I believe in owning a terrible first car.
Growing up, I was someone who eagerly awaited my sixteenth birthday, counting down the days until I could finally drive. I craved the freedom that came with a license, not having to rely on my parents to pick me up from practice or drive me to work. Like many of my friends, though, the first car I drove was old and beat up.
My first car was a silver Delta ’88 Oldsmobile, previously owned by my great-grandparents. After they both passed away, the car sat for a year, only occasionally getting taken out for a drive. The next year, I got my license and the car became mine. It was a great car to drive, but it was covered in dings and dents. The paint was peeling in some spots, the radio only got two local stations and only one side of the car’s speakers worked. But I loved that car.
Owning an embarrassing first car taught me many life lessons, more than I would’ve thought possible. That Oldsmobile instilled in me humility and appreciation. Driving around in your great-grandparents’ car isn’t the coolest thing you can do in high school, but I learned to appreciate that I at least had a car. I gained another big lesson in humility when I ran out of gas in the school parking lot. I quickly learned that when my gas tank read a quarter of a tank, it was actually empty.
I’m grateful for that old, beat-up car and the lessons it taught me about appreciating the little things. I learned to appreciate air conditioning more than the average person after driving a car that didn’t have it. I appreciated late night drives with no destination in mind, and I enjoyed them even more with my best friend beside me. At 10:30 at night, I learned the type of car you drive doesn’t matter when you’re on a back road in a small town. Even with all of its flaws, whenever I felt overwhelmed by life, my Oldsmobile was a perfect getaway car to escape reality.
When I was 19, I chose to upgrade to a new car: one made in this decade, and more importantly, one that had air conditioning and a working sound system. I worked hard to buy that new car. I believe if I hadn’t had a terrible first car, I wouldn’t have been nearly as motivated to save up for something better. So there’s another lesson that Oldsmobile taught me: the value of hard work.
When I was younger, my great-grandparents taught me so much, ranging from the art of baking bread to why it’s important to help others. A lot of these lessons I learned from simply watching how they lived their lives and interacted with the people around them. After they passed away, the car I inherited continued to teach me lessons, ones I’m sure they would have taught me themselves if they had the chance.
I’m grateful for my hand-me-down Oldsmobile. It instilled a humility and gratitude in me that has never gone away. That’s why I believe in owning a terrible first car.
Essayist Allison Besch is a junior at Penn State majoring in nursing.