Getting one’s first car is one of those thresholds of emerging adulthood that most young men and women experience, most often in a good way.

I didn’t have wheels of my own until I was a sophomore in college, 60 miles from home and longing for something more reliable than begging rides from other students heading that way.

The car was a white 1962 Chevrolet Bel Air with “three on the tree.” The car had more than 100,000 miles on it, back when 100K miles was considered quite an achievement. It had been the family car, and I paid my dad $300 for it. I promptly dubbed it “The Holy Roller” and proceeded to drive it hard until I no longer trusted it, at which point I sold it to someone else for … $300.

Not all car sales go so well.

Having a car also meant learning to take care of it. Back then we had to change the oil every 2,000 miles, and do a tuneup with new “points and plugs” every 15,000 miles or so. I learned how to do that myself to save a few dollars, which I needed for that expensive gas: an oil crisis had pushed the price way up to seventy-something cents per gallon.

I even tried doing a brake job once. I determined that my gifts lay in another direction and did not try that again.

My son Samuel acquired a car this past week, a month or so ahead of schedule, mainly because I needed to something to drive while the Prius is in the shop having a nose job. It’s a spiffy Dodge Caliber that looks good, runs good, and rides well for a car its size. It has a lot less miles on it than my first car, and can go a lot more miles before requiring tuneups.

After two years of service as a rental car in Illinois, however, it also had some salty slush-induced rust on the brake drums and calipers, which we decided to tackle with a wire brush and sandpaper, hoping to improve the appearance of the wheels and to prevent further corrosion. At the end of the day, Samuel could chock the wheels, jack up the car, and change a tire by himself — no small achievement.

There’s a natural pride that comes with each step of self-sufficiency, and as long as it’s kept in perspective, that’s a good thing. Healthy pride builds self confidence and spurs us to learn even more, to perform even better.

Learning to care for a car is just one of many ways all of us can grow, or help others to grow. Learning to care for other people is an even better way … and something in which we can always take pride.

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