My son works hard, takes loving care of his family, and in other ways behaves as a mature adult. But beneath that veneer lives a Peter Pan spirit, an enthusiasm for never leaving behind the essence of his boyhood.
I was reminded of this endearing quality when he and his wife flew in from Texas recently for a weekend visit with me in southern California.
I knew better than to plan any sightseeing or entertainment. Son would take care of that because wherever he goes, his hobby goes with him.
His hobby is restoring and rebuilding old cars.
The idea captured him more than 50 years ago, when he was in third grade. Our family had just moved to Franklin, Mich., dubbed "The Town That Time Forgot."
The village boasted a cider mill, an old-fashioned hardware store, and gracefully aging homes tucked amid stately maples and elms. The super-highway hadn't yet discovered how to intrude, leaving narrow dirt roads as part of the charm.
We were still unpacking from the moving van when we heard a strange honking of car horns more "ooga-ooga" style than the modern "beep-beep."
We rushed outdoors and watched as a little parade of classic automobiles toured the town in a swirl of dust. Their dazzling paint jobs glistened in the sunlight. We later learned to identify a few of these historymaking automobiles, even a Stanley Steamer among them.
The men wore straw hats called boaters, and fancy armbands on their white shirts. The women wore dusters (full-length coats aptly named) and straw hats with veils. Village dogs followed, yipping with delight.
Son tagged after the procession and inhaled the exhaust fumes; his life has never been the same.
He was in high school when we moved to northern Michigan and he found his first Model A Ford, rusted and abandoned, lying in a tangle of brush in a field. It was the start of several resurrections of Model A's, Model T's, and other relics he turned into show cars or hot rods.
He formed his own car club, and on nights before a rally the entire family was pressed into touching up the paint, shining the brass, polishing the headlights.
Now, here he was years later, visiting me without an old car nearby with which to putter. But he had a plan. Couldn't we zip over to an antique car dealership we'd visited once before? There was a special part he needed, so if I didn't mind...?
I didn't. It was like old times.
At the dealership, a haven of nostalgia, he talked restoration-talk with other aficionados as he wandered aisles of spare doors, fenders, and headlights. He pawed through bins of latches and fittings while his wife and I relaxed at a replica of an old soda fountain with a jukebox on the table.
I thought for the hundredth time how fortunate he was to have a wife who shared his interest and loved going with him to swap meets and car shows.
But that day, my son couldn't find that certain part he needed for his project back home, so off we went to another dealership.
What joy! There, the part awaited him a cross member for a chassis, whatever that is. He lovingly packaged it so that he could carry it home on the plane, a proud trophy of our visit. Later, at the airport, I thanked him for the trip back in memory to his boyhood. And for never losing the excitement and imagination he first grasped when chasing after those antique cars in Franklin Village.
Those qualities, plus the zeal to make something splendid out of what appears to be trash, have sustained him through many trials and helped him overcome many fears. And his enthusiasm for life rubs off on those who love him.
I could imagine I heard an "ooga" horn as he waved goodbye.