[Explanatory post here.]
Chapter 7: Little Boy Dreams
Emma spun the wheel and turned onto a gravel road about ten miles south of Chauncey. A car trailer she had borrowed from someone in town bounced along behind her truck, empty for the moment. Nate rode shotgun, staring off down the road, lost in thought.
He looked up when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “So you really think you can rebuild a car like that?” Pastor McPherson asked.
“I have some experience working on cars,” Nate shrugged, “I’m pretty sure I can handle it.”
“You’ll probably need help.”
“Yeah, but I don’t really know anybody around here to ask.”
“You know me.”
Nate turned around and stared at him in disbelief for a moment. He finally shrugged and shook his head. “I somehow should have suspected you would know how to fix cars.”
“Did a tour of duty in the Navy working on jets, son. I also do all of the work on my own cars. I can fix anything.”
“Can’t argue with that. You’re hired.”
Right after seeing the sign in the store on Monday Nate had called the number and talked to the owner. He found out the car was still available and that he could come see it right away. Emma had driven him out to the owner’s house. Tantalizing images of a pristine red Cadillac danced in front of his eyes the entire trip, as if the car had simply sat in Kansas, waiting for him to get in and drive it away.
They’d arrived at a large green and white farmhouse sitting across a well-manicured lawn from a massive barn and a pair of silos. It was the first truly stereotypically rural scene Nate had seen since arriving in town. The car’s owner was sitting on the porch waiting for them when the truck pulled in and had led them down to the barn.
At his first sight of the car Nate’s heart sank. It was sitting in the back corner of the barn, partially submerged under a pile of hay. The owner, who identified himself as George, had led them around the dilapidated, rusted out mess. Several times during the tour Nate had looked over at Emma and found her face scrunched up in a look of disgust and confusion. She looked even more confused when Nate ran his hand over one of the fins, smiled and told George he’d take it.
Over glasses of lemonade up in the house Nate and George had agreed on a price. After writing a check for $1200 as a ten percent deposit, Nate had promised to come back for the car on Saturday. George told him that he would clean the car off as much as possible by then.
Since then Nate had done as much as possible to prepare for the arrival of the car. He recruited McPherson to help in case moving the heavy vehicle required extra muscle. Most of his free time for the rest of the week was spent cleaning out the garage next to his rented house and assembling the tools he would need for the job. Emma’s Uncle Earl had apparently been quite handy and Nate was able to find jack stands, wrenches and almost everything else he would need for the task either in the garage or in the basement.
Thoughts of the car had consumed him ever since Monday. When his television arrived on Wednesday he had barely noticed. That same day he had accepted Rockafeller’s job offer, but his first couple days went by in an almost complete blur. Fortunately he had not yet had to do anything more consequential than fill out paperwork.
As the truck once again pulled up next to the farmhouse, Nate couldn’t contain his excitment. His dream was about to come true. Even having a lot of work ahead of him didn’t mar that thought too much. Really, in the end the car would mean more to him if he had to work for it. He couldn’t remember ever having to work for the things he had, anyway.
Emma brought the truck to a stop and the front door of the house opened. George walked out, followed by a plump, round-faced woman. She smiled broadly at the occupants of the truck. Nate slid out of the truck and held his hand out.
“Good to see you again, Mr. Lassiter,” George said, shaking the offered hand. He turned to Emma as she walked around the truck and nodded slightly. “Ms. Kent.”
“George. Good to see you.”
George then turned to the pastor and stuck his hand out. “Pastor McPherson.”
McPherson shook hands. “George.”
George then turned back to Nate. “This is my wife Deborah,” he said, introducing the woman.
“Nice to meet you,” Nate smiled at the woman.
“It’s good to meet you,” she said. “And I expect you to take good care of that car.”
“I plan on it, Ma’am.”
“It was my father’s, you know. He loved that car, took care of it until the day he died.”
“That’s what your husband tells me.” He wanted to say more, tell her what the car would mean to him, but he wasn’t sure he could find the words.
“Well,” George cut off any possible follow up, “Let’s go get it out of the barn. I cleaned it up, but it’s got a flat tire on the back, so it’ll be hard to move.”
“That’s why they brought me,” McPherson said.
“A man of God should always be ready to do some work,” George smiled slightly, “Dirt under the fingernails is good for the soul.”
“I fully agree,” McPherson slapped the other man on the shoulder, “You’re a wise man, George. Wiser than I’ll ever be.” He started walking down toward the barn, leading the rest of the group.
