By JIM NICHOLS
When you are a little boy, there is hardly anything more impressive than a big boy. They look like a little boy, only they are strong and fast. They can be idolized as good athletes or even role models; they can also be terrifying.
Once upon a time a little boy went on an errand with his mother. This was a long time ago. They took the family car which was a mid-1940s Chevrolet. The boy was interested in the exact year a car was made, but, after the war, the cars hardly changed from year to year for a while, so they all looked largely alike. This was the second car the family had owned. The first car was a Whippit; you may have to Google “Whippit” to believe that car truly existed.
The father had bought the Whippit when he had returned from the war, and he was mechanic enough to keep it running for the family. The Whippit was rusty green in color and had (compared to now) narrow tires and spoked wheels. The father was frequently working on the engine, which was accessed by folding back a panel on each side of the front to expose the engine. This was equivalent to today’s car hood. The Whippit constantly smelled of gasoline and occasionally overheated, especially on the large hill out of town as they climbed to the house of Uncle Fred and Aunt Marge. More than once on that hill the engine seemed to explode in steam and the father had to fold back the engine covers and use a rag to carefully turn the radiator cap to relieve the pressure. It was somewhat exciting.
This Chevrolet replaced the Whippit and looked more like a car of today. Its color was “two -toned” blue with a darker bottom and lighter top. For some reason two-toned cars are not around much these days. It had four doors and the children sat in the back seat. On the back side of the front seat was something like a sturdy rope that stretched from one side of the car to the other. Officially it was to hold onto as one entered or exited the back seat, but mostly the children, including the little boy, just hung on it. His parents said not to do that.
In the 1940s, cars were made of metal, not the quasi-plastic of today’s cars. They were heavy and probably quite fuel inefficient, but they were durable. This Chevrolet was sturdy.
On this winter morning the mother parked on the city street and went into a nearby house for whatever errand she needed. She left the little boy in the car with the windows rolled up. Whether or not the doors were locked would be conjecture; people did not lock car doors in those days. “I’ll just be in here for a few minutes,” she told him.
She had scarcely disappeared into the house when they appeared—big boys, three of them. They were walking down the sidewalk next to the street, nearing the Chevrolet. They were walking the way big boys walk with a mixture of running, walking, jumping, shoving, and falling. They slowed as they approached the car and saw the little boy inside.
As the little boy saw them approaching, a lump rose in his throat. He could see them, and they could see him. They walked to the car and looked through the windows at him. They put their hands on the car fenders and roof. The lump in the little boy’s throat turned to liquid that came from his eyes as tears. Apparently by agreement, the big boys laughed and began to push on the car in rhythm, causing it to rock up and down. The little boy cried harder, and the big boys rocked faster and laughed some more. The sturdy Chevrolet held its own, but inside the car it seemed like an earthquake.
The apostle Paul often used the phrase “. . . at just the right time.” His context was more serious than this, but the phrase fits this scene as the mother exited the house, headed toward the car, shouting “Scat!” and the big boys took off running. The mother (or God) (or both) had come to the rescue.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain