The first vehicle that catches my eye as I walk into the car show at the park is the red and white 1955 Chevy. The man polishing it up tells me he bought it for $200 out of someone’s garage decades ago. He drove it as a second family car, garaged it for a while after the engine went bad, then saved it with a series of engine replacements. That original paint has some flaws, and the car shows its almost 70 years. It’s not really a show car, he tells me, but that’s not why he drives it. Behind the wheel, he explains, “you feel like you’re 16 or 17 again.”
I know what he means. This was the first car I could call my own—almost. Mine was a used 1957 Chevy, same white-on-top, red-on-bottom color scheme, same economy model. And it represented freedom. I could go where I wanted when I wanted—to high school activities or out to drag the drive-ins with my friends to see who else was there. (No social media or texting back then.) I could go off to college across the country.
A little deeper into the car show, I come to a 1970 GTO, the fabled Pontiac “muscle car.” It brings powerful memories too.
My 1967 GTO—the car I was driving when I met the woman I fell in love with—had the big 400 cubic inch engine and four-barrel carburetor combination that was supposed to beat almost anything on the street. I wasn’t a racer, but I admit that I had to try the car out once to see how fast it would go. On a deserted stretch of freeway in rural Idaho, I jammed the pedal all the way to the floor. The speedometer needle passed 130, but I didn’t keep it there very long. The steering didn’t feel very reliable at that speed. (Isn’t it always that way with power? It may thrill us to use it, but we may find it difficult to control.) My GTO was ideal for a 23-year-old in the dating scene, with no family responsibilities yet. Best car I ever owned.
Fortunately, my wonderful wife didn’t love me only for my car, because even with premium gasoline under 30 cents a gallon back then, the GTO wasn’t a family car when we started having children and I was commuting to work.
Just a little farther along in the car show, I find a 1971 Dodge Dart Demon that the owner has had since he bought it new. This one brings memories too. For our growing family, there was a succession of economical family cars—a used Pontiac sedan, a new VW Beetle (too small with two children), a Chevy Nova (there’s one of those in this show too), and finally we owned a sensible 6-cylinder ‘74 Plymouth Valiant, a lot like this Dodge Dart. The Plymouth we bought during the Arab oil embargo of the mid-1970s, when the price of gasoline went over $1.00 a gallon!
In the car show, I don’t see any signs of the station wagons that we ended up with later as our family got bigger, or of the practical minivans we drove for many years as the children grew up and grandchildren came along. Maybe I never will see any of those in car shows. Maybe minivans will never be old enough to be considered classics by people who had to give up GTOs for “sensible” cars.
There is something of a joke in my family about the Porsche I covet and will never own.
But why, I ask myself, do I measure milestones in my life by the cars we drove?
Why not by the wedding date, more than half a century ago, when we promised each other eternity together? That ranks among the most significant dates in my mortal experience.
Why not the birth dates of our children? I remember all of those very well. The children were wonderful gifts and have been great blessings in our life.
I suspect I am not alone in choosing less lasting things as milestones on the path of memory. Probably a lot of people have marked the progress in their lives by things like the day they moved into their first house as a couple, the day they began their first jobs, the day they bought that boat or that Rolex watch or designer dress, the day they scored that important victory they had sought so long. We look back so fondly on the days when things we wanted came to us.
But maybe we ought to be remembering as milestones days like the one when we helped one of our children achieve a breakthrough in the struggle with reading, or the day we sacrificed something we wanted so our spouse could achieve something important to him or her, or the day we fully committed to something that would bless our family or our community.
Maybe the milestones we each ought to treasure are the times we did something that will leave this world better after we’re gone, that will leave someone else stronger—something more like what Jesus did as He ministered to people.
Maybe that was part of what He meant about laying up treasure in heaven. (See Matthew 6:21, also 25-33.)