The pastor was the first to enter the cool, dark interior of the barn. He let out a long, low whistle as he did. As Nate walked in behind him the other man turned and smiled. “It’s a real beauty, Nate,” he said, smiling widely.
George had cleared all of the hay and various other pieces of debris off the car and Nate got his first good look at the front end. The signature doubled headlights and chrome grille and bumper glistened in the weak sunlight streaming into the barn.
“You’re kidding, right?” Emma asked, coming to a stop between the two men. “This thing is a mess. I was kind of hoping you’d mention that too him.”
“Ah,” McPherson patted her on the shoulder, “That’s what you think.” He walked up to the car and ran his hand along the front quarter panel. “See, you look at this car and see a rusted out pile of junk that has seen better days. Nate and I look at this car and see that those better days still are yet to come.”
“Come on,” Emma responded, shaking her head, “You’ve got to be out of your mind if you think that car is going to see better days.”
“I don’t think you understand what a man sees when he looks at a car,” McPherson said, “Especially a car as rare and special as this one.” He reached the door and attempted to pull it open. It wouldn’t budge, so he contented himself with leaning through the open window to examine the dashboard. “A car like this is almost a spiritual thing,” he continued explaining, “It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t understand, but for those who do it doesn’t even need to be spoken.”
“Exactly,” Nate added. He turned to Emma. “Just you wait. In almost no time this car will be bright and shining and you’ll see what we mean.”
“Well in that case,” she teased, “I expect to get the first ride in this thing.”
He smiled broadly, ignoring the hint of disbelief in her voice. “Deal.”
“Hey, can we get going with this?” George asked, walking up to the car. “I’ve got a lot of work to get done today.”
“Good idea,” Nate responded. “I don’t want to take up your time.”
Emma turned around and walked out of the barn. “I’ll bring the truck around,” she said over her shoulder.
George put the car into neutral and Nate joined McPherson at the back end. Grunting and straining, the three men worked the car out of the deep ruts in the dirt of the barn it had sunk into. The car obviously hadn’t moved in years. They finally got it rocking just enough to gain momentum and pushed it up and out of the holes. A little more grunting and cussing and the car was out of the barn and into the morning sunlight. Even after years of neglect the chrome of the bumpers and accents sparkled in the morning sun.
McPherson rubbed one of the few non-rusted sections of the body. “This car used to be black,” he announced.
“Yep,” George nodded.
“I remember the ad you put up. The picture in the grocery store showed a red car.”
“We just took a picture out of a magazine.”
Nate raised an eyebrow as something he had puzzled over since Tuesday clicked into place. “That explains a lot.”
“Figured it would make more sense to show a picture of a good car than this one,” George patted the steering wheel, “A man who knows cars would know what to do, anyway.”
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You’re a wise man, George,” McPherson said, slapping the farmer on the back.
George chuckled. “Tell that to my wife.”
“I just might.”
Emma pulled the truck up and rolled down the window. “How are we going to do this?” she asked.
“We’re going to have to put the rear wheels onto the trailer,” McPherson said, studying the flat tire, “So we’ll probably have to turn the car around.” He scanned the area in front of the barn for a moment. “There’s just not much space to turn the truck around with the car on the back.”
“That’s what I thought,” Emma nodded. She gestured back up the driveway. “I’ll go turn the truck around.”
Ten minutes later they had managed to manhandle the car up onto the trailer and secure it. Nate reached into the car and locked the steering wheel in place, then used the seatbelt to tie it down.
“Why are you doing that?” George asked.
“Keeps the front wheels from coming loose while we’re towing it,” Nate explained. “If they start turning it could rip the trailer right off the back of the truck.”
“I had a buddy who paid his way through college driving tow trucks. I rode with him a few times and he taught me some tricks.” He scratched an imaginary itch on the back of his neck. “I never really thought I’d be able to use them, though.”
“You never know what you’ll need to know later in life, son,” George said in an almost fatherly tone, “That’s why it’s important to learn as much as possible.”
Deborah appeared on the porch. “Would y’all like to come in for a drink before you go?” she asked.
McPherson wiped his brow. “That sounds like an excellent idea.”
They went into the house and found Deborah had prepared a pitcher of lemonade. She poured it into five tall glasses filled with ice and they all sat down at the kitchen table.
