I was drifting off to dreamland when that little four-liner by John Greenleaf Whittier came sneaking into my mind.
“If thou of fortune be bereft
and in thy store there be but left
two loaves, sell one and with the dole
buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.”
Ask yourself. When was the last time you bought hyacinths for your soul?
I translate Whittier’s reference to “hyacinths for the soul” to mean something you covet very much but cannot really afford, something you can well do without, but something that keeps returning to your mental want list until it almost becomes an obsession.
I was working at the Burlington newspaper when I was confronted with a “hyacinth for the soul” dilemma.
The object of my obsession was a car. Not just an ordinary car. A beautiful car that dwelt on the car lot next door to the newspaper.
It was a 1957 Carolina blue and white Ford convertible called The Sunliner. To the best of my memory it cost $3,000, an astronomical price for a news reporter making $40 a week. For me, coveting such a car was like coveting the moon. (For reference, a newspaper ad recently offered a 1957 Sunliner for $80,000.)
But there it was, tempting me as I came and went five days a week to work. My soul hungered for that car.
This car had multiple motors. With a push on a dashboard button, things happened. Amid much whirring and purring, the car’ s steel roof unhinged itself and extended full-length horizontally. It paused until the trunk lid automatically opened.
The roof then folded itself and moved slowly and gracefully into the car’s trunk. The trunk lid then closed.
At the time, I was driving a second-hand Jeep that I had brought from a buddy who had married well to a girl with a dowry that included a brand new Buick. I finally caved.
While I was helping make the world safe for democracy in the jungles of New Guinea and elsewhere during World War II, Uncle Sam was sending a portion of my princely pay of $78 per month home to my mother.
The next weekend I drove home and asked Mom for my savings . Alas, she had forgotten where she had stowed the money.
It was weeks before she awakened from a dream in the middle of the night, went straight to a closet and found the cash tucked in the toe of one of my old shoes.
So the dream car became mine! When sitting behind the steering wheel, I felt like royalty.
When, during a rain shower, I would pull over by the side of the highway or street to put the top up, other drivers would also pull over to watch my dream car do its thing.
I couldn’t wait to show the car to a certain girl teaching in the demonstration school at what was then Woman’s College in Greensboro.
I was surprised and disappointed when all she said was something like, “Hmmmm. Very nice. Very pretty.”
I was too insensitive to realize that a girl who had just shelled out big bucks for a beauty parlor visit would not appreciate having her hair blown away in a convertible zooming along the highway at 65 mph. She later had better cause for not bonding with that car.
We were vacationing in the mountains when I heard the “flip-flop flip- flop” of a flat tire. I had changed one flat in my entire life.
I removed the luggage from the trunk and managed to get the jack to work. Or thought I had. But as I pumped away, the jack collapsed on the rain-soaked earth. I heard a crunching sound and looked around to discover that the car’s weight was resting on my girlfriend’s brand new piece of Amelia Earhart luggage.
In time, she married me anyway.
A few years later, I, too, realized the impracticality of owning a car with luggage space not much bigger than a small suitcase.
A newspaper ad almost instantly brought to our house a Garner man and his 17-year-old son who practically swooned over the convertible.
He slid under the steering wheel, revved the motor and blew the horn. He then walked around the car, patting it lovingly while pleading, “Please, Dad! Please!”
Later, as the boy drove away in the car. I came close to crying.
There went a part of me, there went the remnants of my sweet bird of youth, my hyacinth for the soul.