Remembering God’s love through a 1959 Cadillac

Remembering God’s love through a 1959 Cadillac

This is a series of reflections on my own life that I hope will encourage you to think about yours. Many of us have things in our lives or activities that are energizing for us. Sports, hobbies, maybe places or memories that are really special to us that came from our connections to those around us as we grew up. Mine hangs on wonderful cars from my childhood that were connected to significant memories.

1959 Cadillac

Through the


of My Life

1959 Cadillac

It not only impacted automobile history, it carried wonderful memories throughout my life.

Cadillac offered no less than eleven different body styles for 1959. The ‘59 Caddy had it all — looks, performance, and comfort. It stood as the ultimate symbol of success, impressive and — yes — controversial. The outrageous tail fins and jet pod taillights evoked either a love it or leave it attitude with the public.

Some have even said that “the signature tail fins soon became Cadillac’s most famous styling feature, but with each successive series of new cars these rear fender appendages grew higher and more flamboyant.

By the late 1950s they had reached ludicrous proportions and were of questionable taste.” Of course, just about everybody knows about the monster fins on the ‘59 Cadillac but for me, those fins became a signature that impacted my life in unforgettable ways.

A Cadillac entered my life as a symbol of God’s faithfulness!

I was born in 1954 and lived in Colorado until our family experienced something that changed all of our lives forever. I had just reached two years old. My dad came home one day to find that his marriage to my mother was in desperate condition. Due to his caring heart for me and my sisters the decision was made to give us a place of refuge while he and my mother attempted to deal with their marriage problems.

My dad’s family lived in Iowa. They were surrounded by a little community of 500 people that was anchored by a towering steeple on the local Catholic Church. This piece of nirvana also had a movie quality baseball stadium much like the one in “A Field of Dreams”. It was called “Memorial Stadium” and was built out of wood timbers and was painted the expected emerald green with white lettering. The houses were all in generally perfect condition. If you picture a “Leave it to Beaver” television set, this small town would come into view.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, we were transported 600 miles across the country to our new “temporary” home. We were taken to live with two aunts and their families that lived about a block away from each other.

For some reason, it was decided that my two older sisters would go to Marian’s home and I went to Lorna’s. Marian had three older boys already and she welcomed my sisters into her family graciously. She loved that she would have two girls to add to their mix. Lorna had two girls and a boy so it was natural that I would share a bedroom with their oldest son, Alan. He was a great big high school, college prep, kind of guy. I idolized him but he was gone a lot so I connected more with his littler sisters. They loved having a new little brother. I was just a little over two years old so they could carry me around, play house with me, and generally act like a mom.

Their house was a small “Cape Cod” four bedroom home. It was bright white with Red shutters and awnings. It sat on the busiest corner of the town that had the only Stop Sign. Simple in design, they had built it from scratch in 1948, the year their youngest daughter was born.

My Aunt Lorna

My Aunt Lorna

Right next door is the house where my father was born. My grandparents lived there. There was a sidewalk through the back of the two houses to connect the two together. This family saw each other daily and sometimes more than once per day.

Lorna’s husband’s name was Art. Art was an astute business man. He knew numbers and business management like the back of his hand. But, in this small farming town, he had chosen to farm and raise and sell popcorn. Their popcorn was the very best quality available. Nothing short of the best would work for Art. He and his brother had become very successful and were known as some of the most affluent in their community. They were involved in their church, and in helping the town to grow. They were visionaries and had put this town on the map all around the heartland of our country for their accomplishment in the popcorn business.

Their success in farming and popcorn allowed this family to have many of the finest amenities in life but their lifestyle was very modest. As I sat in the bathtub my aunt would say, “We don’t have fancy bubbles, just swish around real quick and you’ll see bubbles in the water”. Their simplicity was calm and comforting to me.

If you can imagine in the fifties, this home had an attached two car garage with an “electric garage door opener”. Due to the electronics required to manage this modern equipment, a button had to be specially installed under the dashboard of their cars to lift the door. It was always so much fun to see my uncle secretly push the button a block away and turn the corner to see the door going up seemingly, all by itself.