Nate reached into his pocket and pulled out his checkbook. “I suppose now’s as good a time as any,” he said.
“You sure did come at the right time,” Deborah said. “We’ve had a few problems this year. We weren’t sure how we were going to cover all the bills this month.”
George looked at her in surprise. His brow furrowed in anger, as if his wife had just given away a deep, dark secret.
The pastor saw his expression. “I told you,” McPherson patted her on the arm, trying to diffuse her husband’s wrath, “God will provide.”
Nate stopped writing the check and looked up. “Are you saying this is some sort of miracle?”
The pastor looked at him for a moment without speaking. Slowly, deliberately, he lifted his glass of lemonade and took a long swig. He put glass down and leaned forward. “Seems to me as though there are a lot of miracles around you right now, Nate,” he said, “They’re just not obvious unless you’re looking for them.”
“So you’re saying that God had me get fed up with my life so that I could leave home and buy a car so that someone I’d never met before this week could pay their mortgage?”
“No, Nate, I’m not saying that you’re life has been uprooted just for this.”
Nate spit his next words through clenched teeth. “It sure sounds like it.”
George and Deborah exchanged uncomfortable looks. “Uh, pastor,” George said, scratching the back of his neck, “I hate to seem inhospitable, but like I said, I have a lot of work to do.”
“Of course,” McPherson nodded, offering an understanding look. “We’ve got to get the car back to the house, anyway. I told my wife I’d be back home before noon.”
Nate silently finished writing the check and handed it to George. Everyone stood awkwardly and headed to the front door. George and Deborah walked them out to the porch, but didn’t step into the yard as Nate, Emma and the pastor walked down to the truck.
“See you tomorrow?” McPherson called back as Nate and Emma climbed into the cab.
“Of course, Pastor,” George responded. “We never miss a sermon.”
McPherson got into the truck and Emma pulled out of the driveway. They made the trip back to Nate’s rented house in silence.
“Where do you want me to drop this?” Emma asked as she pulled into the driveway.
“Can you get it up to the garage?” Nate asked.
“I can put it into the garage, if you want.”
“How about we just get it to the door?”
“Fine. Give me directions.”
Nate hopped out of the cab and directed her where to go as she expertly backed the truck up to the open door of the garage. He unhooked the car from the trailer and pushed the car the rest of the way into the garage with McPherson’s help.
Once Nate knew the Cadillac was all the way in, he turned to the pastor. “Thanks for all your help today.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“And, look,” Nate looked down at his feet, “About my little outburst. Sorry.”
McPherson chuckled. “You just don’t see it yet. There’s nothing you have to apologize for.”
“I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Don’t worry about it. I forgive you.”
The pastor stuck his hand out. “Let me know when you need my help fixing this thing up,” he said.
Nate shook the offered hand firmly. “Will do.”
“I’ll see you in church tomorrow?”
Nate paused for a second. “Yeah,” he nodded. “You will.”
“Good.” McPherson turned to Emma. “And I assume you’ll be there.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then.” McPherson got into his car and started to pull out of the driveway. At the end he stopped and stuck his head out the window. “Oh, Nate, one more thing,” he yelled.
“I don’t think we’ve seen our last miracle around you.”
“I think we’re just starting.”
“I’ll keep my eyes open, then,” Nate shook his head. “Now get out of here. I think I hear your wife calling.”
Laughing, the pastor pulled his head back into the car and sped off in a cloud of dust and gravel. Nate again found himself alone with Emma. This time it was different, somehow. With the Cadillac he now felt like he had put down roots, no matter how tenuous and fragile.
They stood in silence for long moments. Finally tired of the quiet, Nate turned to Emma. “He’s not going to hold anything against me, is he?”
She shook her head. “Nope.”
“You want him to stay mad at you?”
“Then stop worrying about it. I don’t think he’s capable of holding grudges.”
“So,” she turned and looked back at the car, “You gonna get to work?”
Nate wiped his brow and shook his head. “Too hot out. Besides, there’s a baseball game starting in a half hour.”
She rolled her eyes. “Well as long as you know to focus on the important things in life.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’ve been excited about that car all week. Now it’s here and you want to go watch baseball.” She shrugged. “It just seems odd, that’s all.”
“I’m very excited about the car,” he said, “But now it’s mine and I’ve got all the time in the world to get to work. I’ve waited twenty years for this, so what’s three more hours?”
“It’s all about perspective.” Nate turned toward the house, “You want to come watch the game with me?”
