(submitted and edited by Pastor Doug Winne. Pastor Doug personally spoke with Lee this past week regarding this article that was published some 20 years ago in Reminisce magazine. This is a great true story of how grace…kindness…can be shown, potentially altering a person's life.)
In 1971 I was 15 years old, a long-haired, lean Connecticut kid. Eligible for my driver's license in a year, I began saving to buy a car. I mowed lawns and did odd jobs.
One of my regular lawn-mowing clients was an elderly couple who used the house upon the hill as a weekend retreat. The man was in his eighties and all but bedridden, his wife a tireless chatterbox. In their garage was the most beautiful car I had ever seen.
It was a 1957 Ford Fairlane 500, four-door, two-tone black and white, gold trim on the sides, with a V-8 engine and automatic transmission, wraparound windshield, big chrome bumpers, fins in the back, with the Ford logo set in white enamel on the ornate hubcaps. The interior, in gray and white, still smelled new after 14 years and only 1,500 miles. It rested on cinder blocks. As often as possible, I sneaked away from work to sit behind the wheel and make engine noises. I became obsessed with that car.
The old man had been a lawyer who, I was told, had defended mobsters and was still razor sharp. He was skeletal and feeble. His side table was thick with vials and medicines. I was inexperienced with sickness and old people, but I suffered him because I was determined to earn my wheels.
The older brother of a friend had offered $500 for the car. He was turned down. I had saved $300 – unprecedented for me but woefully short. The more I saved, the more I grew afraid that someone else would grab the prize. I decided to offer him $500 also (with help from my parents), hoping that he would favor me over a stranger. Having decided to take the plunge, I was agitated all week.
When Saturday finally came, I did my chores, then went into the living room where the old man rested, wrapped in blankets. Sweating in a T-shirt, I made my offer. He cleared his throat. "I bought that car for my wife in 1957," said, as if preparing a defense. My heart sank, "Now, that's a powerful car. It was too much for her – she might have killed an innocent bystander. So we put it away. The mileage is very low. Five hundred dollars, eh?" He looked at me with yellowed eyes. My offer seemed absurd. What had I been thinking? I yearned for him to say no and be done with it.
"I'll give it to you for one-fifty," he said.
I grabbed his hand from his lap in gratitude, then ran out of the house without collecting my pay and danced down the hill.
When I arrived the next weekend, he was on the sofa, the silver car keys in hand. "What's this?" he barked, when I handed him the check. I felt the marrow disappear from my bones. "You said one-fifty," I offered meekly. My voice sounded far away.
"Yeah, one-fifty," he said, handing back the check. "One dollar and fifty cents. Cash money." Like a zombie, I took from my pocket one dollar bill, one quarter, two dimes, and one nickel and placed them in his hand."
(I, Pastor Doug, love this story. For it reminds me of different times in my life when someone was particularly kind to me – beginning with a man who paid me a nickel for a 2 cent cup of lemonade when I was about 7 years of age and then said, “keep the change.” Such times truly changed my life.)