Remember the summer of '72?

By Darlene Warren

BIG SANDY, Texas--The relief I felt that summer was as sweet as any I've ever known. When you're a kid in school, nothing is quite as celestial as the last few weeks of May, when nothing anyone can say or do can squash the heights of blessed joy that are about to rain down on all the earth.

This particular summer happened to surpass all the others that had come before. Young people in the church everywhere learned to pray that year. They offered up prayers of gratitude; the great god in charge of fleeing and tribulation had been appeased. As much as we disliked school, the alternative would surely be far worse. It looked as if we were going to be able to finish high school after all. (I was just a junior, so the fear of a miscalculation would stick in the back of my mind until I had my diploma firmly in my hand.)

My sister had missed her graduation ceremony the summer before, due to Pentecost falling on the same day. Back then the ministry (at least ours) wouldn't come right out and tell you it would be a sin to attend the ceremony, but they were giants among men, the Lewises and Clarks of mapping out guilt trips to fit every occasion. I will always feel a little sadness thinking of that milestone in her life that she missed.

On the other hand, I can't let myself dwell on that for long. After all, she got a car as a graduation gift; I got a pair of glasses. Total value notwithstanding, it was still pretty difficult to brag about something you'd spent your entire life trying to camouflage. I could just hear myself: Check these babies out. They've got these really nifty nosepads guaranteed to leave indentations only half the size of my old ones. I could hear the envy in the voices of all my friends: "Wow, photo-gray lenses! [Just like Mr. Rader's.] I'd die for a pair of those."

My sister's car was a different story. It was a graduation present from our soon to be future ex-brother-in-law. You just can't go wrong with a gift from a brother-in-law. How were we to know he and our sister were about to split up?

Looking back, I can't decide if it was a gift of goodwill or one last chance at vengefulness. Regardless, we thought it was pretty cool at the time. He had bought it for $25. Today you would call it a steal, and it probably was.

I sure wouldn't call it pretty. Those Fords from the early 1960s weren't built for looks, just durability.

Unfortunately, this particular car needed some minor adjustments in a few areas. It had a slight resemblance to a World War II tank: army green, thick heavy metal. And it roared like a B-52 bomber.

No going back

The only other thing that could be construed as slightly inconvenient was its lack of a reverse gear. But that was okay. You always had to be thinking, which is generally a good thing to do when you're driving anyway. After a few occasions of having to push that two-ton monster out of a parking space, we were conditioned mentally always to be cognizant of which direction we were facing and what lay in front of us.

We were like Pavlov's dogs; if by chance while driving around town we found a parking spot where we could pull straight through to the other side, we did so whether we needed it or not.

It made us feel so good that we had finally become the master of our own destiny. We had control of our own lives. We had survived the tribulation and become proud owners of a car all in the same year.

I say "we" even though it was not my car because my sister and I had a deal worked out. She let me ride in her car, and I helped read the road signs for her when I got my spiffy new photo-gray lenses. We were a team.

We were a team--that is, until my next soon to be future brother-in-law came into the picture. It was love at first sight. I was replaced like toilet paper on a holder. This white knight rode in on a two-tone wood-paneled Country Squire station wagon. My photo-grays and I just couldn't compete. Even the name Country Squire seemed to taunt me. I was outclassed.

So long, Country Squire

The only redeeming factor was his car was a bomb too. As I recall, though, his mechanical difficulties were only minor compared to the tank's--that is until the day my other already established brother-in-law borrowed the Country Squire for the day.

While he was driving home from work during rush-hour traffic, the steering wheel fell off, landing in his lap. Undaunted, he managed to stick the wheel back on the steering column, keeping it balanced between his knees until he reached home safely.

It wasn't long after that episode we all said good-bye to the old wagon. She was sold to a gentleman (let's call him Mr. Smith) for $50, presumably for scrap. Mr. Smith didn't have the entire amount, so the parties involved agreed to $40 down, $10 on credit.

Everything turned out

There have been many versions as to what actually transpired, but the last I heard Mr. Smith was caught by the police after streaking naked down University Avenue (a major thoroughfare in one of our state capitals) and subsequently committed to spending a certain length of time in one of our state's mental-health institutions.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: that somehow that station wagon drove Mr. Smith to a state of madness. Some of you may look at an incident such as this as an individual inexplicably losing contact with the real world.

I don't like to think my family's business transaction with him had anything to do with his newfound lack of inhibition. (After all, my brother-in-law wasn't exactly on the winning end of that exchange. He came up $10 short.)

After much consternation I still can't decide whether he was exuberant about not having to flee to Petra or just rallying enthusiasm for the next flight.

Either way, everything turned out okay. That summer came and went far too fast. We eventually all finished school, got married and had families.

Mr. Smith put his clothes back on, and none of us will ever forget the summer of '72.

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