It is a day of remembrance, honor, and thanks. Albeit, the clamor from the big box stores to come out and get a drill for a special price, and all of the major stores offering special prices on mattresses, I ask you to pause and reflect. Veteran’s day should be a day to pause and to honor those who have served or have fallen. With that in mind, I wrote this story about 7 years ago. I was inspired by a 1969 Mustang Mach I.
Beyond our soldiers, I wanted to remember those who serve behind the front lines.
The life savers. Those who sweat and toil to save lives and sometimes give their own.
With that, I give you this story. Enjoy. It’s for Her.
“Look over there, Across the street, There’s a car made just for me!”
The lyrics of the great Eddie Cochran resonated through my mind as I saw it. I was just about a block away, but I know a desirable car when I see one. I loaded the customers paint in his car and walked to the intersection to try and get a better look. Sure enough, it was a white 1969 Mustang Mach 1. Being though it is summer, I hurried back inside to check and see if there were orders needed to be tended to. But, that car was on my mind.
I did a quick check and sure enough we were caught up for the time being, so I ventured across MLK Jr Blvd and into the Office Depot parking lot. The car looked like a genuine low mileage survivor. Sure, it had the wrong wheels, but it was a bare bones Mach 1. I walked to it and noticed it had some moss actually growing around the side scoops, so I knew right there it was a native vehicle. Funny how these things happen in Portland. So mentally I started a check list.
Hood pins? Check. Proper hood striping for a ’69 351, Check. Dual exhaust tips per each side? Check.
But this car had no window louvers or a four speed or spoiler. It was a genny bare bones ’69 Mach I! My pulse was racing. Truthfully? It is not at the top of cars of choice, but a low mileage survivor is always something to savor. I snapped a quick picture with my phone from about 20 feet away. I had to go in for a closer look. I glanced into the driver’s side and noticed it was an automatic car with the low-end gauge cluster with a blue interior.
And it hit me.
The driver’s seat was the only place clear in the car. I shook my head, snapped a picture with my phone again and looked closer. Grocery sacks both plastic and paper were everywhere in the car. I walked to the back of the car and took another picture. Sure enough, the backlight was filled with debris. Aghast, I walked to The passenger side and did not even bother to look but took a picture instead. It too was packed to the headliner. Full!
I stepped back and walked away. Thanks to our thirst as a society for reality shows, I am quite aware of the hoarder syndrome. Hell, a few Summer’s back, I had helped a dear friend of mine go through her Grandfather’s estate and that was an experience. But to see it on four wheels in a desirable muscle car? This blew me away. I forwarded the pics to my closest of friends.
And the replies started to come back. WTF? LOL? Really? Seriously? But Deke sent me a message that hit home. It read, this needs to be rescued, did you get the license plate? I stopped in my tracks. By that time, I was back in the store and was showing the pics I snapped to my co-workers. Did I get a pic of a license plate? I clicked and scanned and of the four shots, there it was. A shot of the rear of the Mustang, back window filled up, split exhaust tips visible and an original blue and gold Oregon tag. I tapped it and sent it to Deke. And waited.
The day waned on and as it is in the house paint industry in the Summer, I left the store sore and tired. I had a long trek ahead and the cold beer waiting seemed like it was beyond the 30 miles I had to drive home.
The Mustang was a cold fire burning in my mind. If, when, I could…As a car guy, these thoughts singe your thinking process. Electricity could be shut off and you are drinking water from the Columbia, but if you have that Hemi ‘Cuda or Boss Mustang, life is fine.
Why was it filled with trash? Why did it have the wishbone 14″ Mustang GT wheels instead? Who would treat a car like this as such?
It was the next afternoon when the message was received. And it hit hard. I have an address. It burned into my memory. Deke is amazing. He is a soft-spoken person. Always there when you need him. We became good friends after he had rescued my ass in my ’63 Econoline pick up for the 100th time it seemed. Actually, it was three, but as much trouble as that vehicle was, the debts for a fellow car lover seemed to be adding up.
