My Uncle Pat Franco was a generous man — except where his car was concerned. In the spring of 1932, just out of high school and working as a mechanic, he was the proud owner of a 1927 Model A Ford Roadster — with a rumble seat.
Well, more accurately, he was the owner of what was left of a 1927 Model A Ford Roadster. The car was actually missing a number of vital parts. At least that’s what the police report said.
Uncle Pat spent every waking moment with this beauty, at the foot of Roseburg Hill, because the car couldn’t make it up the steep incline. Not one of his seven siblings was allowed to put as much as a finger on the shiny finish, and he would certainly never let any of them set one hobnailed boot inside. He did unbend so far as to allow his favorite sister, Jessie, who would turn out to be my mom, and her beau, Joe, who would be my dad, to sit in the rumble seat of the parked car and exchange pleasantries while he chaperoned and worked on the interior.
Their romance had to be kept secret because my grandmother, who was not given to idle threats, did not like Joe. In fact, she had offered to shoot him if he ever set foot, or even toe, on their ranch. They didn’t like strangers much in the Oregon hills, so Joe kept his toes to himself.
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Uncle Pat reasoned that the young lovers wouldn’t be disturbing the finish of his car since their hands were otherwise occupied, so he kept their secret.
Sometime that summer, a policeman noticed the beloved car making loud and unidentifiable noises as it chugged along the highway.
“Mr. Franco’s car,” the policeman wrote in his citation, “lacked shock absorbers, exhaust manifold, exhaust pipe. It had no side mirrors, no lights, no gas tank cap, no running boards.”
All of this Uncle Pat accepted stoically, but his incredulous rage went right over the top when the policeman wrote with a final flourish, “no windshield and no windshield wipers.”
My uncle was furious. Why would he need windshield wipers, if he didn’t have a windshield?
The newspaper account of the incident reports “Franco is quoted as saying, ‘What we ain’t got, we don’t need’.”
I remembered this story last week when The News Tribune ran a reader question asking whether one can legally drive a car without a windshield. Nope. Some things don’t change.
My mom and dad ran away and got married in Portland City Hall. My grandmother, true to her word, took her shotgun and sat on the brow of the hill for many nights waiting for my dad to show his face, which he did not do — ever. Uncle Pat joined a carnival, wrestling along with his siblings. They were billed as the Cyclone Francos. He emerged from the experience with severely cauliflowered ears. The car never ran legally again.
My uncle’s remarks to the policeman became a family motto. When there wasn’t money enough for both high school clothes for me and work clothes for my mom, we assured ourselves we didn’t really need it. We often wore the same outfit. Mom would wait at the door for me to come home. She’d quickly slip into the outfit I’d worn, and head to her night shift at the Ridpath Roof, Spokane’s most glamorous restaurant.
At home, though, the house was always full of what was really needed — laughter, and the rich smell of spaghetti cooking.
People don’t seem to have as much fun today and we often don’t know our neighbors. If you pass a young couple strolling hand in hand, the chances are good that they’ll be gazing into the face their of smartphones instead of their lover’s eyes.
At church last week, our pastor surprised us when he told us that the devil likes it that way.
“Satan loves for us to be strangers,” Father Peter Mactutis said, “because if we don’t know each other, then we do not have the love to stand up to wrongs.”
Every day we are bombarded from all sides with meanness, indifference, and exhortation to hate and fear. We don’t have to buy into it, and we don’t have to make small-mindedness part of our lives.
What we ain’t got, we don’t need.
Dorothy Wilhelm is a professional speaker and writer. Follow Dorothy’s blog at itsnevertoolate.com. Contact her at P.O. Box 881, DuPont WA, 98327. Phone 800-548-9264, email Dorothy@itsnevertoolate. com.