Storytelling in Action: Letting Go of the Mustang

“I need to know if  you are going to take the Mustang, or not because our cousin knows a guy that really wants it and who said he’ll finish the restoration,” said my sister. The car she was referring to was a 1966 Mustang, my dad’s last project car. It had been sitting in storage since he and my mother had moved back to the Cleveland area some 18 years before. I told her to give me a day and I’d let her know for sure this time.

Dad got the car from a buddy and I still remember the day it rolled off the trailer. Dark blue, riddled with rust. Dingy white landau roof. The interior was dirty but the seats were cool, aqua and white, part of its fancier “Pony interior.” I was 16 years old. 

We spent the summer patching the body with coffee cans, pop rivets, and Bondo. I liked to work with my hands and didn’t mind getting dirty and so enjoyed the process as well as the chance to hang out and learn from Dad. (Not that I would go on to promote the use of coffee cans instead of new sheet metal but you have to admit that was resourceful.)

At some point, my dad pulled the original 289 engine, which had seized and replaced it with a 302. It did get paint at one point. And he did get it running, with a temporary gas tank, which scared the crap out of me. But for myriad reasons, the car never got finished. And so it sat, and sat, and sat. First in my parent’s garage in Dearborn, and then in the storage space in Cleveland.

After my father died, I went over to the storage space to take a look. The car was covered with dust and inexplicably the driver side window had been left open an inch and so the interior was dusty and who knows what else was in there. Tires were flat. There were some surprises. For one, he’d saved the original 289 engine! The original hubcaps were in the backseat.

I pulled the door shut, replaced the lock and got back into my car, where I sat and thought about the Mustang, and my dad, for a long time. I know he would have wanted me to have it and there was a part of me that really wanted it, if only for that reason. The problem was I wasn’t skilled enough to complete the restoration myself and to have someone else restore it right would cost thousands. Plus, I had no place to park it so it would have to go from one storage space to another and that didn’t seem right, either. 

My sister called again and said I had to decide because they were emptying all three storage spaces by the end of the month. Then she said this: “Look, the guy that wants it said he’d restore it and name it ‘Uncle Russ.”  

I grew up in the garage working on cars, hanging out with car guys working on cars, and going to art school with car guys, and so I didn’t believe for a minute this guy would ever get this car done and take it out to car shows as “Uncle Russ.” I hope he does. But I know what it takes and so…I chose to believe—so I could let it go.

It’s human nature to tell ourselves stories. They help us make sense of life. My husband and I told ourselves a story about the benefits of moving from Princeton to Columbus. (The good news is, that story has turned out to be mostly true!) The story I tell myself about being a writer has allowed me to let go of the need to be a good bass player, so I no longer feel guilty for not practicing, or being rusty when I do play. And the list goes on.

What stories have you told yourself so you could let something go and move on, or focus your energy on one thing?