Firt and The Stingray

Some called him Doc. Some called him Red. A few called him Firt. I called him Granddad.

Everybody called him brilliant. A little goofy at times, but always brilliant.

Ferber A. Finley was a WWII veteran, a celebrated dentist who grew orchids and made artificial eyes. But his greatest masterwork—to his scrawny-bag-of-noise grandson, anyway—was the Stingray.

Named for the testosterone-fueled Corvette of the 1970s, my Stingray was a pedal go-kart framed from scrap metal and various chunks of junkyard trash. Granddad, one of the most respected dentists in the state, frequented junkyards (and Don Knotts movies, but no matter).

Grandad presented it to me when I was 5, and I spent hundreds of hours weaving tight figure-eights around his parked Buick and Grandma’s mile-long Chevrolet.

It was my most treasured possession. No question.

But this column is not about the Stingray. This column is about gut-punch decisions either to hang on to rotting elements of your past or discard tangled and true clumps of uselessness. Bittersweet sentimentality versus bitter common sense.

Call it the Crud Correlation Theory (CCT): Sentimentality decreases in correlation to the increase of junk falling on your head from sagging closet shelves.

You see, the Stingray—now 47 years old—lives in our garage. It was passed on to my nephews in the 1980s. One nephew, Danny, credits the Stingray for his “need for speed.” Nearly 18 years ago, my brother

Russ tuned it up, painted it pink and gave it new life for our oldest daughter, Katie. Toes tickling the pedals, Katie gave it several spins around the driveway before discovering Hannah Montana.

These days, the Stingray remains in a dusty corner of the garage, teetering on three wheels and suffering from my savage attempts to restore it.

Every year, I stand over it, staring and thinking and staring and thinking. The Stingray gets closer and closer to the side of the road. In February, it actually made it there amid a fast-and-furious frenzy of spring cleaning.

I was at peace with it, really. Forty-seven years is a good run.

Then I looked back. Ugh.

So here’s the deal: Ocala Style hereby announces its Save the Stingray initiative. We are partnering with “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and the team at his Museum of Drag Racing, south of Ocala. They will restore the Stingray, from straightening bent parts to updating the paint job, and we will document the progress along the way.

When the restoration is complete, we will auction off the Stingray to benefit one or more Marion County nonprofit organizations.

In the meantime, as you get the itch for spring cleaning, be sure to scrape deeper into the dust and linger longer. Purging certified crud generates many endorphins, to be sure. But listen to those memories, too.

Sometimes the difference between trash and treasure is a smile and a set of wheels.

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