My aunt was the first to arrive for our combined Mother’s Day/Birthday Party. She began assembling a tray of appetizers, and I leaned over and whispered, “Did you forget to bring Uncle Jim?”
My uncle has loved these feisty little British sports cars for as long as I can remember and, although he’s had one for years, I’ve lived elsewhere since he bought this one and I’ve only ever heard about it and the rallies he and my aunt go to, much less ridden in it. Ooooooh, the excitement!
We had a lovely family dinner – my mom, sister, aunt, uncle, cousins, their spouses and kids. I only get to see them once or twice a year when I come to town, and we just pick up where we left off with stories and catching-up and lots of silliness.
As dinner wound down and we heaved a collective sigh of contentment (except for six-year-old Daniel, who had asked several times to be excused from the table but hadn’t yet been released to his own devices), my uncle and I made eye contact across the table and said, “I’m ready.”
I leapt up and ran upstairs to get my jacket (the fastest I’d moved since hurting my foot three weeks earlier). We went outside into the evening and walked up to the little white roadster at the curb. He unbuttoned the leather cover and opened the door for me, and I lowered myself in and fastened my seat belt. He got in, and pushed the button to start the electric fuel pump and started the car. The engine roared to life, and we drove off into the sunset.
(Seriously, how often do you get to say that?)
He took me on a route I knew well, down a long winding road overlooking Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains on the horizon, which were backlit by a deep orange sunset. I knew the route, but it looked different from that little roadster with its tiny windscreen, close to the ground and with nothing between me and the evening sky.
We headed down toward the water, and he told me all about the little white Austin Healey. It was a 1957, the first year they made them with six cylinders instead of four. He told me the history of the Austin Healey in general, what type of fuel he uses, the different things he’s had done to the car, what’s on his wish list for future upgrades.
We drove down to the beach and cruised through the deepening orange-purple evening. I waved a Princess Wave at people in a restaurant facing the water, and they enthusiastically waved back.
I asked him when he knew he first wanted one of these, and he said, “I tell people I was standing at a bus stop when I was in high school and one drove by, and I fell in love.”
This is my uncle, who told me I looked pretty when my mom and my aunt were hemming my first formal gown for a big high school dance and my dad wasn’t around to tell me. My uncle who called to commiserate and make sure I was ok after my first (and, knock-wood, only) accident in the Corvette two years after Bruce died. My uncle who doesn’t say much, but when he does it’s good. He talked all the way around Alki Beach.
So I asked him, “What’s the best thing about driving this car?”
He didn’t answer at once, but different things came to him as we cruised along. Here is (in no particular order) Uncle Jim’s Top 5 List of The Best Things About Driving a 1957 Austin Healey:
- Just driving it around, and having people look.
- The stories people tell him: “I used to have one of those,” “My first boyfriend had one of those,” “I’ve always wanted one of those.” Not envy, just sharing stories.
- Feeling the wind in your hair.
- Being part of a group that has something in common. (They’re members of an Austin Healey club and go to several events a year.)
- Driving the stick shift – it’s just fun.
In other words, Joy. Fun. Community. And Making a Dream Come True. And encouraging other people to make their dreams come true.
Pretty cool stuff.
By the time we got back, it was full dark. But I suspect the grin on my face lit up the neighborhood more brightly than the moon.
Thanks, Uncle Jim.
What do you love about your life? Where do you find joy, fun, community? Have you made your dreams come true? If not, what are you waiting for?