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James R. Stout

The Falcon Soars No More

            In the summer of 1977, I got a 1962 Ford Falcon that had seen its better days, but still ran and would suffice as transportation to and work. At the time, I thought back to when my aunt and uncle bought a new 1962 Falcon. I had clear memories of what one of those cars was like brand new. No, it didn’t have a tenth of the amenities that we have come to expect in cars today, but it was a solid car, comfortable, and reliable. As for my Falcon, it didn’t have those qualities by the time that I got it. Still, I was glad to get it at the time.

            When I got that car, I had to take stock in what needed repairing in order for the car to pass inspection. Mainly, it needed new brakes and a new taillight. Let me tell you what that car was like when I got it. It was white on the outside and red on the inside. The heater didn’t work, and the engine was woefully under-powered. But I only used it to go to work. At some time in the car’s past it had been in a significant accident. I knew this because the frame was bent. It literally went down the road at a slight angle. The rear-end was a few inches to the right of the front-end. It had also been dented on the driver’s side rear door. While it was a dent that would have required a new door, it would open and close and lock which meant it was going to stay the way it was.

            I had that car for about 18 months. During that time, I replaced some parts myself. It simply wouldn’t run without those parts being replaced. I replaced the solenoid, generator, radiator, and a couple of belts and hoses. The right windshield motor went out during a downpour one day and I had to replace that as well. As for the “amenities” on the inside, there weren’t any. It was made in a time before safety was considered. The dash was metal. No padding at all. The A/M radio was prone to turn off and on when hitting a pothole. And you just haven’t heard the “Star Wars Theme” until you’ve heard it on that 3-inch speaker in the dash. The windows were the crank variety and one of them was missing the knob. Therefore, when I was driving with the windows down and it started to rain, I had to do an impression of a contortionist getting that window up before the interior got soaked. The paint was faded and there was rust in places, but not too bad.

            I ended-up selling that car for $400 and then buying a 1966 Oldsmobile 88 for $500. The Oldsmobile was in great shape. It only had about 45,000 miles on it and everything worked including the A/C. Strangely enough, when I sold that Falcon it was bittersweet. Despite it having caused me some headaches, it had also been like a trusty old steed that you finally had to put out to pasture. I used to envision what that car was like brand new and this was aided by having seen my aunt and uncle’s Falcon when it was brand new. I could imagine it sitting in a showroom with the chrome bumpers and trim glistening, the paint sparkling in the overhead lights, and the interior filled with that new car smell. I imagined opening the hood and the engine being clean and all the parts were where they should be. But time and friction will wear cars out. And, as it happens, time and friction wears people out too.

            I remember very vividly being young. Especially from about 8-years-old to 18-years-old. Those were the days when I seemed to be able to do anything. I ran everywhere. I don’t run anywhere anymore. I had perfect vision. I’m blind without my glasses and I already have the beginnings of cataracts. I could plop down on the floor and sit in Indian style and then raise up without the use of my hands. If I plop down on the floor now, then I need help getting back up. I was thin as a rail, but strong. Today my strength isn’t what it once was. In fact, a cane goes with me everywhere nowadays. I used to jump rope, play chase, do somersaults, and was a master on the implements of a swing set. I didn’t get the way I am overnight though. Just 5 or 6 years ago I was out building fences on my place, clearing brush by hand, and routinely walked 2 or 3 miles a day hiking. I didn’t do these things with near the ease as I once had, but I was still able to do them. I didn’t get my first pair of glasses until I was 40 and they were just for reading. But over the past quarter of a century my vision has deteriorated. I hate to admit it, but so has my hearing. I have no doubt that part of this was caused by listening to music too loud, but it’s also heredity. It simply runs in my family. My mother was deaf by the end of her life. My grandparents had significant hearing loss as did my great-grandparent’s. I still hear fairly well, but I do find myself not quite understanding what someone says from time to time. Other things have gone wrong with my body over the years. Some parts just don’t work like they should, but I’m still here. The fact is time and friction have done what they do best. I know people my age who are in great shape and still do whatever they want to do. But I also know people my age who are in much worse condition than I am. Unfortunately, I have lost many friends and loved ones after their bodies wore out.

            I used to say think that we could be compared to cars. Some of us were born lemons and some were not. Maybe that’s true to some degree. I’ve known people who didn’t smoke or drink or do drugs or abuse their bodies and yet their bodies fell apart. I’ve also known people who smoked, drank, did drugs, and abused their bodies far too much and yet they are in better shape than I am. Go figure. I guess my point here is that we are indeed somewhat like that Ford Falcon. We started out new and in perfect condition. Then time and friction did what they do so well. The ironic part of it is for many of our years we aren’t conscientiously aware of our body’s deterioration. I still did pretty much what I wanted to at 30. But by my 40’s I started to notice things. Whoever said, “life begins at 40” must have meant to say, “A different kind of life begins at 40”.

            Don’t hear me moaning over all of this because I’m not. As the plaque on my wall says, “It is what it is”. Growing old and experiencing the decline in our physical abilities is just part of life. You can do some things to mitigate those changes, but they will get you in the end. I’m reminded of King David talking about when he was young, he went where he wanted to when he wanted to, but when he was old, he needed help going anywhere and had to wait for someone to help him. That’s just the way it is. I am a Christian. I am secure in my belief that I will live forever in a body that doesn’t deteriorate. But this life that we live here and now has its place. We have much to learn simply by living this life. Do I like the way my body is today? No way. But it’s teaching me a lot that I need to know. First and foremost is humility. There’s nothing like getting old that humbles a man. If we are paying attention, then we should be getting wiser with every year. And, it is preparing me for what I know is to come. I watched as my mother steadily declined over the last 25 years of her life. It was hard to watch because there was nothing that I could do about it other than be there for her and help her however I could.

            So maybe I’m not soaring anymore the same as that old Falcon wasn’t soaring by the time that I owned it. Maybe I’m going down the road slower than other traffic and my frame is bent causing me to list to one side. But I still get where I’m going, and I can still do it myself. I’ll just take life a day at a time and do the best that I can do. Someday I’ll be soaring with the angels and that’s something to look forward to indeed.

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