“At least once in your life, you know you should drive something British with two seats and a soft top. It might break down, but while it’s running it will be the most fun you’ve ever had in an automobile.” My uncle would tell me this during one of our many Christmas time conversations about cars. I grew up around his opinions on cars, born in India, raised in England and an engineer for Rolls Royce Jet Turbines; you could say he had a knack for spotting a good engine and a bad one. Most notably was the conversation that revealed this Indian-cum-English-cum-Ohioan transplant’s true roots. A Triumph Spitfire; that was his most cherished motoring memory. A two door roadster is a great automotive choice, but as a young father it’s only so practical and so it was sold for something much more reliable and practical. His most cherished motoring memory sacrificed to make sure his new family were properly supported and cared for. His most cherished motoring memory, and now I’m determined to make it mine as well.
My Uncle passed away this June after battling lymphoma for almost two years. It’s not the easiest situation to go through, especially having attended medical school and knowing the disease progression. I think I was stuck in the denial phase a lot longer than everyone else, he had an aggressive form and all indications seemed to suggest that it would be sooner rather than later that his war was finally lost. Yet still whenever my mother gave me an update I would simply tell her that stranger things have happened and that if we believe it eventually our prayers and hopes will be answered. Even when I got a call from my parents telling me that they were going to spend time with him because he regressed quite significantly, I still held out hope. It was only when my sister called me and told me what happened that it finally hit me, but instead of that emptiness feeling that one would be expected to feel, all I could think about was that Spitfire.
I don’t think I ever outwardly told my uncle this, but I truly did love him. He was the most calming force in my life, the eldest adult who held the whole group together, who made the speech at Christmas to remind us of what a wonderful year we all had, and to encourage us to be thankful for what we had. And now he had transcended the land of the living and moved on, it still sounds a bit foreign in my mind because it was a thought that I could never imagine. And yet there I was, sitting in my apartment thinking about that gosh darn Spitfire.
Spitfire: A British two seat convertible with a small engine, tight steering and soft top roof. Spitfire. The thought had consumed me ever since it entered my mind. At first I merely thought I was deflecting my grief and anger onto this inanimate object, a rather mature defense mechanism in order to cope with the loss. I found myself spending hours reading into 1960s/1970s British motoring, learning about significant dates, cars, drivers, tracks, everything and anything. I started fantasizing about the moment I actually got my very own two seat British roadster, hoping beyond anything that it truly would be the most fun I would ever have in an automobile. I fell asleep to the notion; I woke up and thought about it again. I must have spent two full days dreaming about it and then on the third day I realized that this was most decidedly a long term goal and the reality of the situation finally hit me. I was helpless, what could I do? I don’t think I ever felt as helpless as I did during that exact moment. I suddenly felt very insignificant, like I truly didn’t matter. And then just as I felt like I was going to succumb, there was that thought again: Spitfire. It was so reassuring, so soothing, and all was well again. Suddenly I didn’t feel so lonely anymore; there was a renewed spirit in my mind and a spring in my step. Everything was going to be ok.
After that, frankly, horrible moment I’ve felt much better. I know that my uncle would surely not have wanted me to mourn his passing, he’d want me to celebrate that he lived a fulfilling life. That he imparted on me as much knowledge as he could, and that the impact he left on me was immense and purposeful. I haven’t looked at a Spitfire since that day, oh sure I will definitely own one, in due time. I won’t disgrace the pact I made with myself, whether it is 6 months or 6 years from now, there will eventually be a small, unreliable, British roadster in my garage. But I’m not going to use it as a crux like I did those first few days. I’m not going to let myself get sucked into the never ending cycle of anger and grief that a death normally elicits from humans. From one end comes the beginning of another journey. I don’t think I’ve ever really understood that before, and wouldn’t it be just like my uncle to teach me one last lesson on his way out the door.