car cleaned up. I’m going to bed.”
That was it. I thought he was going to let me have it in the morning, but he didn’t say anything about it. My dad died not too many years later when I was 25, and he never said another word about that night. He didn’t ground me and he didn’t hold onto my mistake to use against me.
I was simply . . . forgiven.