“I didn’t really have any plans. Sure.”
* * *
Emma stayed until ten o’clock that night. When she left it was with a promise from Nate that he would be ready for church the next morning. He was standing on the porch at 9:15 the next morning when her truck pulled into the driveway.
“You’re a man of your word,” she said as he hopped up into the cab.
Nate shrugged. “It makes more sense to do what I say I’m going to do than explain why I should still be trusted,” he paused, “At least in my book.”
“Eh,” he shrugged, “I do my best.”
She put the truck in gear and pulled out onto Leonard Road. “Did you sleep well?”
“As well as possible, I guess.”
“What does that mean?”
“I’ve been having a hard time sleeping since I left Chicago. It’s really frustrating.”
“Yeah. I suppose I was kind of asking for it.”
“Mostly. I keep dreaming that something is chasing me.”
“Hmm. How very cliché.”
He offered her a bemused smile. “What? I’m not interesting enough for you?”
“Nah,” she laughed. “It’s just that everyone dreams about being chased or falling. It’s old and kind of boring.”
“That’s right. You’re a psychologist.”
“So what does my dream mean, then?”
“Well,” she paused, “I don’t really remember my Freud too much, but I’m pretty sure that your dreams mean you’re running away from something. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s something scary, like something you’re afraid of.”
“I think I just figured out why you’re a grade school teacher and not a psychiatrist.”
She hit him on the shoulder.
“What was that for?”
“Keep it up. Women really like it when you mock them.”
“Hey. I was just making conversation,” he tried to sound hurt and started rubbing his shoulder for effect. “Besides, you were making fun of me.”
“Sure. You’re a man. That makes you fair game.”
“Ah. I’ve always wondered how that worked. Never seemed fair, though.”
“It’s not. Deal with it.”
She swung the truck into the Chauncey Bible Church parking lot, effectively cutting off all further conversation. After parking, she led him through the back door of the church again. Instead of the sounds of praise music, they were greeted by muffled conversation from the sanctuary.
“Good,” Emma commented, “We’re on time.”
The first person Nate saw as they entered the main sanctuary was George. A flash of recognition crossed the other man’s face as he saw Nate. George touched the shoulder of the woman to his right and Nate realized it was Deborah. The couple cut off their conversation and made their way across the room to where Nate and Emma were standing.
“Good to see you, Nate,” George said, holding out in hand.
Nate stuck out his own hand and the two men shook firmly. “Good to see you, too.” He turned to Deborah, “And you, also.”
She smiled. “Mornin’ Nate. Emma.”
“I wanted to tell you this yesterday,” George said, “But I didn’t get the chance. Be sure to bring that car by when you have it all fixed up.”
“Of course,” Nate replied. He paused for a second, then decided it would be best to say what was on his mind. “Look, George…about what I said yesterday…”
“Don’t worry about that. I didn’t take any offense.”
“Still,” he paused self-consciously, “I shouldn’t have said what I said. Just because I don’t believe in miracles or things like that doesn’t mean that I should just dismiss your troubles.”
George put his hand on Nate’s shoulder and smiled. “Way I see it, just because you don’t believe that the good Lord provides, that doesn’t mean He doesn’t. You may think it’s silly, but I believe that you came along and bought that car because God knew I needed the money.”
“Okay, then,” Nate replied, unsure of what to think.
Pastor McPherson stepped up onto the stage, ending any thought Nate had of responding. “Welcome, everyone,” he said, his voice booming throughout the room. “Please have a seat and we can begin offering worship to the Lord.”
George smiled at Nate and Emma. “You’re welcome to sit with us, if you’d like.”
“Thank you,” Emma replied, returning the smile.
They all moved to a pew a few rows back on the right side of the church. “This is where we always sit,” Deborah whispered to Nate, noting his confusion as they passed several unoccupied spaces.
The band had assembled on stage and began playing a worship song as Nate settled into a spot between Emma and George. He gamely attempted to sing along, but soon decided he was terribly off-key and stopped. Embarrassed, he looked at Emma out of the corner of his eye to see if she had noticed.
She noticed he was looking at her and offered a reassuring smile. “You’re doing fine,” she whispered, patting him on the shoulder. He smiled back, but remained silent.
