Old Cal sold his car five years ago and he missed it. It was, he said, a reflection of who he was – old, a few scrapes and bruises here and there, and a few minor ailments.
It was an aging Buick.
Cal and I were having tea in his organ loft “apartment” when he began to wax nostalgic. He remembered the modest bungalow that he and Agnes shared for almost 30 years. He didn’t really feel much like driving the car after she passed away. It took a couple of years before he finally felt the courage to sell it to a young couple next door. That was five years ago.
I inquired if the couple still owned the car and he said that he imagined they did. “Do you want to see it again?” I asked. “You know, sit in the driver’s seat, walk around the car to see how she looks (cars are always ‘female’), smell that leather.”
His eyes sparkled at the thought so we walked down to the church parking lot, hopped into my car and headed off to his old neighbourhood.
“There it is,” he said, his face betraying mixed emotions. We walked up the driveway and, as we walked closer, Old Cal’s heart sank. “She’s filthy,” he said. “Her dignity’s all gone.”
I walked to the front door of the house and told the young dad that Cal had come to bond with his old car. “Do you mind if I sit in it?” Old Cal asked. “By all means.”
He accepted the keys with a holy reverence, cradling them in his hand as he walked over to the car. He sat in the driver’s seat for what seemed like an eternity. He could still smell Agnes, his dear wife.
After a while, Old Cal put the key into the ignition and started the engine. It was the same rumbling noise that he had heard so often. He smiled at the familiar sound, gave it a bit of gas and smiled again.
He paused for a moment, then abruptly turned off the engine, climbed out of the seat and said to the car’s owner, “Do you mind if I wash her? I really want to do that.”
Somewhat embarrassed at the state of the car, the owner obliged with a hose, pail and cloth. Old Cal spent the next hour painstakingly washing every nook and cranny, every rust spot and dent of that old Buick. When he was done, the hubcaps sparkled as brightly as Cal’s eyes. The dents and rust spots were more obvious, but they were clean rust spots now.
When we drove back, he was quiet for the longest time. Then he said, “Promise me something; when I end up in a nursing home, can you make sure that they wash and bathe me regularly? Dignity,” he said. “Dignity.”
Keith Knight is interim editor of the Anglican Journal.