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Driving Father Jack’s Buick

Posted on November 8th, 2011

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I’m driving a new car. No, let me re-phrase that; I’m driving a newer car.

I picked up a Saturn Vue that is three-years old and has 43,000 miles on it. It’s high tech. For the first time I can use my IPod in my vehicle. It has remote start for those mornings when the windows are all frosted up and during those cold winter drives I can flick a switch and the seats warm up.

Jim DuFresne

Jim DuFresne

I like the Saturn but it can never fully replace the car I just gave up; Father Jack’s Buick, a.k.a. the Priestmobile.

My wife’s uncle was a Catholic Priest and after he died I purchased his car from the estate, a 1998 Buick Regal with 110,000 miles on it. I only paid $1000 and figured I could squeeze a couple of years out of it. But this car was blessed because eight years and 140,000 miles later I was still driving it.

It took awhile to warm up to Father Jack’s Buick. You sat low in the seats so getting in and out was always a monumental effort. The trunk was poorly designed. I could barely squeeze my belly boat in and could only carry my mountain bike if I left the front wheel hanging out. And there was something wrong with the tape player. No matter what cassette I put in, it was always like I was listening to Alvin and the Chipmunks sing.

Plus it was Buick. Drive a car like that and you might as well slap an AARP sticker on the bumper. People who saw me on I-75 in December probably thought I was just another snowbird heading to Florida for the winter.

But that car had the character and perseverance of its pervious owner and eventually I came to realize that Father Jack was somewhere in the Buick. Maybe sitting next to me in the front seat.

Father Jack’s trusty Buick Regal

This was a man who didn’t dilly-dally. He was famous for his 40-minute masses that attracted church-goers from surrounding parishes. He had little patience for excessive ceremonies and when it came to his sermons he told you what you needed to know without a lot brow-beating or biblical references.

This is how you should live your life, now go home and do it.

Naturally the clock in his car was fast. I would reset it at the beginning of every month and it would be off by 15 minutes at the end of it so I’d reset it again. This went on for eight years. It was hard to be late in Father Jack’s Buick.

After a couple years the trunk no longer locked. No doubt he was letting me know I was becoming too attached to worldly possessions. What was important wasn’t my flyrods in the trunk, rather the journey and certainly the destination at the end. That can be hard lesson to learn sometimes.

Most of all, that car, like Father Jack, was dependable. No false fronts or pretentiousness. You knew what you were getting. It wasn’t a model I’d ever choose at a dealership but it was always there when I needed it. That Buick never stranded me in the woods.

And I spent a lot of time in the woods in that car. For two years I drove around the northern half of the Lower Peninsula trying to find and fish obscure rivers and creeks while working on my book, 12 Classic Trout Streams of Michigan.

Beginning in 2009 I was crisscrossing the state researching trails for www.MichiganTrailMaps.com. Sometimes it sputtered, sometimes near the end it hesitated but it always started up.

Once last year I was deep in the Pigeon River Country State Forest, a good hour from the nearest tow trunk in Gaylord. After spending all morning on the Green Timbers Pathway I jumped in the Buick, turned the ignition and nothing happened.

I was probably looking at a $300 towing bill, if I could even find somebody to come out there, when I decided what I needed to do was pray. But not to God.

“Please Father Jack don’t let the Buick strand me here. Please!”

He was in that car with me, he heard me. I got out and opened and closed the hood a few times, rock the car a little from behind and tried the ignition again. This time the engine roared to life.

I’m going to miss that car, maybe more than I miss Father Jack’s sermons.


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2 thoughts on “Driving Father Jack’s Buick”

  1. Jay Spenchian says:

    Wonderful piece on Father Jack’s Buick. As a member of your extended family, I was able to get a close-up and personal look at that vehicle. Your descriptions were vivid and oh-so accurate. Hard to believe you only paid $1000 for it – was easily worth 5x what you paid. Also, cannot believe you forgot to mention that for too many years it only had one wiper working (fortunately for you it was the drivers’ side). That was such a signature feature and not having it repaired clearly was you living vicariously through Fr. Jack. He wouldn’t have wasted time with such nonsense. You also forgot to mention that whenever you parked it in front of our house, the neighbors would always become suspicious as to what type of character might be visiting us. We’ll miss the old Buick. As your favorite father in law said: “May it rust in peace”.

  2. Nora Hockenberry says:

    We knew Father John as he was a great friend of my Aunt Eileen. Fr John visited me sometimes twice a week while I was in the hospital 101/2 weeks having my son Scott. You could always depend on Fr. John that if he said he was going to do something, he was there without a doubt. My family became very fond of him throughout the many years he shared holiday meals with us and attended our many family events as if he belonged to our family. Our son Scott worked for St Robert Bellarmine when he turned 14 for two summers. Fr. John would always have a word or two with Scott giving him encouragement or making him laugh. Scott to this day says that job was one of the best he ever worked. Scott still has Fr. John’s remembrance card on his dresser. He is still with all of us. We loved your piece on Fr. John. He was definitely a man of modest means and a true Disciple of Christ.

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