|Miss Sorensen didn't have the typical "first car," like most teenagers. She drove an old Toyota Avalon now, but instead of working her way up to larger and more expensive vehicles as her career and age advanced, she started at the opposite end of the spectrum. Her first car was a brand new, top of the line Porsche convertible. It was ridiculously expensive, and the envy of every kid in the neighborhood. Then again, the Sorensen family itself was the envy of every family in the neighborhood.
Old money in the truest and most traditional sense of the phrase, the Sorensen family had become successful to the point where most of its living members couldn't remember a time when they hadn't had money, or even what they had made their money doing. For several generations now, the Sorensen family members had made careers out of managing the various foundations and charities that the family had established in its name. The Sorensens were no longer about making money so much as managing their exorbitant amounts of it.
It was a family calling, and one that was not to be refused. As the eldest brother, Miss Sorensen's father had the distinct responsibility of overseeing the entire estate's fortune. He would divide it among and allocate it to his younger brothers and sisters, who in turn managed smaller organizational components of the family's holdings. It was assumed that her father's children would take over for him when they were of age, just like he had done for his father, and his father had done for his father. It was tradition, after all.
Imagine their surprise when young Lena told them she didn't want to have anything to do with the Sorensen fortune, or the family business. She didn't want to spend her life as a glorified accountant, managing money and always tracking the dollars and cents. She wanted something more satisfying out of life; and out of that desire came school, grad school, and a teaching credential.
Lena often thought back to that Porsche, and what a truly impressive car it had been; a metallic ruby-red 911 Turbo S Cabriolet. It had a luxuriously smooth black leather interior, and a 530-horsepower engine under the hood that could do zero-to-sixty in under three-and-a-half seconds, with a top speed of a hundred and ninety-five miles an hour. It had a state of the art sound system, all the bells and whistles, and was sitting outside in the driveway of the family estate with scarcely more than three miles on the odometer the minute she turned sixteen. It was a masterpiece of automotive engineering, and it retailed for five times her annual teaching salary.
Sometimes she would miss the way she could take off from a stoplight at the blink of an eye, and whenever her old Avalon starting clunking and sputtering and needed a replacement water filter or heating coil or whatever it was that particular time, she missed having a brand new car that the dealer would come pick up anywhere, anytime if it was giving her trouble.
She didn't, however, miss the strings that came with accepting lavish gifts from her family. Her decision to go to school and become a teacher hadn't gone well, and the Porsche, as well as her trust fund, had been a casualty of that conversation. As far as her parents were concerned, they had the money – and were prepared – to send Lena to her choice of schools, anywhere from Ivy League institutions, to tiny liberal arts colleges. She could study whatever she wanted and get as many degrees in whatever she wanted ... as long as she finished within ten years, and came home with an MBA, ready to learn the family business.
Since Lena was unwilling to do that, her parents – with the full support of the Sorensen estate – were unwilling to finance her education and her lifestyle. She had to hand over the keys to the Porsche, as well as the balance in her trust fund. She got accepted to a state university across the country and paid her way through school with a combination of scholarships, financial aid, and work study. She was still in debt, but she was doing what she loved. Teaching elementary school meant more to her than all the money her parents threw at her to keep her in the family business.
All that said, Lena's Toyota Avalon held a special place in her heart. It was the first car that she had actually paid for herself, with her own hard-earned money. It wasn't as stylish or high-performing or expensive as the 911 her parents had bought her, but it was entirely her own, fully paid off, and no one could take it away from her. So while her colleagues and friends started out with old clunkers and were steadily making their climb toward sportier coupes and luxury sedans, Lena was more than happy to leave the top of the line behind, and embrace the fading paint, worn cloth seats, and aging, finicky engine that was her Avalon.
This Avalon was her first real car; the first one she could truly call her own. And it fit her new lifestyle perfectly. Her family may think she's crazy for giving up all that money, and even her friends might not understand it if they knew ... but the only thing that mattered to Lena was that she could go to work every day, in a car she worked hard to pay for herself, and walk through the door of her classroom with a smile on her face.
Independence was a wonderful thing.