I was in the church office. Just as I was getting ready to go home the telephone rang. The voice on the other end said, “Father, we need your help. Our son is going to drop out of school. He is only 14. They are going to kick him out. He doesn’t care. Father, we need your help.” (I was the protestant pastor in a south side Chicago catholic community.)
I went home, I stood in the garage, I looked at the Toronado.
The side door to the garage opened, my wife Ruth stepped inside, she said “I don’t like this garage.” The rats were scratching at the double door. “This is a scary place. I would rather park on the street. It is safer.” She turned and left. I just stood there.
There was a knock at the door. A young man came in. He said, “The lady at the house said you were out here. My mother said I should come and see you. Father, I HATE school.” His eyes immediately scanned the space. His voice changed. He said with a touch of laughter, “WOW, look at this piece of junk. What are you going to do with it?” I said, “I am going to drive it.” The young man continued to laugh. He walked around the Toronado. Tucked in against the wall was the frame of a motorcycle. I had traded some books for it. I thought it would be fun to rebuild. The opportunity to work on the Toronado put that motorcycle on the back burner. “WOW,” his eyes fastened on the motorcycle, “Can I buy it from you?” I said, “Lets talk to your parents. I will trade you, you help me with the car, go back to school, get passing grades and we will spend time on the motorcycle. If your parents say yes we will put together a schedule to work on both the motorcycle and the car.” We went to see his parents. His mother said, “Absolutely not!” I didn’t see him for over a month. His mother called again. “Father, we need your help. Things are worse. He is such a big boy. We can’t do anything.”
It was a rainy Saturday afternoon. I was in the garage trying to find out what parts I had and didn’t have. There was a knock at the side door. In a moment the young man walked in. “Can I help you with the car?” “Sure,” I said. We worked for a while and he said “Mom said no to the motorcycle again. Dad was so mad he won’t say anything.”
We worked in silence for quite a while. By the end of the day he wanted to know if he could just show up and work with me. I said my schedule was getting busier and he would have to call. He did. He kept showing up. We kept getting work done. He turned the key, the motor started. He smiled, I cheered. The next step was simple, insurance, license plates and a test drive. The motor was loud, but it sounded beautiful. We test drove it up and down the alley. It scared the rats away. My dream was one step closer to reality.
I asked him if he could help me rebuild the motorcycle. I told him I didn’t have money to finish the car. Together we worked on the motorcycle. We took it completely apart. We cleaned every part.
One day I asked him if he minded if I went to talk with his mother. “Please,” is all he said. I sat with his mother and we talked. The agreement was simple, he graduates, he can have whatever he wants. I went to talk with his school counselor. I went back and talked to the young man. I told him what both his mother and school counselor said. I didn’t see him for over a month.
The phone rang at the church. “Pastor,” the voice at the other end of the phone said, “he passed every class. He is going to graduate.”
I kick started the motorcycle. It started. I smiled, he cheered. He took the motorcycle home. His dad took it for a test ride.
It was now 1978. The Toronado was still unpainted. We had decided to leave the church on the South side of Chicago and spend the last year of seminary on the North-side. We drove the Toronado up to Grantsburg and stored it at Ruth’s parent’s farm.