Lorna was a professional wife, mother, and business assistant to her husband. The attention to detail in running her home and family was profound. There was no stone unturned. Her home was immaculate, her children well educated, and her husband’s business successful, to a large degree, because of her supportive role in his life. Meals were always ready down to the intimate detail of her family’s needs. Not necessarily a gourmet cook, but she knew how to get the job done.

The life of the family I had been thrust into gave me security during the transition. We always counted on lunch at the “noon whistle”. Some of the days an elaborate lunch might be made and transported out to the farm fields, but no matter where it was to be served, it would be there.

Laundry was always done on Monday’s. Clothes were meticulously washed in a wringer washing machine and hung on the lengthy clothes lines on the side of the house. Lorna’s caring heart came through all that she did. She worked tirelessly to care for those she loved. I always remember her basement floor because even that was clean and was painstakingly painted grey with sponge patterns of color to make it pleasing and creative. This was all matched in her garage floor which was so clean you could eat off of it. I had now become a part of her family and began to benefit from all she had given to those who had come before me.

This home had a loud “clck, bang” that would occur over and over during any given day. The back door into the kitchen from the garage didn’t have a fancy pneumatic closer on it; rather it had a simple spring to bring it shut. The heavy weight of the lacquered pine door with a glass window in it would slam each time anyone would enter or exit. There was no question that someone was coming in when friends or family would come over for an unannounced visit. Even a slamming door became a comfort to my heart because I knew that every time that door would bang shut it was more love coming in to say hello, give a hug, or just to say “you’re important to us”.

My uncle Art quickly gave me a nickname. “Louie! Where’s Louie?” If he knew I was there he would always announce his desire to see me when he walked in from the garage for lunch or after a hard day’s work. He was always smiling and ready to greet me with his loud, masculine, but loving voice. My aunt called me Johnny and so did everyone else here.

Something profound entered my life in this home. It was love. I knew that without a shadow of doubt, everyone here in this little piece of Middle America loved me, Johnny Joe.

Since I was so young, I followed Lorna around everywhere she went. She cleaned, I watched. She washed, I learned. If it was grocery shopping, I went along. Taking lunch to the farm, I rode in the car out over the dirt roads and into the fields to their machines and tractors where the men rested while they ate what she had brought.

My female cousins babysat me when Lorna and Art would go out to the “Moon” on the weekends. The Moon was somehow the nickname for the local community bar where the others would congregate for dancing or just for fun. We had lots of fun at home ourselves. Bonny would toss me in the air on her feet. Jean would spoil me rotten if she was home from school or not on a date. My new “sisters” were doting over me every time they could. Family lore says that my aunt and cousins potty trained me. I guess this was a pretty significant time in my life.

As Lorna cleaned I noticed something that would be fun for me to tackle. She had a steel gray torpedo shaped “Electrolux” vacuum cleaner. She let me play with it as she cleaned. It was fun and she seemed to enjoy me playing with it so we did things together – or at 2 years old, so I thought.

While I was adjusting to my new home and settling in something else was happening in my heart. Without words to express my feelings I was grieving the loss of my other family. I didn’t know what was happening but the pain was tremendous. Where is my mommy, my daddy? Where did my sisters go? I see them sometimes but not every day. What has happened? No one knew what to do with my grieving heart so we went on with life but, I didn’t just go on. The wounds of being abandoned by my family followed me all through to my adulthood. It didn’t mean that anyone intentionally left me alone, it was just part of life that happened and inside it left a gaping hole.

My parents decided to try to give our family another try so after nine months of being with my aunt’s family, a pick-up truck pulled up in front that had a trailer hooked to the back of it. There was a metal cover on the bed of the truck and all of our things and my sisters and I were loaded into the back and off we went. We were moving to Nebraska to live together again.