The singing eventually stopped and Pastor McPherson mounted the steps to the stage. Nate tuned him out as he called the children forward, then remained disconnected for the rest of the service. He found his own problems far more absorbing than church, and having a good relationship with the pastor didn’t seem to change that fact. When McPherson offered the benediction, Nate realized he hadn’t really heard a single word. He wondered if the pastor would feel offended, then realized there was no way he would find out.
George stood up and stuck his hand out. “Good to see you again,” he said, “Stop by if you’ve got nothing to do, we’ll put you to work.”
Nate mentally shook himself, then stood up. “Will do,” he responded, grasping the offered hand.
“Emma,” George said, nodding.
“See you around, George,” she responded, “And you, Deborah.”
“Take care of yourselves,” Deborah said, “God bless.”
Emma turned and led him out of the aisle and toward the back door of the church. She pushed open the door and Nate was nearly blinded by the sunlight that came streaming in. They stepped outside and Nate found himself standing in the middle of the church potluck. He heard the sound of a car starting in the parking lot and knew it was Rockafeller’s Lincoln. Shaking his head at the thought of the man’s behavior, Nate sat down in a nearby chair.
“So,” a familiar voice said from behind him, “How do you like the bank so far?”
Nate turned and found Bill Pearson staring down at him. “It’s not bad. I haven’t really done enough to decide if I like it or not.”
“I see.” Bill grabbed a chair and pulled it next to Nate’s. “Mind if I ask a question?”
“Why does the boss like you?”
Nate stared at the other man blankly for a moment, unable to do anything more than blink slowly. “Excuse me?” he finally managed.
“He treats you a lot better than he’s ever treated me, and I’ve worked for him for almost ten years.” Bill lowered his voice, “To be honest, I’m a little jealous.”
“I don’t really know, but that’s what my wife tells me.”
“So you just assume she’s right?”
Bill shrugged, “She’s usually right about these things.” He lowered his voice conspiratorially. “One day when you’re married, you’ll understand how it works. If the wife says something, it’s just best to agree and move on.”
“Ah.” Nate shook his head in amusement. “To answer your question, no. No I don’t have any idea why the boss would seem to like me so much.”
“That’s too bad.”
“I was going to ask for your secret.”
“Gotcha.” Nate leaned back and thought about the question. “You know what it could be,” he said after a little bit, “This might be a bit off, but it’s the best I can do.”
“Where are you from?”
“Right here, actually. I was born in Chauncey.”
“Then Rockafeller probably doesn’t respect your background. I’m from Chicago, so he might think I know more than you do.”
“I have an MBA, you know.”
“So do I,” Nate shrugged, “Well, a Masters in Finance. It doesn’t matter if all he thinks is important is whether you’re from a big city or not.”
“It hardly seems fair.”
“You’re right. But there’s nothing you or I can do about it.”
“Yeah,” Bill stood up. “Sorry to bother you.”
“Don’t worry about it. Besides, I’m sure I’ll figure out something to piss the boss off before too long and we’ll be on an even playing field.”
“Okay. See you tomorrow.”
Bill walked off, leaving Nate to his thoughts. He wasn’t alone for very long when Emma appeared and took the empty seat. “How are you doing?” she asked.
“Planning on eating?”
She sat silently next to him, her dark eyes scanning him and seeming to drink in every detail. Nate began to feel naked, as if she were reading his thoughts.
Her next question dispelled that theory. “What are you thinking about?”
“Yeah. I never did anything about my mail service. I’ve been gone for two weeks now, and I’d be willing to bet it’s a problem.”
“Call someone. Ask them to handle it.”
“I figured I’d give my buddy Vince a call today, ask him to pick it up and send it here.”
“Huh,” she responded, shrugging, “You ready to go?”
They walked back to the truck and then drove to the house in silence. Emma seemed to start to speak several times, but stopped before any words came. Nate sensed she had something important to say, but had no idea what it was.
“So what are your plans for the day?” he asked as she pulled into his driveway.
“I’ve got some homework to grade, but that’s about it. You?”
He gestured over to the garage. “I was going to get to work on the car.”
“Sounds like fun.”
Nate smiled. “I’m looking forward to it. Want to stick around for a while?”
“Nah,” she shook her head, “I’d only get in your way.”
“Okay.” He opened the door and started to get out. Halfway out the door he stopped as she put her hand on his shoulder.
“The annual Founder’s Day Dance is coming up in a couple of weeks,” she spoke slowly, haltingly, “It’s a thing we do at the end of June. The whole town comes and there’s food and things like that.”
