In a scholarship application I recently filled out one of the essay questions was: Describe fully an experience or event (aside from your studies or occupation) that has had a significant impact on your life and how you changed as a result. Here is my response:
As I was growing up, I often helped my dad in his shop. Whether it was sorting hardware or creating a masterpiece out of scrap wood, I learned to use tools and work with my hands. When I was 15, my dad worked at a body-shop that restored classic cars to mint condition. There were three old junk cars on the lot that needed to be removed so my dad’s boss told him he could have two of them if he removed the parts from the third so they could be sold. And so began a huge project to restore my first car: a 1967 Sunbeam Alpine that I would later name Trixie. A two door British convertible, this car was often referred to as a miniature Firebird due to its beveled headlights and curvy body. I helped my dad remove the parts that would be sold and was excited that one of the other two cars would be mine. Since I had already passed the test for my learners permit and was excited to get my license, the possibility of having my own car was an amazing thought.
When we got the two cars home, they were both in pretty bad shape. As for mine, the floors were rusted through as were various other parts of the body of the car, the convertible cover and seats were damaged beyond repair from sun and rain, and the engine definitely did not start having seized many years before. With a desire to fix things that was nurtured from my youth, this pile of junk had already turned into a gleaming two-door convertible in my mind’s eye. I got to work and removed various parts from the car to salvage what we could and started preparing the body for reconstructive surgery so to speak. We removed the engine as well as the hood and the trunk lid, or the boot as the British call it. As I think back, I remember a picture my mom took of me sitting in the car where the engine would normally be. As we continued working on the car, we discovered that while the top coat of paint was white, underneath was a deep green color called British Racing Green. The decision was made to restore the car to its original color and the image in my mind continued to take shape.
My dad cut out the rusty spots and masterfully created new parts he then welded into place while I used a pneumatic sand blasting system to clean the rust off many of the smaller parts of the car. I also learned to use a spray gun and primed and painted many of these parts. While we did the work ourselves, there were many things we had to buy. The car needed new tires, new upholstery, and a new convertible top not to mention the copious amount of supplies needed to repair the body of the car and eventually paint it. Though my parents contributed a considerable amount of money, the hours I worked as a cashier also helped fund this project. And though I spent countless hours working on the car, this pales in comparison to the amount of time and energy my dad put into this car all the while living under the pressure of a teenage girl to finish the job.
On my 16th birthday, the engine was in place and running. It was a thrill to push the lever that would eventually be connected to the gas pedal and make the engine race. Being able to drive it around the block about 6 months later? Priceless. Eventually the car was ready to be driven on a day to day basis. The first day I was able to drive myself to high school was pretty amazing; It was not just a car I was driving. It was more than a car made of steel and paint and rubber: it was a work of art representative of my parent’s love as well as our hard work and dedication. I drove that car through the end of high school and college before buying a new car that while not nearly as cool, was a bit more reliable for my 30 minute daily commute to work.
What I learned through the process of restoring, maintaining, and driving Trixie is not something I can easily quantify. While there are many practical things I learned during this project including how to prepare something that needs to be painted and how to take care of a car, the long term nature of this project as well as the collaborative efforts it required definitely contributed to who I am over ten years later. I think the biggest thing I learned was in line with the colloquialism “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Being that my parents did not have a lot of money, if it had not been for the long term nature of this project, I am not sure I would have been able to have my own car let alone one as neat as a British convertible. Working to restore my car taught me how to be creative and resourceful with what I had and work hard to earn what I did not have. Secondly, many of the necessary tasks to build my car were tedious and anything but glamorous. As a result, I am not afraid to get involved with messy situations be they dirty jobs or complicated life scenarios, nor am I afraid of tasks or goals that require sustained hard work. Additionally, restoring my car is not something I could have started let alone completed on my own. If it were not for what my dad and mom brought to the table, the job would not have been done. While I did not fully appreciate this in the hastiness of my youth, now that I am a bit older I can definitely see how it has shaped the way I work with people. Lastly, I am thankful that my parents encouraged me to be independent in allowing me to have my own car. In looking back, I am able to see this helped me transition into adulthood as a confident individual ready to make the world a better place.