At our new home in 1957

Now, what am I supposed to do? Where is my new family? What about the slamming door of friends or the loud noon whistle that drew us all together for lunch? No one calls me Louie any more. I think I remember who you are, mom and dad, but I am not sure I want to feel this all again so I don’t want to be near you. Aren’t you the ones who left me here nine months ago? And now I am feeling this all over again. Actually, I am not sure I want to open my heart up again.

I learned later in life that my heart shut down from the fear of abandonment and the potential of going through all of that again. My human brain had told my human heart to shut down for my own self preservation.

So, we settled into our new home. I was elated to discover that sometimes we could go back to my little slice of nirvana and this was absolutely wonderful for me. As I would visit for summer vacations I found that Electrolux vacuum could bring even more positive responses from Lorna. I learned how to use it and clean like she had shown me to do.

John Kindergarten - 1960

Me in 1959

One time when I went to visit, their bright yellow and black Cadillac had been replaced with a brand new one! It was bright red and had huge fins. It was the brand new 1959 Sedan DeVille! The interior was memorable to me as it had white leather trim with black and silver cloth inserts. It was so wonderful to look at, much less to ride in. It had a big wide center arm rest in the front seat that became my special place. Yes, this was before car seats for children and there wasn’t a seat belt in sight. I could see high over the gigantic hood and the spaceship like automatic dimmer sensor on the dashboard. When we’d go to the farm the huge vehicle would just float over the gravel roads and into the fields with comfortable ease. My aunt’s hands would swirl the big steering wheel around to bring this huge behemoth anywhere she wanted it to go.

I wanted to discover more of this car so I asked if I could vacuum the car out. I secretly played with the little buttons that moved the seat up, down and back and forth thinking I surely would get into trouble. I got in trouble so often in my other home for simple things that I transferred my fears to this situation.

But the freedom to be curious gave way and I pushed the window buttons and played with everything I could find. I did vacuum the car out but that was just a cover to allow me to dream about this big wonderful car. In the end, I didn’t get into trouble, I received my reward. “Oh, thank you Johnny, you are so helpful”. I was just four years old when they got this car so I was easy to please.

I started a routine of going to Lorna’s home in the summer for vacation times with her family. We would get back into the routine that was so familiar from when I lived there. I could relive my fond memories each time. I remember riding in the back seat of this car with Lorna’s friend while she spoke so highly of me to the others in the car. “Johnny is so good to have around, he cleans for me and he is fun to be with. We just love him so much.” And plenty of hugs and kisses always followed.

Their affirmation was a dramatic contrast to my other home. I felt criticized, ignored, unimportant and lost there. Each day was uncertain and with barking commands coming from the commander who looked like my mom, I wasn’t certain I was loved. My dad worked long hours at two jobs just to make ends meet and when he came home he was faced with such challenging marriage problems he was emotionally unavailable for any of us. Of course, I couldn’t have possibly understood this at the time but as I grew older it all began to come clear to me.

When I got to go to Lorna’s home I felt relieved from the conflicting environment of my home in Nebraska. My aunt’s family wanted me and loved to see me. The “Louie’s” continued and I loved to hear Art yell them out. The slamming back door was such a comfortable sound. And yes, that bright red Cadillac symbolized for me the dramatic design of something wonderful as I related it to how I felt in their home.

Every time I see a sixties Cadillac my heart take a little skip to the memories. But sometimes, the reality of today can break the dream. I returned to Iowa for a relative’s birthday. My Aunt had passed away years earlier and my uncle Art lived in the home alone. He graciously invited my wife and I to stay with him when we were in town. So, I got so excited! I hadn’t stayed at their home since I was a teenager. I told my wife how wonderful it would be and looked so forward to reliving the memories of my old home.

Old Pics from Home 159

Uncle Art in 2002

So, in we came and Art said we could stay upstairs in my old room. We went up and right away it was different. The room smelled musty from a lack of use. It was somewhat cluttered with some things that had been brought out of the closet for some reason. I remembered how sparkly clean and orderly the house always used to be.

