Sometime in the early 1980s, my father announced at dinner that he would selling our blue four-door Impala. It was a momentous decision, and the entire family was very excited by the news. The most spectacular part was my father's promise that, provided he got a good price for the old car, he was going to go out and buy another vehicle--brand-new, right off the lot. He placed an ad in the local paper and we all started hoping and praying for a cooperative buyer.
The ad had only been out a few days when a man called to say he'd be very interested in having a look at the car. My dad invited him to come over early that evening. The Impala was parked in the street in front of the house, so my brothers and I determined there would be a pretty good view of the proceedings from the bay window in the living room. The three of us were lined up as inconspicuously as possible on the living room couch when the man arrived.
He seemed decent enough, open-faced and unassuming, and he brought his family--a jumbly brood of giddy kids and an only slightly harried-looking wife. They came spilling up the front walk to our house, but my father headed outside before they reached the front door. The grown-ups shook hands while the kids bounced around them in anticipation.
My brothers and I tried to assess the prospective buyers from our lookout on the couch. The entire family was dressed in clean but threadbare clothing. One of the boys was in a pair of shorts that were obviously too big for him, cinced up at the waist with a belt that was tied in front like a rope. Two of the other children had clearly outgrown their jackets; their skinny arms extended like pipe cleaners past the cuffs of their sleeves. One could only assume that the family's hand-me-down system had fallen a little out of sync with each child's rate of growth. It seemed that maybe they weren't rich.
From the way the family approached the car, you might have thought it was the Holy Grail. They circled around it reverently--from our vantage point it appeared they might actually be oohing and aahing--and even when the boy in the gunnysack shorts kicked a front tire he did it with respectful restraint. We saw the man ask our dad something--our father nodded and handed him the keys. The entire family jumped into the Impala while the man started the engine and then the car began to slowly roll down the street for a test drive.
My father came back up to the house rather nonchalantly, but when we stepped inside the front door his excitement was visible. "They're really interested. I'm pretty sure they're going to buy it." My brothers and I started to gleefully debate the make of our brand-new car. After only a few minutes, the Impala came creeping back up to the front of the house. We scrambled back to the couch as our father headed outside.
The kids poured out of the car and stood vibrating together in a nervous huddle. The man and my father began to talk. They kept turning to face the car, so we couldn't read their lips. The conversation seemed to be taking a long time--our tension was mounting. My dad was shaking his head, and then he walked back towards the house. No money had changed hands. Our hearts began to sink.
"Joy!" my father hollered, summoning my mother from the kitchen. "We have a problem." My mom met him in the front hall. "Don't they want it?" she asked, sounding as dejected as we felt. "No, they want it," my dad replied tensely, and he started shaking his head again. "They want to pay what I asked for it in the newspaper. That's way too much!"
My brothers and I were incredulous. Our father was upset because his buyer wanted to give him too much money? It didn't seem possible. This was the same man we had seen haggle relentlessly for better deals with everyone he'd ever done business with. We'd watched him bring Tijuana leather and pottery vendors to their knees. He was a banker. He liked to save and earn money. It was his sport. What was going on?
"They're supposed to negotiate," my father said petulantly. My mother thought for a minute. "Tell them the AM radio doesn't work, so you're taking off 200 dollars," she suggested. My father looked relieved. He went back outside.
My mother returned to the kitchen. My brothers and I sank back onto the couch and watched, stunned, as our dad went on a mission to talk his buyer into a lower price. He conversed with the man and woman for a couple of minutes. Then he turned on his heel and strode purposefully back up to the house. We still hadn't seen any cash.
"Joy," called my dad as he came through the door. She reemerged from the kitchen. "Did you reduce the price?' she asked, the beginnings of a smile tugging at her lips. "Yes," he said with a sigh of exasperation, "but it's still too much. I really don't think they can afford it. And I've just found out they're missionaries up north, for crying out loud. They're so excited because they'll be able to use the car to drive families back and forth to Sunday school." By this point in his monologue, my father had begun to appear a little desperate. He was pacing across the tiles in the entrance way, and there was sweat on his forehead. "Joy," he said, an edge of panic in his voice, "they think the Impala is the most amazing car they've ever seen because it has electric windows."
My mom was laughing, just a little, very gently. She kissed my father on the cheek. "Tell them one of the air vents is blocked. And we don't know where the passenger-side floor mat is. Take off as much as you want, honey." My father nodded, raising his head and straightening his back a little, happy to have the weight off his shoulders. He headed back outside.
There was a mild argument--the man no doubt trying to talk my father into a higher price. After a few minutes of discussion, the man pulled out his wallet (finally!) and handed my father some cash. My father did not even count it. The man grabbed my father's hand and shook it enthusiastically. The kids began arguing about who was going to go home in the wreck they had come in, and who would get to ride in their "new" Impala. My father strolled back up the porch steps, looking just as delighted as he had the time he got three huge Mexican flowerpots for 70 percent off. "They love the car," he said, beaming his way into the house. "To them it's a Cadillac. Better than a Cadillac. It's like the Bond car or something."
We turned back to the window as the family floated away in a two-car parade. And even as watched our brand-new, right-off-the-lot vehicle drive away with them, my dad was grinning from ear to ear, and I'm pretty sure we were too.
- Carolyn Arends