The Gift You Cannot Buy

November 28, 2016

I turned 70 this year. That’s a milestone. It was also a birthday problem for my son, Josh. It really shouldn’t have been – after all, he’s done it maybe 65 times already. But that is exactly why it had to be difficult for him.

We have a tendency to think of presents in material terms, and materially I have, or have had, pretty much everything I ever wanted or needed, with a couple of totally improbable exceptions. But there is one thing you can never have enough of, and that is wonderful memories. And he used an old one of mine to make a new one for me.

I was as close to my own father as was possible given my parent’s divorce when I was 9 or so, and a separation of about 1,400 miles. One of the things that I inherited from him was a love of Porsches. He came back from WWII with a respect for German engineering and a love of European sports cars, so he bought a 1955 Porsche Speedster.


That’s me standing next to my father’s Porsche.

When my birthday came around, Josh suggested we get together and do something for the day, our consorts included. No big deal, he seemed to say, and that was fine with me. When Claire had asked what I wanted to do for my birthday, I said “stay in bed.”

So Claire and I drove down to Great Falls, VA, and Josh and Christina drove up from Reston. We met at an informal car get-together that happens every Saturday and started checking out the cars. There are always several hundred, ranging from new supercars like Lamborghinis to classics like a 1928 leather-bodied Bentley, and walking around looking them over is a lot of fun.

So it was we came upon a mid-50’s Porsche. Of course I stopped and commented that it was just like my father’s, and Josh said “I know. Maybe you should take it for a drive.” And he handed me a key and an envelope.

14102520_10154582472474789_7716651603133027698_nClaire and I with the car and the instructions for what would be the most memorable birthday of my life.

Of course my reaction was, “Yeah, sure,” but he insisted the key would work in the Porsche. Leery of America’s Funniest Home Video cameras at work somewhere, or police ready to jump out and arrest me for classic car theft (much worse than regular old car theft) I made Josh do it. He could survive prison better than me.

And the car started. To say I was stunned would be an understatement on the level of saying that Donald Trump likes himself. I opened the envelope and here is what I found – instructions for a Porsche Speedster-enabled scavenger hunt. Including a map.

scavenger-huntThe instructions specified five steps I had to take and complete by 2:30. They also list me as Agent 070. Thank you, Christina.

scavenger-hunt-instructionsA very cryptic map. Note the address legend at the top because he knew we’d get lost.

The first step seemed easy enough. I could translate it to “Go to Josh’s house.” (The dogs are Jorja and Jerzy. Sounds like states even if they can’t spell.) And there were little clue icons on the map – the car silhouette was where we were, the dog bone was Josh’s house, and the meaning of the others (coffee cup, farm, phone booth, red truck) would become clear as we progressed.

While it did seem easy enough, I didn’t want to do it. More accurately, I was afraid to drive the Porsche. This was someone’s vintage, beautifully restored treasure, and I didn’t trust myself to drive it. I solved the problem in a very fatherly way – I made Josh do it. Not that he objected.

josh-driving-the-porscheJosh fitting very well in a classic Porsche.

Riding while he drove turned out to be a good idea. I was free from paying attention to the road and could really enjoy this particular experience for the first time in 60 years. And, just as importantly, acclimate myself to memories I hadn’t realized I’d forgotten until that moment. Driving would have been a distraction.

When we got to Josh’s neighborhood, he made a lap around all the residential streets, probably making sure all his neighbors would notice. At least one did as he came over in his pajamas to find out if Josh had hit the lottery.

And then it was my turn. Claire and I decided to take a lap ourselves just to be sure I could remember what a clutch does. After fumbling to find reverse, we were off. The rear-engine design of the Porsche always meant that the gear selection was a little “loose” and takes some getting used to. I was slightly surprised that I remembered this and was able to shift without Claire even noticing how tentative I was.

Driving the Porsche was a little like initial intimacy – you really want to do it and do it right, but at the same time you’re afraid you’ll somehow screw it up. Add the public vs private nature of the act and the fact that a premature end probably means I’ve broken someone’s treasure and it gets even more anxious. So fumbling (in both cases) can be understood.

Josh and Christina lead the way, saving untold arguments with my navigator and probably the day. All we had to do was enjoy a gorgeous day in Virginia with the top down in an enviable car and be entertained at the planned stops. And they were entertaining.

claire-john-in-reverseFinding reverse after a bit of fumbling.

joshs-houseStop 1 – Josh’s House, Address withheld at the request of the authorities.

I don’t remember the reason for going to Josh’s first, other than the aforementioned showing off. The challenge was to “find two crazy canines named after states” and this was not difficult as they are very friendly and actually try to be found. A little like an interactive “X-marks-the-spot.” Treasure hunters should be so lucky.

the-secret-garden-entranceStop 2 – Shoe’s Cup & Cork, Leesburg, VA

Shoe’s is a lovely restaurant where we went for a light breakfast. In addition to the main area, they have an outdoor garden and bocce court. We ate in the garden. I didn’t take any food pictures, but in case you’re interested (and who wouldn’t be?), I had a chai latte and a white chocolate raspberry scone. And, while on the way there, a young woman on a bicycle yelled, “Nice car.” I pretended I owned it and smiled.

stone-tower-wineryStop 3 – Stone Tower Winery, Leesburg, VA

There are a few recognized exceptions to the rule that the sun has to be below the yardarm before you can start drinking. One is the “what the hell is a yardarm” rule. Another is the 70th birthday exception. We chose the latter and were tasting wine while the clock still registered AM.

hunters-headStop 4 – Hunter’s Head Tavern, Upperville, VA

The next stop was the Hunter’s Head Tavern for lunch. Inexplicably, the old and quaint tavern has a red Tardis out front. In any event, after my staff (Josh and Christina) finished cleaning the dust off the Porsche, we had a very nice lunch. Mine was a pimento cheese and tomato melt. I didn’t notice what my entourage ate.

red-truck-bakeryStop 5 – Red Truck Rural Bakery, Marshall, VA

We followed Josh and Christina into the small town of Marshall, looking for a red truck as directed in the instructions. When we turned into an empty parking lot behind some buildings, I thought they had made a wrong turn. But no, we were there. There was no red truck, just an awning with the name Red Truck Rural Bakery on it. I claim foul and should not have any points deducted for not finding this landmark.

The instructions here also included a script for what I was to say when we went inside. I was to tell the cashier that I had “traded in my Porsche and all I got was this kid.” There’s a story there.

Remember that I wrote several pages ago that I also have a love for Porsches? In 1967, when I was a senior in college, $5,000 dropped out of the sky and landed in my bank account. I immediately bought a used 1966 Porsche 911, one of the first in the country as it had been brought from Germany by a returning soldier. I still had it and loved it when I got married, and when Josh was born, and through the first months of his life. As it turned out, I couldn’t afford both Josh and the Porsche. After much soul-searching, I sold the Porsche when I found that it got me more than selling him.

The picture below was taken at my sister’s house while I was trying to re-connect the throttle linkage that Anne, my late wife and Josh’s mother, had thoughtfully disconnected while doing her typically thorough cleaning job.

img496Me fixing my Porsche

There are no words to describe how much this birthday gift means to me. You cannot buy this. You can only raise your child from birth, hope you didn’t screw it up too badly, and be ever so proud of how he turned out. I can only hope that my father was as proud of me as I am of Josh.

 Thank you, Josh and Christina.



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