My brother had a driving passion for cars. So to speak. Fords in particular. He was especially fond of speed.
It was enough to make my mother fear that he was crazy. But she feared that about all of us, especially about herself.
When Joe was just a little boy, he would often say to me, “Sister, when I get old enough to get my license and drive my own car, I will fly so fast the angels will run and hide their wings.”
Then he’d grin real big, picturing in his mind exactly how fine it would be.
I could have told him it would never happen. No matter how old he got, he would never get a license, never drive a car. But I didn’t tell him that.
Joe was born blind. He couldn’t see his own face in a magnifying mirror. But he could dream like nobody’s business.
I had dreams of my own, things I hoped for, knowing I might never see them come true. What were the odds I’d get to go to college? Or earn my living as a writer? Or visit strange, foreign lands like California of All Places?
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I would bet more money on my blind brother’s chances of getting to drive at the Indy 500.
I didn’t want to be the one to dim Joe’s dreams. Life would do that for him, soon enough. Until then, didn’t he deserve a few happy anticipations?
Joe had trouble not just with his eyes but with his legs. He was born premature, suffered from cerebral palsy and didn’t walk at all until he was 5.
That’s when he got his first “car,” a red Radio Flyer tricycle that he called his ’49 Ford. He couldn’t pedal it, so he would push it, one hand on the seat, the other on the handlebars, driving daylight to dark, all around the yard and often into ditches, anywhere his dreams and determination might lead.
Come bad weather, if our mother threw a fit big enough to make him stay inside, Joe would drive his other “Ford,” a green, overstuffed armchair. It had a few miles on it, he said, but it ran fine if you knew how to drive it. which, of course, he did.
Growing up is a tug of war between disappointment and surprise, a reconciliation of dreams and reality. By the time Joe was 12, I think he knew he would never get a license. As with other hard facts of life, he seemed to accept it without question or bitterness, as if it were nothing more than a card drawn at random from a deck.
One hot summer day when he was 16, Joe went tapping out the driveway with his cane — tap, tap — and tapped into my stepfather’s ’49 Ford. He ran his hand along the hood, felt the heat of the metal, opened the door and climbed behind the wheel.
He looked good.
Rummaging under the seat, he discovered a six-pack of Budweiser. That beer was so hot, he would say later, it scalded the roof of his mouth. Even so, he drained all six cans.
Then he felt along the steering column, found the keys in the ignition, shouted, “Hooweeee!” and fired it up.
To my grave, I’ll regret that I wasn’t there to see it. By then, I was out of college, off in California of All Places, earning my living as a writer.
I have heard various versions of this story, depending on the teller. They all boil down to this:
The Ford’s engine roared. My mother fainted. My stepfather nearly broke his neck running out the door.
And my brother, after a moment of purest bliss, threw up on the dashboard. And the front seat. And the back.
Fortunately, for all concerned, the Ford was up on blocks. It never moved an inch.
But to this day, Joe still swears that when he found those keys and fired that old engine up, he heard the angels up in Heaven running to hide their wings.
Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley, CA 93924, or www.sharonrandall.com.