The First Car I Earned

By Melissa Face

The First Car I Earned

“If you can find it, you can drive it,” Dad said with a chuckle.

He tossed me a set of keys as we walked toward the restaurant parking lot. My family had come to town to celebrate my college graduation.

Oblivious to the meaning of my dad’s gesture, I bounced into the parking lot a few steps behind him. I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for.

A car for me? Not possible. Not from my dad. He didn’t believe in buying cars for children. He considered them major purchases, meant to be earned through hard work. Cars were not gifts.

The first car I ever drove was a 1973 Chevelle Laguna. Dad bought it out of the showroom with money he saved from his first teaching job. He drove it until he and mom married, and then it became her car. It was our family vehicle after that and then, once I received my license, it was mine to drive.

I loved the Chevelle, everything about it. Well, almost everything. It did have a few quirks. It was not incredibly fond of cold mornings. “You need to give it time to warm up,” Dad reminded me. “Oh and give it a little gas before you put it in reverse.” I picked up on that tip once the car cut off on me a few times.

But on a positive note, it was roomy enough to hold all of my friends while we took a quick loop around town or went to a fast food restaurant. It was also a great conversation starter. After all, not every teenage girl drives a car that is older than she is.

When I was 19, I announced to my parents that I was moving to Myrtle Beach. The Chevelle was going to be my mode of transportation. Dad taught me enough about the car so that I could take care of the basics while I was on my own. I learned how to check the oil and add transmission fluid. I also knew when it was running a bit rough and might be due for a tune up.

The Chevelle looked quite nice on the outside since Dad and I had invested in some body work, a new paint job, tires and chrome rims. Despite the lack of air conditioning on a 100-degree South Carolina afternoon, I was proud to be behind its steering wheel. And even though my legs stuck to the black vinyl seats in the summer time, I thought I looked pretty good in it too.

But now, here I was, several years and many credits later, graduating from college. My mom, dad, sister and grandmother had driven from Virginia to celebrate the occasion. We had eaten lunch at Applebee’s and were standing outside in the parking lot.

Dad’s previous comment was just beginning to sink in. “If you can find it, you can drive it.” I looked down at the set of GM car keys in my sweaty palm, and Dad led me to a beautiful, burgundy vehicle.

“Are you kidding?” I yelled. “It’s mine? Really mine?”

“It’s really yours,” Dad said. “But let me tell you a few things. It’s a 1996 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. It has had some hail damage and is going to need a new paint job. So we’ll work that out the next time you come home. An elderly couple owned it, and they pretty much just drove it to their doctor’s appointments. So the mileage is low…”

Dad continued to tell the car’s history while I sat in the driver’s seat, playing with the stereo and adjusting my mirrors. I was ready to drive it.

We said a quick goodbye, and I pulled out of the parking lot and headed towards Highway 501, feeling like I was living a dream. I had my own car. I couldn’t believe it.

I talked with my parents that night while we were watching TV at my apartment. I thanked them both and told them what a wonderful present it was.

“You’re welcome, honey,” my mom said. “But I really cannot take any credit for it. This was all your dad’s idea. He picked out your car.”

“Really?” I asked, sounding a bit perplexed.

“Yep. I went with him to drive it home. But he pulled this off all by himself.”

“But Dad, you have always said that cars aren’t gifts.”

“That’s right,” he said. “It’s not a gift. You earned it.”

About this writer

  • Melissa FaceMelissa Face lives in southern Virginia with her husband, son and daughter. Her stories and essays have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul and Cup of Comfort. Email Melissa at

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One Response to “The First Car I Earned”

  1. Kim says:

    Your story brings back great memories, and your style and phrasing shows your maturity as a writer. Kudos once again.

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