Cadillac Miracles, Cadillac Lessons
During my last two years at PSU, life on the home front was changing fast.
For the fourth night in a row, I had come home to the farm to find Jack wearing the same clothes, sunk in the rocking chair, silent. When I talked to him, he made dull attempts at conversation, but his heart wasn’t in it. His energy felt very low. I was worried.
That fourth night, I wrestled the truth out of him. He wasn’t sick, he was lonely. I was gone all day every day, sometimes for long days, and he was alone with the dogs and cows and horses. Our sibling partners in the tree farm had, like us, become worn out and tired of spending their school vacations doing stoop labor in the rain and mud. We had put the tree farm up for sale, but had had no offers—the real estate agent said that so far no one was even interested in looking at it.
I didn’t have the option, yet, of leaving my job. My salary made the farm mortgage payments.
I asked my Inner Voice for guidance. “Move to Portland.”
“But…” I protested.
“Rent a place, for now, and put the farm up for sale. You’re done with it.”
Jack concurred. It was time, and we were done being farmers.
By the end of 1989, we had two farms for sale, no takers for either one, and we lived in a rented condo inn downtown Portland on the Willamette River. We both missed the farm, and Jack especially missed having a wood shop, but we enjoyed a year of walks and bike rides along the river, and weekend festivals next door in Waterfront Park. From our rooftop deck we watched riverboat traffic, and threw a party to see the parade of lighted Christmas boats cruise up the river.
I was still working at PSU, but had begun to hear my morning guidance by sitting at my keyboard, asking and typing a question, then typing the answer that I “heard.” Doing it this way had been awkward at first, but before long became as natural as talking into a recorder in the car had been.
Jack was recruited to supervise student teachers at PSU, and had two or three teachers each term to visit , advise, and evaluate. He rode his bike everywhere, took a few classes, painted. But he missed his shop.
We needed a reliable car. Our old Chevy Blazer had commuted too many times to Portland, and with 200,000 miles on it was showing its age. But we now had a cash flow problem. We couldn’t afford to buy a car or a house until one or both of the farms sold. And nothing was happening in that department. We felt stuck.
I was helping Mom run her Course in Miracles Center, and arranged for a Course in Miracles teacher and writer to come and give a Saturday workshop, at the PSU Campus Ministry. Fifty people signed up. During the workshop, a woman raised her hand and made the comment that driving in to Portland a car had passed her, a Cadillac, with the license plate FREEDOM. She went on to ask her question, but I was thinking about a Cadillac symbolizing freedom.
I called Jack during the break. During the conversation, he mentioned that he had seen the new Cadillac.
“It’s a beautiful car. If I could afford it, that’s the only car I’d ever have.”
“They look like oversized boats to me,” I said. “What’s the appeal?”
“My Dad was a GM mechanic all his life. The Cadillac was the top of the line. I always wanted one.”
“Well, then get one!” I said.
He laughed. “Fat chance of that! We can’t even buy a used car right now. Have to sell something first.”
“Well, I guess you can dream.”
“Yeah, that’s all it is, or ever will be.”
At the end of the workshop, on the drive back to the condo, I flipped on the radio. An advertising jingle was playing:
The only way to travel is Cadillac style. Some people want more, not just a little bit. This is your life, you’re the only one who’s living it, let’s go, let’s live, love every mile…
I got chills. I had learned to see a “series of three” as a sign to pay attention and follow my guidance. Now, in the space of less than three hours, I had heard “Cadillac.” It felt like guidance.
I walked in the door and threw the Blazer keys on the counter. Jack was making coffee in the tiny kitchen. “Let’s go, Jack,” I said. “We’re going to the Cadillac dealer.”
He laughed. “Just looking, right?”
“Sure, but who knows. A miracle could happen.” I had to do it, but didn’t know why.
He poured his cup of coffee, picked up the keys, and took the coffee with him out to the Blazer. He had learned from living with me that miracles could and often did happen.
We test drove a sleek, gleaming, brand-new dark blue 1989 Cadillac. Soft leather seats, smooth gliding ride. When we returned to the dealership, we sat there in the newness and luxury like cats curled up in a cushy bed, unwilling to do what we knew we had to do.
Finally, Jack sighed and said, “Truth time,” and got out of the car. The salesman was waiting for us outside the showroom door.
“What do you think?” he said with a bright smile.
“It’s like driving a dream,” Jack said. “I love it. But the truth is, we just can’t afford to buy a Cadillac right now. I guess I just wanted the experience of driving it.”
The bright smile never wavered. “How much could you afford in monthly payments?”
Jack named an impossibly low amount, and started to turn away.
“You can lease this very car for that.”
We drove home in a new Cadillac Seville, Jack unable to contain his exuberance.
When we walked in the door, the red light on the phone machine blinked insistently. The message was from Irene, Tim’s wife, who was managing the sale of the tree farm. Her voice was high and excited.
“You’ll never guess! After all this time, we had an offer on the farm! Full price! It’s the first time the agent even showed it, and the person has already signed an earnest money agreement! And they can pay cash and they want to close in thirty days! Yahoo!”
The next day, we had a call from an agent we had never heard of, saying that he had a client who had flown his private plane over our farm. The client wanted to buy the farm for full price, cash, close in thirty days.
We both knew the farms had sold because we had been willing to follow the Cadillac “signs.” It was an exercise in trust.