She nodded, “Yeah. Obviously.”
“And you probably want to know if I want to go with you.”
“Yeah.” She took her hand off his shoulder and held it up defensively. “But not as a date or anything. Just, you know…”
“I’m sure I don’t have anything else to do that day,” Nate replied, attempting to rescue her from the strange awkwardness that had suddenly overtaken her, “I’d love to go.”
“Good, then. I was worried you might be offended that I’d bring it up, you know with what’s been going on in your life and all.”
Nate shook his head. “Trust me, I wouldn’t be offended by that. It’s not a problem.”
He slid out of the truck and closed the door. She put it in gear and disappeared down Leonard Road. Nate hopped up onto the porch and opened the front door. Molly squeezed around him and outside before he even had it fully open.
“Wanna help me work on the car?” he asked. She leaped off the porch and out into the driveway in response. He shrugged. “I’ll take that as a ‘yes.'”
He stepped off the porch and walked to the garage. The Cadillac sat inside the open door in exactly the same condition as when it arrived the day before. Very little of the original paint remained. What was left was often accompanied by a ding, dent or rust patch. Hay and dirt from the pile under which it had resided for years covered the floor and back seat. Popping the hood he found the engine was also quite far from clean. Old, burned oil and grime covered the compartment, which also had its fair share of hay and dirt.
“This is going to take some work,” he told Molly. “A lot of work.” The dog snorted at the thought and went to lie in the grass next to the garage.
Deciding he would need some extra motivation, Nate walked back into the house and turned on the stereo. After pointing the speakers out the window he returned to the garage. A pair of old leather work gloves sat on the hand-made work bench at the back of the small building. Pulling them on, Nate set to work cleaning out the interior of the car.
Half an hour later he had a neat pile of rubbish sitting at the front of the garage when McPherson pulled up. “How’s everything going?” the pastor asked as he got out of the car.
“Not bad so far,” Nate replied, taking off his right glove and wiping the sweat off his brow. “Haven’t really done much yet.”
McPherson walked up to the car and rubbed the hood. “You’ve got a lot of work to do on this car,” he observed.
“I know. I’m looking forward to it, though.”
“Kind of makes me wonder why you paid so much for it, though.”
“What do you mean?”
“I talked to George today. He told me he was asking for less than half of what you paid him. Said you wouldn’t let him sell you the car for less than twelve grand. Why is that?”
Nate shrugged. “It was worth a lot more than he was asking. I didn’t want to cheat him simply because he didn’t realize what kind of car this is.”
“Looks like an old Cadillac that needs a lot of work.”
“So what’s so special about it that George didn’t know?”
“This,” Nate leaned up against the rider’s side door and patted the roof, “Is a not a 1958 Cadillac like George said. It’s a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham.” He looked expectantly at the pastor, but got only a blank stare in response. “There were only four hundred of these cars built,” Nate continued, “All of them were hand-made in the main Cadillac plant. In 1957 they cost over thirteen thousand dollars, which was enough money to buy any two Cadillacs of another model. The company actually lost money with every one of these they sold, since they cost twenty thousand or so to build.”
“So it’s worth some money?”
“When I get it restored it will probably be worth over seventy thousand dollars.”
“And George didn’t know the car was all that special?”
“No. He had absolutely no clue. Didn’t even believe it after I told him.”
“Yet you insisted on paying him a lot more than he was asking?”
“Of course. I’ll probably have to spend more than that restoring the car, but since everything is more or less intact I couldn’t justify not telling him.”
“You’re an honest man, Nate. That’s a great trait.”
“My father always taught me to be honest and up front with people. He said it wasn’t worth the cost to get something at another person’s expense.”
“Your father was a wise man.”
“I guess.” Nate walked to the front of the car and began picking debris out of the engine compartment.
“He obviously taught you a thing or two about cars,” McPherson said, leaning over the side quarter panel to examine the engine.
“No,” Nate shook his head, “That was the job of my Uncle Joe.”
“Who is that?”
“My Dad’s brother. He had a 1958 Cadillac Biarritz convertible, a car even rarer than this one. He used to give me rides.”
“Were you close to your uncle?”
“Yeah. He lives about twenty minutes away from my parents. He never got married and never had kids of his own, so he kind of adopted me. We used to go to White Sox games and car shows and everything else. Really, I think I owe a lot more of my desires and plans to Uncle Joe than I do to my dad.”