But this is what he does. Flat hauling a stalled project. Brake job? He is there. Mounting and balancing that set of tired bias ply tires? No question. And always with a fridge full of ‘Stones. I stared at my phone. We had an address and Deke was ready with a trailer and spoke of halving the cost of buying the forlorn Mach 1. I balked and texted him, do we really try to buy the car? His response was this person has no idea what they have. This could be a great opportunity to own a piece of muscle car era pony car, and besides, I would buy your half because Beth would look cute in this. I smiled. Beth was his misses and put up with our car shenanigans always. I messaged him back, Deal.
The day was set. Early, on a cold grey November, Saturday, Deke arrived at my place. His duallie was freshly fueled and the trailer was willing and ready. I climbed in and Deke said, “Let’s rescue a Mach 1!” We rolled out of St Helens and talked of cars we always wanted. The lost Nomad. The ’60 Edsel Ranger Starliner I almost got. Where a ’46 Ford coupe with a fullhouse flattie sat near his house (not telling you!) and so forth.
We ventured into Northwest Portland and weaved between streets, ‘til his GPS led us to a humble bungalow at the end of a dead-end street. It was a quiet pleasant house. Neatly manicured yard. And there it was. Parked in the driveway next to a nearly new Land Rover.
“You kidding me?,” I almost shouted. There it sat. Wimbledon White 1969 Mustang Mach 1, out in the elements. I was mixed emotionally. Rage. Humor. Disgust.
I was out before Deke could grab my arm. The whole plan was to buy this car from a recluse. A confused person. Someone who was lost. I knocked on the door. And waited.
Someone who is lost—that thought stayed with me as the door to the house opened.
The gentleman was as tall as me. His eyes were hazel and seemed to search the horizon. Innocent. Wondering. His hair was very white and styled in a clean cut from decades ago. He smiled at me and extended his hand. I did not even have a chance to speak when he asked, “Is she home?”
I looked at him, shifted my stance and asked, “My name is David. Who is she?”
He cleared his throat and responded. “My wife.” He shook his head, cleared his throat. His eyes were welling up with tears. It was a scene I had heard about from articles on OPB or The Nation magazine, but to see it in real life. Whew…I am still saddened by it.
He continued, “Niko is a nurse. She told me she should be home in January of 1969. I bought her that Mustang you know. “His smile trailed off to the ol’ girl parked in the driveway. I looked over Deke’s shoulder at Mach 1. Deke’s face changed. His gaze hit the ground as the story began to unfurl.
“Yeah. We married in 1965. She and I were med students. Going to save the world. But I had an issue with my eyesight you know? Not someone who would serve the military so well, but Niko, she was always the healthy one. She went and served. We wrote letters you know? HA! You kids today. Letters…anyway, she told me it was January 1969 when she would come home. So, I asked her, what do you want as a present? Her response was, “A new car and things that will remind me of the freedom we have in our country.” The man paused.
My intentions of purchase long since vanished. Hell, I almost felt ashamed.
But he continued. “You know, some say freedom is not free. I stood by that mantra for years. But Niko, she said to me, “Freedom is free…it is WAR that costs us in treasure and lives.”
At this point I looked to the man in front of me. His body was starting to shudder. Shake. I dared to look into his eyes. It was 2013. 1969 was a lifetime ago. I saw the hurt. Tears. I tore my gaze away. He grabbed my hands. His voice was like a knife. “IT’S FOR HER.”
My vision was blurred. Tears of pain spilled from my eyes. My breath was held in my throat in long drawn out hiccups. Deke had walked down the driveway ahead of me. The strong duallie was fired up and waiting. I went to leave, but he grabbed my arm again and looked at me.
“It’s for her you know. I like to buy her things to please her, presents. I put them in that Mustang. She will come home someday, and the car and all its treasures will spill the laughter out of her I so long to hear.”
I looked him in the eyes. Smiled. Shook his hand and said,
“As many have served and have been forgotten. I am glad to have known and met you. So that I can pass her memory to others, so she is not forgotten. She will come home sir. Just wait.”
In Honor of our Veterans. Female. Male. Combat or Nursing. Thank you.