There was a time when we, the Christensons, lived at my dad's place of business. I'm not exactly sure of all the details on why we had to live there, so that may be a story for someone else to write. We moved there when I was 8 years old. My dad sold used cars, and he had just built a very large new office/sales building on the lot, and we moved our residence into the empty offices. The details about the car lot are not important to this story. All that is important is that it was a car lot. So growing up from eight years old on, I was surrounded by cars.
My childhood chores revolved around taking care of cars. Sometimes I would have to go put keys in all the cars in the morning in case people wanted to come test drive them, or sometimes I would have to go get the keys in the evening. Sometimes I would have to put little plastic flags on the car antennas. Sometimes I would have to dust off the dash boards in the cars or clean the windows, and as I got older my responsibilities increased.
One thing I learned very fast was that I should NEVER scratch, dent, or scuff the cars. My sister, Hetty, and I got into very serious trouble when we smashed the windshield of what we thought to be an old useless clunker that was in the back of the lot. Apparently the car had been saved for its windshield or something. We also got in huge trouble for writing words in the dust on old cars because apparently that scratches the paint. Anyway, it was made very clear to us that the cars were very important, and if we caused any harm to befall the cars, then it would be returned to us ten fold.
Well once I had reached the very sound age of 12, my dad decided that I was old enough and responsible enough to begin driving the cars into the garage to wash them. It really shouldn't have been to hard. Driving really isn't all that complicated, so I surely would be able to do a simple thing like pull one into a garage, and back it out again later. But I was twelve, and the garage was full of immigrants my dad would hire, and they always spoke in Spanish, and were really intimidating to me. Every time I pulled into the garage with a car, I felt like the mechanics would stop what they were doing to watch me. I felt like they were waiting for me to make a complete fool of myself so they could have a good laugh, and joke about me in Spanish. It was always a nerve racking experience in my 12 year old mind.
One day I nervously pulled a car into the garage as per usual, and I felt like I had done a pretty good job driving the car in. I felt like I had been doing pretty good that day. I was pulling cars in and out of the garage like a pro. After I finished washing this particular car, I got inside and noticed through my rearview mirror that someone had the shop vacuum out near the garage door. I made a mental note to avoid the vacuum because that would be super embarrassing if I ran over the vacuum. I put the car in reverse, and turned the wheel to avoid the vacuum. I kept my eye on the vacuum because I sure wasn't going to hit it. I should've kept my eye on the other side of the garage entrance because before I knew it, I had swiped the side of the car into the garage entrance.
All of the mechanics stopped what they were doing, and looked over at a 12 year old boy hopping out of a car and panicing in sheer terror. When I saw the car jammed into the wall with a huge dent on the panel, I felt like my insides had melted. I knew my dad would be more than furious. I knew that this meant I would never have friends because I would be eternally grounded to my room, and I would be washing off cars for the rest of my life to pay for the damage I'd done. I couldn't even imagine how much money it would cost to repair the damage. There was no way to hide what I had done. I had to face my father.
I slowly walked into his office, and I began sobbing immediately. I can't remember what I said, but I remember that my dad didn't explode into an angry ball of rage. I can't remember what my dad said, but I remember that even though he was disappointed he forgave me. I think up until this point in my life, my dad had always responded to mistakes that I made with the quick and stern rebuke that we often give to children. I think this marked the point in which my dad started using the mistakes I made to teach me important lessons rather than just punish me and scold me for being a dingbat. To be sure, there were still plenty of dingbat moments after, but at this moment, my dad showed compassion and mercy when I needed it most. I don't know if he ever understood the trepidation, anxiety, and fear I had about being around his mechanics, but I think he understood how terrible I felt for damaging a car, and I think he saw that I had punished myself enough over it.
I can't imagine, looking back now, how stressful it must have been for my mom and dad while we were living at the car lot. I am amazed at how much patience, and forgiveness my dad had for me. To be sure, there were plenty of times my dad lost his patience, but at this moment he kept his cool, and it really meant a lot to me.