We got ready for bed and lay down. Again, the bed smelled of an old mattress. As I lay in that room I couldn’t stop the flood of memories that entered my head. I didn’t sleep well that night. It wasn’t restful anymore because life was different today. Lorna was gone, Art had gotten older and his voice no longer full of the life he once had. The house wasn’t what it was and my old room was just that, an old room.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4

I learned something about loss and grief from my short one night stay there overnight. We are designed for an eternity in a perfect place we often call heaven. This world isn’t heaven and often brings us to the reality of an imperfect world that can be hard and complicated. We have glimpses of heaven here but in the end, it isn’t heaven.

When my uncle Art passed away I had fleeting thoughts of trying to buy this old homestead. I felt possessive and didn’t want anyone else to live there. I didn’t want this home to change and possibly lose the tangible evidence of something that for me was so dear to my heart. A place where I felt loved and accepted.

When I think of home here on earth, I am always drawn back to Iowa. The summer corn fields, the small towns that are built around churches and schools and the gravel roads all warm my heart. But when I think of my eternal home, I am hopeful of a place that has been custom designed by my Heavenly Father that will bring me to the height of feeling safe, connected and eternally loved. I believe I will be greeted there by my aunt and uncle and so many others who have been important in my life.

A couple of years ago I was seeing a counselor for some struggles that had surfaced. He led me to a visual model of praying and asked me to think of a safe place in my life. I immediately thought of eating in my aunt’s kitchen as a child. He asked me to describe what I saw and what I was feeling.

I saw Lorna cooking and I was sitting at the table playing with my silverware. I was completely free because she didn’t mind me being a kid. I looked over at the chair next to me and there sat Jesus. He was staring at me. I felt really uncomfortable with His stares because it was a piercing message through His eyes that He loved me.

So we moved forward from that place into some prayerful processing of another point in my history. When we finished my counselor asked me to return to that safe place. I focused again on the room and something had changed. Jesus still was looking intently at me with His piercing love but my aunt had turned around and began t speak. She merely said, “I know.”

My eyes began to well up in tears. I recognized so clearly through this moment that Jesus had provided a place of love and acceptance for me knowing how miserable and painful my home was. My aunt was motivated to love me because she knew I needed her mother’s heart. Those two words in our prayer time laid salve on some deeply seated wounds in my heart. A new chapter opened up for me of recognizing God’s love in a deeper and more meaningful way. I began to receive something from Him that was new and rich.

So, you ask, what is up with you and your love for Cadillacs? I can answer that question easily. It is the gift of a memory of love from my Father in Heaven. He gave me that bright red Cadillac to carry through my life until now when He would show me personally, that He loves me and has heard my heart cry all through the years. He had not forsaken me but provided me with someone who would love me when I needed it very much.

This is why my life verse from the Bible is:

I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.

Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.

Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, save me!”

The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.

The LORD protects the simple-hearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.

Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you.

For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living. Psalm 116:1-9

Thank you Father. I receive your love today

Your son, “Louie”.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print this article!
  • Turn this article into a PDF!
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace
  • Google Bookmarks


4 Responses to “Remembering God’s love through a 1959 Cadillac”

  1. Tom West says:

    Thanks so much for sharing such an intimate part of your life.
    I’m sure it has been and will continue to be a great encouragement and blessing to many.
    God bless you.

  2. gustave verdult says:

    God loves you as He loves me, He sends me many crosses to make me into a saint.
    You are like that too.

  3. Gustave Verdult says:

    An eternity awaits us after this short human life, concentrate on serving Christ and die in the state of grace, to be rewarded in everlasting union with God, His saints and His Saints.

  4. Gustave Verdult says:

    God loves you as He loves me, He sends me many crosses to make me into a saint. You are like that too. An eternity awaits us after this short human life, concentrate on serving Christ and die in the state of grace to be rewarded in everlasting union with God, His saints and His Holy ones.

Leave a Reply