Tuesday, February 26, 2013


The Yellow Car I Built
Janine Strecker
(Mother of Heidelberg Student Shelby)

     My name is Mike and it was June.  School was almost out and I needed a job.  Although I was young, I always remember having chores and summertime jobs.  I did chores and earned money to buy the extra things that I wanted.

     Mr. Wells was a man who lived across town.  He needed someone to help make a car from a kit for his son, Carl.  These kit cars were like real cars, but made for kids.  They were made from steel and had windows that really worked!  The chrome rims on the wheels were so shiny that they actually reflected like a mirror.  Yes, these kit cars were made only for the rich.  They were made for a different kind of people – people with a lot of money.  I didn’t come from that.  Don’t get me wrong; my family never went hungry.  We were just ordinary folks who had ordinary things.

     When I heard about Mr. Wells needing someone to make a kit car, I knew that I wanted the job.  I called him and told him that I worked on many things with my hands.  I explained that I made rafts, go-carts, and even fixed bicycles.  He knew I worked hard, so he hired me.

     After he told me I got the job, I went over to his house.  His house was just amazing.  I never knew houses could be so big!  He showed me a picture of the car that I was going to build.  “Wow, this car is awesome!” I shouted with excitement.

     Mr. Wells smiled and said, “I’ll bring the kit car to your garage tomorrow and you can work on it all summer long.”  Mr. Wells was going on vacation with his family and wasn’t coming home until August.

     The next day, he brought it over and I couldn’t wait to get started.  I opened the box.   I had never seen so many parts.  Before I got started, I read all the directions.  I didn’t want to make any mistakes.  Each day, I worked on the car.  I made sure that every screw was in just right.  I tested all the wheels to make sure they turned smoothly, without any squeaks.  I have to admit, there were times when I would get so frustrated because I couldn’t get things to work correctly.  I remember, I had a really hard time aligning the car doors.  They just wouldn’t close properly.  I got so frustrated, but I kept at it, and finally got everything to work. 

     Every night before I went in for dinner, I would cover up the car.  I didn’t want anyone to touch or ruin it.  Sometimes after dinner, I’d work on it some more.  It seemed like all I wanted to do was work on this car.  At last, it was time to paint the car.  I painted it red – a cherry apple red.  It was a beauty!  It was finished, and I was so proud.

     Mr. Wells and his family returned home from their vacation.  He called me and asked how the car was coming along.  I told him that it was finished.  He was excited to hear the news and came over to my garage to get the car.  He looked at the car and said, “Mike, the car is just gorgeous and I can tell you worked very hard.”   I smiled and was happy he noticed.  He paid me and then took the car to his home.

     It was now August, and time for football.  My friends and I would ride our bikes to the park and play some ball.   We always ended up filthy and our clothes were covered with grass stains, but we had the greatest time playing.   Sometimes when I was playing on the field, I would see Carl driving in the beautiful car that I built.  I noticed that the car needed to be cleaned and the chrome rims weren’t even shining.  “He doesn’t even appreciate the car,” I mumbled to myself.  “If I had a car like that, it would be sparkling.  He gets all the breaks.”

     At least I was having a good time with my friends.  But then one day, I got a call from Mr. Wells.  He asked me if I would like to build another car.  I didn’t really want to.  I don’t know why, I guess I just wanted to hang out my buddies.  But I needed the money, so I told him that I would do the job.  

     He brought it to my garage so I could start working on it.  I looked at a picture of the car.  It was going to be a mini sports car.  This car was even better than the first one.  Mr. Wells wanted it completed by October.  I knew I had plenty of time, so I didn’t start on it right away. 

     After a couple of days, I opened the box to get started.   There were a lot of parts, but this time I didn’t want to read the directions.  After all, I did such a good job last time, it didn’t seem necessary.   Besides, I bet Carl wouldn’t even notice if things weren’t done right. 

     I was having fun playing with my friends.  But then I would feel guilty, and knew I had to go work on the car some more.  However, it just wasn’t the same as the last time.  If I couldn’t find the right screw, I would use one that I already had.  The doors were a little wobbly – but the car was getting built.

     Each night before dinner, I’d cover up the car.  I didn’t cover up the car to protect it, but to cover up my work.  I didn’t want my family to see how uninterested I’d become.  Besides I knew with a shiny coat of paint, no one would know how the car was really built.  Finally, the car was almost finished.  All I had to do was paint it.  I chose yellow – a tangy citrus yellow.  The car was beautiful, at least from the outside.

     I called Mr. Wells and told him the car was finished and he could pick it up anytime.  The next day, Mr. Wells came over and paid me.  He thanked me for all my hard work.  I smiled, but looked down feeling a little awkward.  He then added, “Mike I want to give you this yellow car.  It’s yours to keep.  You’ve earned it.”


     I couldn’t believe my ears.  This car was mine.  I could have had the best car in town, but I did shabby work.  If I had only known, I would have built it so differently.  But the car was mine, just the way I built it.

     “I thank you Mr. Wells.  You are so generous to give me such a gift.  I will never forget it,” I said - knowing that I never would. 

     It has been many summers since I built that yellow car.  I’m now older and have an office job.  But I keep a picture of the mini yellow sports car on my desk just so I remember that the choices we make today affect our tomorrow.


Bizzy Brain said...

Here is the version I heard years ago: An elderly carpenter was ready to retire. He told his employer-contractor of his plans to leave the house building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife enjoying his extended family.

He would miss the paycheck, but he needed to retire. They could get by. The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end his career.

When the carpenter finished his work and the builder came to inspect the house, the contractor handed the front-door key to the carpenter. "This is your house," he said, "my gift to you."

What a shock! What a shame! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently. Now he had to live in the home he had built none too well.

So it is with us. We build our lives in a distracted way, reacting rather than acting, willing to put up less than the best. At important points we do not give the job our best effort. Then with a shock we look at the situation we have created and find that we are now living in the house we have built. If we had realized that we would have done it differently.

Think of yourself as the carpenter. Think about your house. Each day you hammer a nail, place a board, or erect a wall. Build wisely. It is the only life you will ever build. Even if you live it for only one day more, that day deserves to be lived graciously and with dignity. The plaque on the wall says, "Life is a do-it-yourself project." Your life tomorrow will be the result of your attitudes and the choices you make today.

Dr S said...

Bizzy - when Shelby told this story in convocation today, I had the feeling that I had presiously heard versions of this type of story. Good recall on the carpenter version - it also sounds familiar.

Bizzy Brain said...

Don't give me too much credit. I copied the carpenter version off the internet and pasted it in comments. Lol!