Erick and his father had a strained relationship. It came as no surprise though. When Erick’s mom and sister passed away five years ago suddenly, his father fell into a slump that was hard to pull him out of. Erick, only 4 when his mom and sibling had passed, was left to his own devices, and often to the care of family members and friends. When Erick was 9, his friends all raved about building Pinewood Derby cars with their moms and dads. The kids would tease each other about their cars, or “oooh” and “ahhhh” at the ideas their parents had helped them with. When it came time for Erick to display his ideas, he was often silent, and greeted with questions.
Each day Erick would find scraps of wood from the neighbor’s trash, or behind buildings. He’d ask family members to borrow tools, glue, or anything else he might need. And slowly, bit by bit, he started building himself a Pinewood Derby car. At first, his father continued on his usual routine of coming home, throwing a frozen meal in the microwave, and flopping on the couch. It wasn’t until Erick’s derby car came crashing down one day that he finally got his father’s attention. Erick sat teary eyed on the floor as his father rushed into the room; wood was strewn everywhere, and a crumpled “Pinewood Derby Car Race!” announcement lay in the corner. His father didn’t yell. He wasn’t angry, or mean. He took a moment to evaluate the situation. Looking at his defeated son his father began to clean up the mess, stopping briefly to read the race car announcement.
Once he was done, he lifted the sad boy from the floor and carried him to the car. Erick looked at him with blurry eyes, but his father just nodded and drove to local hardware store. They picked up all the supplies they needed, and plenty more to spare. By time they got home the moon was shining, and the sun was nowhere in sight. But that didn’t stop them, the two worked through the night, side by side for the first time in five years.
On the day of the race, Erick’s Pinewood Derby car stood beside the others. His was the one to beat! And as he raced through the street, passing all his friends, the smile plastered on his face was the first one his father had seen in far too long. As he made his way through the finish line, his father ran towards him, tears streaming down his face. He scooped his son up, and whispered in his ear, “I’ll never leave you like that again.”
The first place medal hung on the frame, where a picture of Erick and his dad proudly displayed the derby car, hand built by the two. To the two of them, that first place medal did not symbolize them winning the race. No, that medal symbolized the two of them rebuilding what had been lost five years ago.
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