OUR CHARACTER is largely inherited from those who proceed us. From the very beginning then, we need to work diligently in teaching needed foundations of faith to those who follow us on the roads of life. I think about this when considering the directions that our nation has taken in recent years.
As a child born early in the years of World War 2, I sat making airplanes out of cigar boxes and brad nails while perched on a stone wall in front of my grandfather’s house. I waited each day for my father during those early mornings. I missed his laugh. He had been gone for far too long. I barely remembered his face as he served then with the US Navy in the Pacific.men in our family served. I missed them all… including my Uncle Carl. He was a very special uncle. He had a special car.
Thus it was that I sat on my perch on the wall and admired that he’d driven home in a very special car. Uncle Carl had come home for several weeks from the war in Europe. During his leave time, he had taken his car from storage and parked the pale Buick convertible smack in front of my grandfather’s house on Shawnee Ave. in Plymouth, PA. The.car glistened with its white soft top all ready and waiting to fall far back… so a young boy like me could stand too daringly up high... venturing firmly to face the wind.
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Consequently, I sat on the wall guarding the wide-whitewall tires jealously, so that Skippy, our fox terrier, would not.., heaven forbid, stain the wide white wall tires. By lifting his back leg and wetting the tires, I thought he would permanently etch them to conflict with the paint.
I waited patiently on that wall. I waited building airplanes as I could until the mid-morning hours saw the sun rise high. My patience began to fade however, especially when I thought of riding in my Jodhpur shorts on the car’s hot, dark brown leather seats. I had practiced riding with legs lifted, saying the name of the car. However, in my youth I kept saying “Buck” instead of “Buick”.
My glee arose when my uncle stepped out on the porch dressed in his army uniform. He grabbed up Skippy and called for me to load up in the front passenger seat. Oh, the brightness of it all! A ride in the Buck was at hand. Even today I remember that scene humorously when I consider the matter. For you see… little did I know that the terrier and I were both riding as bait. Uncle Carl trolled through nearby streets looking for pretty girls.
Quality has its followers. Indeed, Buick automobiles were part of my household for several generations. You see, those cars were familiarly American. Buick still holds the oldest active American marque for an automobile. The original Buick Motor Company was the cornerstone for General Motors in 1908.
My grandfather had worked many years for a man who drove a fancy Buick convertible, one of the first Buick cars in our small town. As an elder in the Welsh Baptist Church down the street from the wall where I made airplanes as a boy, that man had a faithful employee who took care of the car. A slightly-injured miner who’d retired to the house next door to us earned extra income as he washed the car regularly and polished it once each week. Unfortunately, having persistently leaked oil a bit because rear main bearing gasket technology was also in its infancy, the car eventually was replaced by a bigger, black four-door Buick Special.
I remember that in the early ‘50s, after that war was over the stone wall on which I’d sat echoed smooth sounds of Buick straight-eight cylinder engines, powering through a silent Dyna-flow automatic transmissions. The cars were far beyond the prideful boast of the first turn signals to ever to grace a car.
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That war was indeed over and cars became bigger. Returning warriors like my father came home. Families whose men found worthy work could then afford new cars and houses, and those were soon motoring to our Welsh Baptist church in large cars like the Buick. But try as I might in looking, among them was not found a pale convertible.
Buick was a car that seemed to mean success. That car spelled upper-middle class. It meant that a family was growing. My father often said that you could usually tell the income, family prodigy and social pride of a man based on whether he drove a Chevy, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Buick or Cadillac… and also where he would sit in church on any Sunday morning. As well, back then he warned that the quest for power and position are often the roots of prideful sin.
Indeed power was hard at work in the Buick. You could no longer get a new inline 8-cylinder Buick after ‘53. The car maker dumped the sturdy straight eight, and dropped in a V-8 with a four-barrel carburetor combo in its place beneath all hoods of new models. Buick soon pushed the engine size to greater heights, as the 401 c.i.d. V-8 engine entered the battle of engine verses brakes.
A heavy weight in both pomp and circumstance, the late ‘50s Buick needed big wheels… and used big, finned drum brakes to curb the engine power. Buick’s high performance intermediate and small car models soon were tried out on the GM test track as prototypes from the division vied for attention against such as the Mercury Comet and Cougar.
Finally during the ‘70s, Buick got performance radical by putting turbocharged V-6 power beneath the Regal hood. Painted in somber and threatening black, these cars boldly cast stones hard against a rock engineering wall that had believed that bigger was always better. I remember driving one of those dark beasts when I was still attending seminary part-time. The magazine I worked for had garnered the car for a photography session. As I stepped on the accelerator pedal, the engine barely squeaked the tires, and then the wind went “Whoosh”. I found out rapidly that a new generation had been born. The wind that had blown in a young man’s hair during WW2… had been captured and engineered into a small engine in order to blow the mind.
Buick and I have traveled a far way it seems. For as I accepted the graceful privilege of being a pastor within my Lord’s church, the dust raised by generations of family and cars carried me to into the auditorium of the University of Rhode Island. And oddly, while kneeling… like the sound of a big block Buick 455 cube V-8, the sound began faintly, almost unheard during many verses of “Amazing Grace” being sung by a large choir. Soon I could hear another voice. I understood then the gift of the Spirit of Pentecost as spoken in the biblical book of Acts.
Was it a trick of my excited mind? I asked. In retrospect I don’t believe so. Weeks later, a parishioner from Maine gave me a picture that was taken at my ordination. Within it, I was pictured as kneeling alongside another ordination candidate. She has become a good friend in ministry over the years. We were both ordained on those steps that felt like a rock wall. What seemed to be a photographic anomaly was present above us in the picture. Flames are clearly seen. Some have said it was a defect in the self-developing film. Others have said it was a reflection. I rather think that.., “Whoosh” said the Holy Spirit.
As I consider this, though a few generations have passed since my days of making airplanes on a rock wall, the sound I heard repeats that which I said loudly to chase our dog from lifting his leg on the whitewalls. “Whoosh” is yet said to the Church as the Spirit comes to us in baptism. The sound often unheard by sinful ears, is divinely spoken to chase away evil demons. Its echoes speak softly to us at the communion rail when God is forgiving us our sinful ways of war and broken families. “Whoosh” is the sound that I feel on the back of my neck which marks when God, through his Son... is preserving us… echoing across the ages in Word, giving faith from one Christian generation to another.
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Thanks be to God for all that is in that wondrous sound... for especially today I thank our Creator… for loving uncles and old Buicks that sat before me when I was yet a very lonely child.
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May the Lord be with you always!