Building Character, One Ugly Car at at Time


Thankfully, but not surprisingly, DJ has been accepted into several institutes of higher learning.  She is waiting on two more replies and waiting on financial assistance packages.  Her wise father has communicated that he will NOT pay $60,000 for a private school when she could get an equally good education for $20,000.

We’re taking bets.  These are her current options:

UNC, NC State (Go Pack!), Furman, University of South Carolina, and Elon.  Still haven’t heard back from American and George Washington.

I will have to say DJ is a fairly strong writer, but even with her talents, writing ions of essays was a struggle.  I was the proofer, for grammar and spelling.  I didn’t write the dang things and yet I thought if she sent me one more to wade through i was gonna bust a nugget.

Thought I’d share my favorite:

I have a twin. Well, not like a biological twin. This twin does not look like me. This twin does not have the exact same birthday as me either. We were both born, or created, in 1997.  That’s as far as the physical resemblance goes. I have a 1997 green Subaru station wagon. It is the ugliest thing I have ever seen, and yet it has become a part of me and my high school career. My Subaru defines me, sort of.

 The car has been in my family for many years. My grandmother bought it brand new and drove it for many of her middle aged years. It was then passed on to my aunt who drove it from Boston, MA, to Raleigh, NC, on a regular basis. Then, it was my turn. I begged my dad to trade in the car for another one. I offered to help pay for a newer vehicle with the babysitting money I’d been saving since 6th grade.  He refused promising it would “build character.” At first I was beyond embarrassed to be seen anywhere in the trash can on wheels.  But the more I drove it, the more I realized that with the right attitude this car could be the coolest in the St. Mary’s School parking lot. I began to joke around calling the car my “baby,” or my “twin,” or the “soobs.” My friends soon caught on, and in short time I had taken a disaster and created a masterpiece.

 On the first day of eleventh grade, I drove to school and parked next to all of the shiny convertibles, jeeps, and SUVs. Instead of feeling like I messed up the status quo, I thought, “their cars don’t stand a chance.” Everyone that passed by marveled at the “soob,” as if it had been transformed into a corvette.  But it wasn’t the car that had been transformed, it was my attitude.

When I acted like the Subaru was a gem, so did everyone else. It became the car my friends and I drove to our late night runs to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, even when there were other wheels available with better speakers, seat warmers, and sunroofs. Rarely do I admit that my father is right, but having that car did build character. It also built friendships, inside jokes, memories, and of course some great Instagram pictures as we posed goofily on its roof.

 I have learned so much about myself from that little car.  I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Although she has already started complaining, in just a year or two, it will be my turn to pass down the good ole’ Subaru to my little sister.  I predict she will learn just as much from my baby as I did.   She’ll learn that material items aren’t everything and that your cool comes from within.

 You grow up in many ways.  In my family, one rite of passage is driving my grandmother’s old car.  My aunt got through it as have I. I hope that my two younger sisters get as much enjoyment and grow as much from the experience of driving the “soob” as I have.


Leave a comment


  1. Kim

     /  March 4, 2015

    That was my favorite essay ever!!!!!!!!

    • Danny Tanner

       /  March 4, 2015

      She said you wouldn’t give her any negative feedback!

  2. Rob

     /  March 4, 2015


  3. favorite quote of all time: “…learn that your cool comes from within” Words to live by!

  4. Such an awesome, awesome essay! She sounds like such a cool kid and any university will be happy to have her. I’m totally going to make my kid drive a car that is the same age as her, the uglier the better now! Tell your daughter thanks for the inspiration!

  5. Awesome essay! It’s so redeeming to have your child admit you were right!

  6. She will get in everywhere. What a great essay. Get ready to hang tough about the private-school tuition!

    I’m sorry to comment on everything you write but there are just so many parallels I can’t help myself. I, too, had to give that private-school-tuition lecture. We also bought our kids a car that was manufactured in the year of their birth–a 1996 Jeep Cherokee. They learned to drive on that car. When Adam died Caroline was promoted to driving his car, but Will proudly kept the Jeep. He loves it. They got their driver licenses in July, and the following February a surprise snowstorm sent Will and the jeep into a ditch. The old girl kept him safe, and still sports some of her wounds because who wants to spend more than the car is worth to repair it? She is a real trooper, that one, and her boy loves her.

    My kids ended up at UNC and NCSU. Very good values!

  7. Ac Snow

     /  March 4, 2015

    DJ’s essay Bruce, I enjoyed DJ’s essay. Your daughter has the gift. My granddaughter, Olivia, also is hearing from her applications….I’m amused by some of her “must haves..”, ie, old buildings, no sororities or fraternities, etc. Katherine and husband took her to nine colleges…I think it will be Beloit in Wisconsin…Iam betting that one semester of Wisconsin winter will send her migrating back closer to Florida….Being young today is the supreme adventure.  AC

  8. Aunt Susan

     /  March 4, 2015

    I vote for NCSU as well. and the car is cool, what will you get her for college? The soob must stay at St.Mary’s!
    Great essay, I am sure she will get in all and make the best choice for her.

    • Danny Tanner

       /  March 4, 2015

      yes. The soob will be staying in town – not sure it could make it out of town!

  9. cbw

     /  March 4, 2015

    Reminds me of my St. Mary’s days way back when. I drove my grandfather’s old blue cutlass supreme 1969-SMC girls named her the blue goose..she was also the car of choice as we drove her on many road trips to Louisburg, Campbell, Chapel Hill…she was the ugliest and oldest car in the lot, but safely drove back and forth from Raleigh to my home town near Asheville during my SMC years.

    My father, a physician, could certainly have bought me a shiny new car, but instead chose his famous words…”will build character”

    Vote goes for NCSU -my daughter had the best well- rounded education ever..but if you need to be a little further away-UNC will be a great choice as well.

    Congrats and best wishes on your new journey..and please keep writing-creative, talented, and definitely “cool within” you are!:)

  10. This made me crack up! “I have a twin.” Too funny!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Tanner Tweets

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 11,940 other followers
  • Past Posts

  • Contact Us

%d bloggers like this: