On the eve of May 21st, 1951 my older brother grabbed my arm and asked me to come with him. I was just 13 and lived in the shadows of my older brother. Harper could do no wrong. He was known for his athletic abilities, he was not only Class President, but was also the Prom King. Girls wanted to date him, guys wanted to be him. To me, he was just my older brother. I knew him for how he and Dad would knock heads how he hated yard work. That his fears of spiders lead to pranks I’d do on him. With all of his accolades the one thing I really felt in awe was the ’31 Model A sedan he had. Harp had drug it out of the hills and Dad was so angry he had done so. Soon after there was a ’32 Ford frame, then running gear from a wrecked ’42 Mercury. As the sedan was chopped, then placed upon the frame and the front and rear axles bolted in place, a set of big ‘n little’s on Ford steelies were bolted in place too. The clincher came when Harp learned of a near new Cadillac had been wrecked badly and he had made a deal and drug home a 331 OHV mill. His senior year was a blur of school activities, his job and building that sedan. He did them all. Not only did he drive the sedan to his graduation, but he graduated with honors and a scholarship. Then there was me. 13 years old and not one interested in sports at all, a band student and a writer too. Cars fascinated me, but I did not have the same keen abilities that my older brother did. I was a shadow in everything Harper would do, but I loved him so much. He always made time for me and would brag about my stories, how I excelled in band class.
So here we were, out in the garage standing beside that hot rod he had built. He walked me around to the passenger’s side front and I could tell something was amiss. He was nervous and kind of shifted his weight from side to side. He closed his eyes and then set a hand on my shoulder and one on the cowl of the sedan. “Look Benji, I need you to do something for me. See, I signed up and will be leaving within a week to Korea. “His words hit me like a brick. I gasped. He shook his head, “Now come on man, I will be a part of the US Army. We just saved the world from those nasty Nazis, so, how hard can it be for us to defeat those commies?” I nodded and bit the insides of my cheeks. No way was I going to shed tears in front of my brother. I just nodded and stared at the engine in the sedan. “Now, take care of it while I am away.” Then we sprung into action. We jacked the sedan up and carefully placed cinder blocks under the drive train front and rear. We drained the antifreeze, popped the plugs and squirted oil into the cylinder holes. The gas tank was bone dry so we then pulled out some old tarpaulins and covered the sedan. And there she sat. Looking like some crazy canvas ghost in the garage. We headed for the door and again, Harper turned to me and said, “Take care of it while I am away.”
He left the very next week. Harper was everything and more the Army could have hoped for. He was a skilled marksman, had leadership qualities and no fear. Then in August, he was gone. In WWII in our home town, we were always informed of anything that our boys were fighting for. But, when our soldiers were sent to Korea, silence. We never heard anything about Harper and that became the end of my parents. Mother shut down and would spend her days in silence. Father, well, he quit his job and became an over the road truck driver. He spent days away from us. I grew up now out of the shadows Harper cast. I wrote, played drums and watched over the sedan.
Why? Well, Harper wanted me too.
I became the owner of the home I grew up in. My folks passed but I carried on. Bess and I married and we kept the old home up and always in the garage, under those heavy canvas tarps, Harper’s sedan sat waiting. My nightly routine would involve myself sitting in my studio out in the garage and practicing on my kit. Slow rolls, poly rhythms. Anything to challenge my mind. It was toward the end of October one night when Bess came out to may space, excited! The door opened and there she was, lovely as always standing in the door way. She was just beaming. “Ben, I just saw on a report from the BBC that a cache of bones from lost American soldiers has been discovered! Dog Tags too!” I set my sticks down and then, before I could respond, the tarps that had sat covering the Model A fell to the floor. The car my brother had built and had asked me to watch over and I had, vanished.
Bess and I looked at each other. Then, outside, we heard the loud crackle of pipes.
I raced across the garage and threw open the doors. With Bess at my side we looked out into the darkness and beneath the street lights, there was the sedan with Harper behind the wheel. He blipped the throttle and that Caddy mill cackled into the night, fire shot from the straight pipes.
I had walked in a daze from the garage and was within an arm’s reach of the old Model A hot rod, I saw Harper. Young. Alive. That crazy grin of his. We locked eyes and I lost it. Tears washed across my gaze. “You took care of it while I was away! Thanks Benji!”
Harper nailed the throttle and the ‘31 powered by that Cadillac V8 and my brother raced away.
Bess sauntered up to me. She wrapped an arm around me. My shoulders shook as tears washed away memories of Harper and his Model A.
I kept my word and safe guarded my brother’s hot rod because somehow, I knew, he would return.
Thanks to Gary Campesi and his amazing artwork.