I actually hated driving the Cadillac. I had to peer under the top of the steering wheel like a wizened old lady just to see out the windshield, and if the road was at all icy, the car was like a toboggan—slid all over the place. And I hated that friends made assumptions about the meaning of the car. Donations to the Center, already minimal, fell off, because people assumed Mom and I were both rich and paid rent and expenses as a benevolent contribution. After all, I drove a new Cadillac, and Mom lived in a big house with the lower floor dedicated to the Center. To supplement her meager Social Security check, Mom took in manuscript editing, which she did in the upstairs loft where she lived. Many months, she paid the rent and expenses, with help from Jack and me, but few donations from those who attended all the study groups and sat at her table for nurturing and nurturing.
Jack and I weren’t ready to buy a house yet—we hadn’t even been looking—but we were ready to get away from the constant shower of soot and noise from the trains in Union Station, across the street from the condo. We found a house to rent in a quiet neighborhood where Jack could have shops in the basement and in the garage. He set to building Adirondack chairs and footrests, and sold them to neighbors and friends, and continued to supervise student teachers. Now, he was sublimely happy.
We started looking in the Sunday Oregonian “Homes for Sale” section, for a permanent home. But there was no hurry—we liked our little blue rental house in Multnomah Village, and hadn’t yet seen anything for sale that appealed to us.
* * *
Alone, I drove west of Portland about ten miles to check out an ad for a house for sale on top of a small mountain, off Highway 30. The house turned out to be lovely, but too expensive and too isolated for us. I headed back down the winding, steep road to the highway. Halfway down, the engine coughed…and died. I was driving a 4400-pound behemoth, with no power steering or power brakes. Frantic, I checked the gas gauge. It had registered a quarter of a tank when I started down. Now the needle was flat on empty. I wrestled the car around a sharp turn, standing on the brake with all my strength, and I knew I couldn’t keep it up. The car was gaining speed, and I just couldn’t brake hard enough to stop it. On my right was a steep drop-off, and on my left a steep bank, but no shoulder. After screeching around a few more hair-raising curves I finally managed to get the car slowed down, by standing on the brake with all my might while jamming on the emergency brake. I got it stopped, partly on the right shoulder.
Shaking, I got out of the car and collapsed against it. “I hate this damn car!” I said aloud.
It was another five miles to the highway, and there had been no sign of human habitation for several miles. In 1989 most people, including me, didn’t have cell phones. My bigass car was partially blocking the road.
I calmed myself, closed my eyes and asked for guidance. “What now?” It was trust that got us into this car, and I had to trust that I would be helped out of this situation. Before I could listen for an answer, a white City of Portland pickup pulled in behind me. A man in white overalls got out holding a bulky cell phone.
“Can I help?”
“My car—it just quit! It says it’s out of gas, but it can’t be, I had a quarter tank just a few miles ago!”
He eyeballed the Cadillac. “These cars…when you’re on a steep downhill incline like this, the gas flows to the front of the tank. Gauge must be in the back of the tank. So the car stops, thinks it’s out of gas.” He shook his head in disgust. “You’d think for all the engineering they put into a high end car like this…well, never mind, who can I call for you?”
“The Cadillac dealer! They said they had roadside assistance for any problem.”
I dug the phone number out of the glove compartment. My overall-ed roadside assistant dialed for me, and handed me the phone.
“Hello? Our new Cadillac just stopped, on a steep wind-y road. It says it’s out of gas, but it had plenty a few miles ago. I need roadside assistance.”
“Where are you?”
“Just above Linnton, past Sauvie Island. You know, where the Burlington Railroad tracks are.”
“Sorry, but we don’t provide service that far from town.”
He brushed off my angry protests and hung up.
“Who else can I call?” the Water Bureau angel asked.
“I guess my husband, but I can’t reach him anyway, he’s out at a school, working.”
“How about we just call a tow truck, there’s one at the bottom of this hill at that service station in Linnton. If it’s a bigger problem than the gas gauge, you can leave the car there and ride with me back to town.” I trusted this man, with his overalls and balding head. He felt like an angel to me.
“Let’s do it,” I said. He dialed Information for the number.
During the wait for the tow truck, my savior entertained me with stories about his life working for the Water Bureau inspecting new home sites.
When the tow truck deposited the Cadillac at the service station, the gas tank once again registered a quarter tank. It started right up. I turned to the Water Bureau angel.
“You were right, and so was I” I said. “On level ground, there is gas in the tank.” I reached for my wallet. “How can I ever thank you for rescuing me? Let me give you some money for your trouble.”
He refused. “It was my pleasure. Drive safely.”
I filled up the tank and drove home. “So what was this adventure about?” I asked my guide.
“Trust,” came the answer. That was all.
There were other misadventures during the Cadillac Year—once I had to call the dealer to send a flatbed to downtown Portland to pick up the Cadillac that had died in an intersection. Roadside assistance did apply, apparently, half a mile from their showroom.
Another time, at a family reunion, a small niece became fascinated with what happens to a shiny dark blue finish when a sharp rock is dragged along the length of the car. A leased car! Omigod. But at home, Jack mixed blue chalk line powder with paste wax, filled in the scratch, did some polishing and buffing, and the long, white scratch completely disappeared.
To Jack, the Cadillac was an icon—a big, beautiful, comfortable car. “You can drive this car 400 miles and be as fresh as when you started.” We drove to Colorado for a Course in Miracles conference, the easiest trip we’d ever made. As long as I didn’t have to drive.
Jack loved every minute of his Cadillac Year.