C’mon get your clothes on. We’re going to go get you a car. There were a few obvious questions that I didn’t ask:
“Why is Grandpa here?”
“Why is Grandpa waking me up an a Saturday morning.”
“Where are we going to get me a car?”
“What kind of car are we getting?”
Those questions were unimportant. Grandpa said go, so I go. It wasn’t that I was afraid of him. I trusted him.
I got in the passenger seat of his GMC S-15 pick-up. It was red inside and out. It had a manual transmission. It had a bed shell on it. It had been converted to run on propane. This was the truck that he towed behind his RV. I liked his truck. It felt like home.
I was 17, barely. I had earned my permit at 14. Later that year I passed my driving test in a Chevy Malibu that would die at a stop sign unless you kept your foot on the gas. I had been driving on the farm since about 12. I could drive. I just didn’t have a car. Grandpa and cars went together like a beans and cornbread. I didn’t care what kind of car. I was going with Grandpa to get a car. That was enough.
We ended up at a nice home on Beaver Lake. I hopped out of the truck still not really knowing where I was. Suddenly we were greeted by a couple of my favorite smiling faces. Bob & LaDonna Smith. They were in the caravan of RVs on the Alaska trip. She always hugged really tight. He always shook my hand a little too hard. They both are still known for their undying smiles.
Bob was smart. He figured out real early how to convert gasoline engines to run on propane. He had converted Grandpa’s truck. Grandpa always loved to tell about the time he had driven that truck from Dodge City, Kansas to Dallas, Texas without once stopping the wheels from rolling. That was the early days of propane conversion. Everyone said it was impossible to convert a Corvette to propane. Bob bought himself a Corvette and went to work. He had a beautiful late-70’s Chevrolet Corvette that ran perfectly on propane.
I was so happy to get one of LaDonna’s hugs and one of Bob’s handshakes that I didn’t even notice the pretty blue car sitting in the yard with a “For Sale” sign in the window. We laughed and talked for a while. Then Grandpa said, “Is this it?” He was looking at the car.
“Yep, that’s the one I told you about. It’s a 1978. It’s clean and runs real good. It has about 75,000 miles. I think it’s one of the best little cars Chevrolet ever made.”
I suddenly remembered why we were there. Grandpa was buying me a car, from Bob! I spun around to the blue Chevrolet. My car. I couldn’t believe it! Was Grandpa really going to buy this for me? It looked almost brand new! It was curvy. It was shiny. It was perfect!
“It’s going to need some new tires. These are about done.” Bob was trying to disclose any flaws he had found. This was the opposite tack you might see in an automobile transaction, but this was Bob and Grandpa. Not only were they best friends, but they were also two of the most honest men you would ever meet. This was going to be a different kind of negotiation.
Grandpa starts, “How much do you need for it, Bob?”
“Well, I don’t have much in it. How much are you willing to spend?”
“Now, this is your deal, Bob. Don’t make me set the price.”
“I know, Lawerence, but I don’t need the money. I’d just give it to you if I thought you’d let me. What are you wanting to pay?”
Grandpa lifts his hat by its bill with his thumb and forefinger and holds it above his head while rubbing his hair around with the rest of his fingers. He laughed a little expression of frustration, “Bob, what were you going to sell it for? You had a price when you decided to sell it. What’s your price?”
At this point I realize Bob is playing with Grandpa a bit, “I was going to sell it for $1,500, but that was the price for makin’ money. I’m not going to accept a profit from you. You get the ‘friends’ price. I should be just donating this thing to you.”
“Now Bob, this isn’t for the School. This is personal. I’m buying this one for my Grandson. I’m not gonna ask you to donate a vehicle for my grandson. I’ll pay you the $1,500.”
“Naw, now you wait a minute Lawerence.” Bob suddenly found himself on the ropes, “I’m not taking that price from you. I’ll sell it to you for $900 if you insist on paying for it, but I’m not going to let you pay me $1,500. That’s just too much.”
Grandpa chuckled a little bit. His hat hadn’t yet returned to his head. He used it to absentmindedly swat at his other hand, “I’ll pay you a fair price. If $1,500 is the fair price, then that’s what I’ll pay.”
Bob was done, “No. The price is $900. You drove all the way out here. You can have it for $900.” He stuck his hand out.
Grandpa returned his hat to his head in order to free up his hand for the deal-closing handshake. He’d been beaten. Bob wasn’t going to let him pay a penny more than $900.
After the handshake, Grandpa reached in his pocket. He had a stack of bills held together by a gold engraved money clip that someone had given him as a gift. It was much nicer than anything he would buy for himself. He pealed off 9 bills and handed them over. Bob pulled out a similar stack of bills held by a similar money clip. He removed the clip, wrapped the bills around the outside of the rest of his money, returned the clip, and stuck the whole thing back in his pocket without giving a thought to the quantity or denomination of bills he had been handed.
“Chris, you want to grab that title out of the glove box?” Bob pointed toward the passenger side of the car.
I touched my car for the first time as I opened the passenger door. I leaned in the car to open the glove box as I smelled the warm air inside. I pulled out the title, closed the door, and handed the paperwork over to Bob.
“LaDonna has breakfast inside. Let’s sit down at the table to sign this.” Bob’s invitation was not optional. None of us had the right to refuse the breakfast that LaDonna already had sitting on the dining room table.
After breakfast there were more tight hugs and strong handshakes. Grandpa and I walked across the front yard toward the pale blue Chevy. As we approached the driver’s door he handed me the completed title and said, “I’m buying you this car with one string attached. When it breaks down, you fix it. If you can’t fix it yourself, you bring it to me and I’ll help you fix it. This way I’m buying you an education in auto mechanics. I think it’s a lot better than anything else I could spend this money on.”
He was right. Over the next few years he and I spent a lot of quality time together under the hood of that ’78 Chevette. I remember one time in particular I called him to let him know I needed some help with a mechanical issue. My friend was with me when we showed up with the car at Grandpa’s house. Grandpa shook my friend’s hand and gave me a big hug as he said, “Grandma and I have been prayin’ that your little car would break down ‘cause it’s been so long since we’d seen you. We sure are glad our prayers were answered.”
That left a lasting impression on my friend.
I always think of Grandpa when I work on a car. He didn’t teach me everything I know about mechanics. He just taught me all I needed to know about mechanics.