“Sounds like you had a great relationship.”
“We did. It kind of bugged my dad, actually,” Nate sighed and pulled his head out of the engine. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think I really hurt my dad the day I told him I wanted to be like Uncle Joe when I grew up.”
McPherson stood up and stepped away from the car. “Now why would you say a thing like that?”
Nate tried to find a good way of phrasing his response and realized he couldn’t. “Because it was true,” he finally said, knowing it didn’t sound good. “And,” he continued, “I think I wanted to hurt my dad. I was old enough by then to know what it would take.”
“Oh, yeah. I remember seeing the look in his eyes. It was like I had just punched him in the gut. And the worse thing is,” he paused, “It made me feel good. Can you believe that?”
“How does it make you feel now?”
“Like a jerk. My dad did so much for me, sacrificed everything to make sure I had a good life. I repaid him by being a spoiled, selfish brat.”
“Have you ever apologized?”
“No,” Nate shook his head and suddenly found himself fighting back tears. “In fact, I’m doing it again right now. Aren’t I?”
“What? Being a selfish brat?”
“Yeah. I have a very expensive education and I was supposed to get up in the world and make my father proud. I was going to get married and have kids and have the life he always wanted me to have. But now I’ve run away.”
“And you think he’s mad at you?”
“Wouldn’t you be?”
McPherson considered the question for a long moment. “As you know, I’m a father,” he finally said. “When my first daughter was born, I was as proud as any daddy could be. I wanted her to grow up and be something great. If she wasn’t going to be a doctor or an astronaut, I wanted her to be a great missionary or some other such wonderful thing.
“I’ll be perfectly honest, I was disappointed the day she told me she wanted to be a kindergarten teacher.” He sighed. “It’s not an impressive job. When we have daddy meetings nobody looks at me in awe when I say my daughter wants to learn how to teach five year-olds to color. But she was twelve, so I figured in time she’d come around and decide to go to medical school. That was six years ago. In the fall she’s going to college to major in elementary education.”
“Are you still disappointed?”
“How could I be? My dream for her is to grow up and be happy. If teaching kindergarten will make her happy, then I’m thrilled for her. I’m just fortunate I figured that out.”
“My dad wanted me to be a doctor. I don’t think he ever understood that I joined the Navy because I felt I had to. He thought I did it for spite. But my dad didn’t have the money to send me to college. Sure, he would have done everything he could and broken his back to make it happen, but I didn’t want him to have to do that. So I joined the Navy and went to college and seminary.”
“I’m sure he’s proud of you now.”
“I like to hope he would be. My dad died while I was on deployment. I got the notification while under steam somewhere in the middle of the South China Sea. I never got to say goodbye and he never got to see what his son became.” He stopped speaking as tears wet the corners of his eyes.
Nate didn’t have any idea what to say. “I’m sorry,” he tried, knowing it was meaningless.
“Do me a favor, Nate.”
“Don’t ever let what happened to me happen to you. I’m sure your dad is proud of you no matter what, so don’t just start assuming he isn’t.”
Nodding, Nate set his jaw in an attempt to avoid breaking into tears himself. “I won’t,” he said, voice barely above a whisper. “I won’t.”
“Good,” McPherson said. He suddenly and abruptly changed the subject. “Now tell me something. What was it about your uncle that you wanted to emulate?”
“Everything, I guess,” Nate shrugged, assuming it was best to follow along, “He was just a lot more fun to be around than my father. Like the day I told my parents that I was going to start saving money to buy a car just like his. I was eight and thought I could do anything I wanted. My dad just laughed at me and told me I would be better off saving my money for college.”
“Did you tell your uncle about your plan?”
“Yeah,” Nate paused, smiling, “He told me to go for it. He told me to dream as big as I wanted and I’d be able to succeed at anything.” He walked out of the garage and took the gloves off. “I guess that was why I wanted to be like Uncle Joe.”
“What did your uncle do for a living?” McPherson asked, following him out of the garage.
“He was one of those people who makes all their money doing investments. He had property and stocks and bonds and everything. I don’t think he ever had a job where he had to answer to anyone in his life. And I don’t think he ever had to worry about money, either. My dad, on the other hand, worked sixty hours a week for most of my childhood. When he wasn’t at work he usually didn’t have time to be with me, so it’s more like he worked one hundred and sixty hours.”
“Why did he do that?”
