My parents grew up during the Great Depression and were part of what Tom Brokaw described as the "Greatest Generation". My father was born in 1925 and mother in 1927. Growing up during that time gave both of them a real sense of appreciating what you've got and never taking anything for granted and a real experience of need and want.
Here's where a dilemma became apparent in how they raised myself and my four siblings. They never wanted any of us to ever have to want for anything, but in the same time they wanted to instill in us a strong work ethic and to never take for granted what you have because it can all disappear in the blink of and eye. But how to do that?
My mother was a stay-at-home mom, something that's rare today, and my father had a very good job with the Department of the Army at the Frankford Arsenal. Both were very frugal though, my mother clipping coupons daily to find the best bargains while grocery shopping, my father buying a new car every ten years whether he needed one or not. He only owned four cars his entire life. I've owned triple that. They also had the house I grew up in paid off in full a year before I was born.
Then along comes a skinny kid in December of 1965. They both tried to instill all those qualities in the me but I was moody and distant and never really appreciated the things they tried to instill in me. For the most part I had a fairly good relationship with my parents, that was up until I reached my teen years. I started to resent them for everything we didn't have. Material things... We didn't own a color TV set until I was a Junior in highschool. An old Philco black & white set that my father still bought vacuum tubes for when it would go on the fritz sat in our living room from the time I was born. All my friends in school had TV sets and stereos in their rooms. I resented the fact that I didn't.
When my age group was turning sixteen they all began getting cars for their birthdays. Not a lot of new cars mind you, because our neighborhood wasn't that well off, but it was well off enough that parents in my area could buy little Johnny or Susie a car for their sixteenth.
My sixteenth birthday came and went and no wheels... My brother was 26 at the time and had a smoking 68' Chevy Camaro. I wanted a hot muscle car too.
I didn't get a car, and the most infuriatingly devastating thing to a sixteen year old growing up in the early 80's was to be told you can't ever get a driver's license because the insurance would be too expensive. It wasn't until later when I was an adult I really had a strong appreciation of how really expensive automobile insurance was in the Philadelphia metropolitan area... And having an underage driver on the policy, or even having an underage driver living in the same house would have done to my parent's policy was lost on me at the time.
So what does a broody and introspective sixteen year old do then?
Says 'Fuck it!' and buys a car anyway.
I had a job at the local gas station and already had my own checking and savings account. Something I'm forever grateful to my parents for. So I had a fairly good chunk of coinage saved. I found the car I wanted. A candy-apple red 1967 Ford Mustang coup. Asking only $750.00, well within my budget. I blogged about it before, go here:
Anyway, one of my friends who had "cool" parents, ie; parents that would let them do whatever they wanted and gave them everything they asked for, got them to let my use their house as my address for my license and let me park the car in their driveway. They only lived two blocks away so it was fantastic! I was set!
I had my hot muscle car and neither of my parents were the wiser.
For a while.
I drove that car all over town, even took it to the New Jersey shore a time or two with girlfriends and buddies. That was until one fateful day shortly before my 17th birthday.
I was sitting at a redlight on Academy Rd. A few miles from home with my girlfriend, just cruising around listening to The Who and enjoying life. Until a Ford Grand Torino station wagon painted a sick shade of tan that I knew all to well pulled up along side of my at the light...
Was it me, or was this light at this intersection staying red longer than normal? My hands began to sweat and I felt this tremendous knot in my stomach. I couldn't bear to look to my left... The seconds ticked away until I couldn't stand it any longer and I had to look. I slowly turned my head to the left until they came to a stop looking straight at my father sitting there looking at me in stunned disbelief.
That only lasted a fraction of a second until I saw him mouth the words "Get your ass home now!"
My bowls turned fluid because I knew what was to come.
I was going to get the mother of all ass-kickings.
I have to quantify something here. Yes, my father beat the shit out of my from time to time, but it was by no means abuse. It came rarely, but when I got one of his ass-kickings I deserved it... Like when I almost burnt the house down. But that's another blog. I grew up in a time when there was still corporal punishment in schools. Hell, I had NUNS beating the shit out of me. It was discipline.
I'll put it to you this way. When I was growing up and you got picked up by the cops for underage drinking or curfew or other infractions and your were given the choice of going to jail or home, all in my peer group would chose jail.
Lesser of two evils.
Anyway, I digress. So my dad knocked the shit out of me from time to time. He'd never threaten anything without following through on it. It was a deterrent. He was judge, jury and executioner. He never once said "If you do that I'm going to knock you into another time zone!" and not mean it. If I went ahead and did it anyway, and got caught, sure as shit I was going to wake up in another time zone.
Anyway... So my dad caught me in the forbidden car driving with a forbidden driver's license. I got my ass beat right in front of my girlfriend and the entire neighborhood...
But the funny thing was he never told me to get rid of that car or give him my driver's license. Soon after that I enlisted in the Army and was gone for several years. Later, shortly before he died, we were sitting on the front stoop one evening shooting the shit and reminiscing about old times. Good, bad and ugly... And we both had a good laugh about that day.
He's gone now, but I sure do appreciate those little things he tried so hard to get through my thick skull. They finally sunk in after a while and I'm a better man now for those lessons, however painful they were.
But I'll never, ever forget that look on his face when he saw me behind the wheel of that Mustang as Pete Townsend sang on...
I know you've deceived me, now here's a surprise
I know that you have 'cause there's magic in my eyes
I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles
I Can See For Miles
Copyright 2006 Thomas J Wolfenden