The Spare Tire on the Roof

My book, The Long Away Around: Stories and Sermons from a Life’s Journey sat in my computer for years. It went through many revisions. In fact, truthfully, the final text bore only a faint resemblance to my first text written several years ago. I removed some sermons and added some others. I shortened some stories and lengthened others. The book read much differently after I made changes and took the suggestions of my editor, Sarah Wood.

But, through it all, some things remained constant. One of the stories that absolutely did not change and never was in danger of being cut was the story I tell of my father and the spare tire. From the first time I dared to share a first draft of what was to become the book to the finished copy, that story stayed in. And, from the first time I shared the draft, that was the story that almost every reader, including my brother who was there through the whole episode, told me was priceless and unforgettable.

To just summarize for those who haven’t read the book itself, our trip to Washington DC and Williamsburg, Virginia when I was 11 was memorable for me in many ways. But, the most memorable single occurrence was my father’s frustration with the luggage arrangements he had worked so hard to plan. The luggage started out on the roof rack and my brother and I started the vacation in the place we had been promised: the “way back” seat of the rented station wagon where we sat happily facing the back window by ourselves.

But, after one day, Dad decided he couldn’t go through the process of getting the luggage onto the roof each day and decided to put it instead in the back of the station wagon and move my brother and me to the middle seats, front and back where we sat somewhat miserably for the trip.

Then, concerned that he might need the spare tire and would have to take all the luggage out of the back, my father came up with the brilliant decision to put the spare tire on the luggage rack and even was able to convince some fellow travelers in the motel parking lot that this was a brilliant stroke of genius. They took his advice and scarred their children for life too.

I’m only kidding with the last sentence but the truth is that we were somewhat embarrassed to say the least by driving a beautiful new rented station wagon with a spare tire tied down on the roof. The Beverly Hillbillies’ was a popular show at the time. Need I say more?

If you read the story as it appears in the book, you’ll see the context. But, for now, I just want to speculate on why that the story seemed to have touched a nerve with so many.

I’m not sure if it’s because it is an example of how parents always manage to embarrass their children (anytime my kids complain that I embarrassed them, I told them: “You have no idea…”) or if it just reminds people of the joys of family travel or if everyone’s parents were on some level idiosyncratic and impossible to figure out or if, as I wrote in the book, from a kid’s perspective there is always one moment when you feel like you are living in an absolutely perfect world only to have it shattered by a parental decision. But, one way or the other, this story seemed to resonate with people more than any other I told.

I am fascinated with memory. Why do we remember certain stories and not others? Why are certain things so indelibly etched in our minds that we feel we will never forget them? And why, in some situations are the stories we remember the ones that touch others so deeply. Maybe it’s the way we tell them, with enthusiasm that comes through clearly. Or, maybe, the stories we remember are the ones which link all of us together as human beings. As I said, there isn’t a child in the world who hasn’t at one point been embarrassed by a well-meaning parent. Whether the story of that moment involved a spare tire or not, we never forget that moment of embarrassment.

And, as the years go on, we wish so deeply that we could feel it one more time.

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