Dad always seemed to walk so much faster than I. Often, I would find myself lagging more and more behind his lanky stride, suddenly finding myself in the unenviable position of having to hastily run across the parking lot to try and catch up to him. This particular day was no exception, as he had reached the old Buick well ahead of me. I quickly jumped into the passenger seat of the archaic behemoth as he started the engine. After a few sputters – along with a crass backfire from the tailpipe – we were well on our. This was a scene that replayed itself many times during my childhood: day trips back and forth to the auto parts store.
“Dad, what’s a jalopy?” I casually asked as I pushed my Matchbox® car back and forth on the hard, cracked dashboard.
Dad skillfully mastered the steering wheel, as only dads could do, while displaying an emotionless expression that portrayed a sort of apathy. He seemed almost detached from us, as if he was already tearing apart the engine from that old, infirmed vehicle in his mind. “Where did you hear that word?”
His reply wasn’t accusational, or even angry, but rather, just plain curious. “From Mom,” I said. “She said she wishes you would get rid of that ‘old jalopy.’”
It was forgivable for me, at that age, to say whatever came to mind. After all, I was still in the blissful innocence of early childhood and was completely unaware of the torrential conflicts of adults.
Dad didn’t necessarily seem wounded, but then he never did. He wasn’t one to wear his emotions on his sleeve. “A jalopy is a car you have to have when you can’t afford to have another.”
I was perplexed. “Huh?”
“Someday you’ll understand, son.”
I told myself that when I got big, I would always have a shiny new car. But I didn’t dare tell Dad that.
After we got home, Dad puttered on the car while Mom incessantly nagged. She wasn’t necessarily mean, mind you. But rather, she just wasn’t used to owning cars that you have to work on to keep running; her family had always had new ones when she was growing up. Inevitably, the ensuing return journey to the parts store came upon us.
In the midst of traveling back and forth to the auto parts store that day, I had missed lunch. It was no big deal, really. After all, trips to the parts store usually only lasted thirty minutes, tops. I could always catch up on a meal in a heartbeat, as busy days of play often required lunch on the fly. But something was wrong this time. Actually, something was terribly wrong. The parts store didn’t have that part that Dad needed. The man behind the counter said that they would have it in the next day; but Dad simply couldn’t wait that long. Mom and dad needed two working automobiles, and more importantly, Dad needed the peace around the house. So, off we went to Calumet City, the only place in the world that would likely have the part that Dad needed. A burning sensation began to pierce my tummy. What had started as mere hunger had turned into a stabbing pang. I didn’t dare ask my dad to stop and get food. Fast food was a luxury that we simply couldn’t afford. Besides, in that day and age, there weren’t too many McDonald’s® around.
The hunger continued to ravage my stomach as the minutes seemed to drag on and on. The usual excitement of riding on the expressway that led to Chicago was lost to me. All I could think about was eating something – anything – even if it meant those awful vegetables that my parents always forced down me at dinnertime.
For some reason, I thought about the story from Sunday school that week. The old lady with the beehive hairdo and large purse had told us how Jesus had fed the five thousand from just a few loaves and some fish. If he could do that back then, why couldn’t he do it now?
No sooner had I finished praying, than I noticed that my dad had pulled into a diner. Greasy hamburgers and French fries never tasted so good. Just as Jesus had done nearly two thousand years ago, my dad noticed my need, and met it. Of course, he was probably hungry, too.