Jim Clowes had a red '53 Ford that looked terrible. The paint on the car was almost all gone, although there were still patches of paint mixed with patches of rust. The clunker was an unsightly quilt in their small town surrounded by family farms. Even in the Sixties, few people in this rural area had ever seen a car as rough as this one.
Jim had a small pension and couldn't afford a better car. He and his wife Emma would sit on the porch day after day in the summer talking about anything. Emma would use the hand fan that had Eagan Funeral Home on it to keep the flies away and to stir whatever breeze there was during the late summer.
Billy Goelz was a neighbor boy in high school and he would pass by often and hear Emma tell her husband, "Jim, that car is embarrassing.”
Sometimes she said “disgusting” instead. Once Billy heard her say something far worse but he just kept walking.
Jim was used to Emma’s critiques of the car and would say, "Well, Emma, what can we do about it? We ain't got the money to buy another car and this car ain't worth us paying to have it painted. But it gets us where we have to go. That sure beats walking.”
Emma didn’t like that answer and she would just shake her head. She would say over and over, "It sure is a shame to be old and poor…my, my, my.”
Every once in a while Billy Goelz would join the old couple on their porch to pass the time of day. Sometimes he was able to steer the conversation in a more positive direction. But most of the time not because Emma was fixated on that car.
One morning Emma decided to do something about the car. She had bought a gallon of red barn paint and two brushes, a big one and a finer one. She didn't sand anything on the car. She just started painting the car barn red. When she got through, the paint job didn’t look professional enough for Emma so she put on two more coats. If anything, the car looked worse. Jim was beside himself, but Emma was determined. So Jim just sat on the porch with his head in his hands. Not even a cigarette would help.
When Billy went away to college in September, Jim and Emma were still driving the car and people were still laughing at them. One weekend when Billy was home from school, he saw another '53 Ford in town, still in decent shape, and he thought about that poor old car Jim and Emma were driving. But when Emma died and Jim passed away a month later, the old car went to Wally's Junkyard. In the long run, though, that clunker taught Billy Goelz a lesson he never forgot.
One day, when Jim and Emma were still alive, Billy and a group of his friends were sitting under the oak tree in his front yard when the old couple drove by the house. The boys were all laughing at the car when Bill’s dad, sitting on the front porch and smoking his pipe, spoke up.
"Well, Bill, where’s your car? Be sure you can do better before you judge somebody.”
Billy, of course, had no car and neither did any of his friends. All of them were college students at a state school. They depended on their parents and odd jobs on campus for tuition. They were all just scraping by like many students in the Sixties.
It took five years but Billy got his degree in animal husbandry. He got a good job, raised a family and made a nice living. He drove a Buick. It was a nice family car, nothing fancy, and he traded it in every two years. But never again in his long life did he ever laugh at anyone he saw driving an old clunker. And every time he visited a farm on business, he’d often see a faded red barn that reminded him of Jim and Emma and their ’53 Ford. Some lessons, Billy had learned, stay with you for life.