“Said he had to get ahead in the world. His definition of getting ahead seemed to be having the money necessary to send his son to a good school and make it possible for his wife not to ever have to get a job. In the end, though, I think he hated his brother for all of his success. Even more for the fact that he never seemed to have to try to find it.”
“But he still let you spend time with him.”
“Hey,” Nate shrugged, “He was family. I think my dad knew that I needed Uncle Joe and that Uncle Joe needed me.”
McPherson chuckled. “Makes sense. So what does your uncle think of you being here?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. I haven’t talked to him since Christmas.”
“I’ve been busy. I wanted to be like Uncle Joe, but I was well on track towards being my father.” Nate stopped and locked eyes with McPherson. “That’s really why I left. I didn’t want to become that and I knew it was happening.”
“Have you talked to your father?” the question was soft, almost inaudible.
“Yes. He told me I was going to screw up everything I worked for if I didn’t get home.”
“He’s right, you know.”
Shocked, Nate took a step back. “What?”
“You have screwed up everything you were working for in Chicago,” McPherson smiled warmly. “The only way to fix it is to go back home.” He paused, studying Nate with a knowing look in his eyes. “I don’t think you want to fix anything, though.”
“So tell me something else.”
“On Monday you told me that you thought your father did a good job. Now I’m hearing a different story. Which one is it?”
Nate thought for a long moment. “He taught me a lot about life and did what he thought was right. I honestly think he wanted to do more than he did, but in the end he just let life wear him down. I guess he could have been a better father, but he wasn’t a bad one.”
“That’s a fairly evasive answer.”
“I know. I’m just not sure what to say. I mean, he always had my best interests at heart, but he showed them in really bad ways, like squashing my dreams.”
“By telling you not to save your money for a car?”
“You know,” McPherson grasped his right elbow with his left hand and rubbed his chin with the right, “I think your father had a problem that a lot of men have. See, every man was once a little boy who thought he could do anything he wanted. That little boy believes that he can take the world, bend it to his will and make it do what he wants. Then he grows up and discovers that the world is bigger than he ever imagined and that it is a hard, cruel place that doesn’t really care if he lives or dies, if he succeeds or fails. I honestly don’t believe a father can ever properly prepare his son for the real world, because somewhere inside of a man who knows how hard it is to simply survive there is a little boy who still wants to conquer the world.”
“But Uncle Joe had figured it out.” Nate concluded.
“Perhaps,” McPherson shrugged, “Perhaps not. It kind of depends on what your definition of conquering the world is.”
“What do you mean?”
“Did your uncle ever get married and have kids?”
“But he wanted to, didn’t he?”
“How do you know?”
“You already told me. He adopted you as his son.”
“So you think he was just as unhappy with his life as my dad was?”
“It’s possible, I don’t know. You’d have to ask him.”
“I asked him about it once and he just said he hadn’t found the right woman and left it at that.”
“I’ve heard that excuse more than once. I’ve learned not to believe it.”
Nate turned and walked back into the garage. “I’m not going to make that mistake,” he said, “I’m going to follow my dreams.”
“What if you achieve all of your dreams and find you’re just as unhappy as when you were working six days a week and couldn’t make it to a baseball game to save your life?”
“That won’t happen.”
“Really?” McPherson took a slow walk around the Cadillac. He stopped to rub at a spot on the driver’s side door, then straightened up and nodded at the car. “If you do a good job of restoring this car it will be really nice. It will be something that fulfills a dream you’ve had since you were a small child. But in the end it will still be a car. It’s just metal and leather and glass. The joy you felt when you found it, the joy you will undoubtedly feel the first time you take it for a drive, that will fade over time and it will just be a car, not so different from that Acura you’ve got out in the driveway.”
“So you’re trying to kill my dreams, too?”
“No,” the pastor shook his head. “I just want you to realize that there’s more to life than cars. Your uncle could probably tell you exactly that.”
“So I should still try to start a family?”
“If you want. I wasn’t talking about that, either.”
“Ah,” realization struck, “You’re talking about God.”
“Well,” McPherson put his hand on Nate’s shoulder, “I am a pastor.”
“And that’s why they pay you the big bucks.”
Nate turned away. “I can’t make a decision like that right now. I just decided to take control of my own life and I’m not about to hand it over.”
“That’s a hard thing to do, I agree. I believe it’s also something we can talk about when you’re ready. In the meantime,” he slapped the roof of the car, “I believe we have some work to do.”