- Associated Press - Saturday, June 25, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The flat-black Honda Civic raced along the winding roads that trace the valleys of northern Dauphin County, neon green wheels spinning as its headlights swished back and forth in rhythm with the curves and dips in the rural highway.

Behind the wheel Michael “Hickabilly” Posten was timing his shifts to the sounds of the engine - not to the quiet drive of a stock four-cylinder, but to the higher whine of a modified street racer. He had pulled this car back from the brink for $300 and saved it from a junkyard, his nights and weekends spent in the garage behind his mother’s house in Wiconisco, turning wrenches.

It was where Michael was happiest - grease stained fingers and a bottle of beer, country music playing on the stereo, surrounded by his tools and the myriad of projects that he had cobbled together from spare parts picked up here and there.

He had talked about selling the Civic - his latest project in a string of trucks, jeeps and cars that stretched back across the roads crisscrossing the valley, back through Carlisle and the car shows, back through Mount Holly and deep into the rural Midwest, to his grandfather’s hay farm in Missouri where it seemed he was born with a wrench in his hand, a gleam in his eye and a penchant for driving fast.

The tendency to push at boundaries and raise a little hell had landed him in trouble before - speeding tickets and run-ins with the police, arguments with his momma about slowing down - but he always returned home, to his momma’s house and the garage, his dog and his duct-taped bible.

The garage - and really the car - speak of his need to fix things. A trip to a junkyard was like a trip to the candy store for Michael, a place filled not with detritus but with possibilities, waiting for a man with a tinker’s eye and a mechanic’s touch. He was always bringing things home; broken tools or parts, animals or people, offering to help them get back on their feet, more than happy to turn a wrench to try and fix their troubles, mechanical or otherwise.

He had headed out of the house that evening on a quick run to the gas station down the street, in need of a jug of sweet tea and a Monster energy drink for work the next morning. But at the gas station he encountered a man who said he needed a ride to Williamstown - just a few miles down the valley on Route 209. It was the type of request Michael wouldn’t have hesitated to fulfill.

And so a quick run to the store stretched out, down the highway and through the night, until it was a quarter to midnight and Michael was headed home, running down West Market Street, the back-way home, a road he’d traveled a thousand times.

Flying down the road he knew so well, the telephone poles and houses ticked past, marking time and space. Every road is a journey, a passage from some place to somewhere else. Our decisions - good or bad, right or wrong - pile up, layer and compound. The more we try to hold on the faster time seems to flow, until everything becomes a blur. Faster and faster down the road now, minutes and miles streaming past.

Michael was 27 as he drove home, maybe a third of the way through his life. About a third of the way from Williamstown to Wiconisco the road dips slightly before rising again to crest a small hill. Then it banks to the right and continues to wind down they valley.

Maybe he was racing a motorcycle, maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he was in a hurry to get home, to get some sleep before work the next morning. Or maybe Michael was just doing what Michael loved to do - to drive fast.

That night as his Civic crested the hill for a split second Michael was caught - a moment literally split in half; between this place and somewhere else, between the past and the present, between control and chaos, between this life and the next.

(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)

“When God says it’s up, it’s up,” said Sandra Posten, Michael’s momma.

She is sitting in the garage as she often does now, surrounded by Michael’s tools, his things, his projects. She is sitting on the old front seat of his Civic, which he pulled out and put on wheels when he put a new front seat in the car.

Michael had a quirk. He liked Jamison’s Irish Whiskey but he would always leave one shot’s worth of whiskey in the bottle that he stashed above the garage door - just in case he needed it.

The bottle is still there, the shot still waiting for Michael to return.

His car - or what is left of it - sits right outside the garage doors, but Michael isn’t behind the wheel. He’s not the in the garage, sipping a beer and listening to country music. He’s not out back around the fire ring, or cooking salmon on his homemade smoker for the picnic on Saturday. Michael isn’t out in the creek fishing for baitfish to take down to the lake. He’s not out with Bill, his mom’s boyfriend, trying to get his truck running. He’s not at McKay’s Cave in Carlisle, shooting pool and flashing his winning smile, although his friends are.

They’re sitting around sharing stories of Michael: of the time he and a friend took off one weekend for Ocean City in cowboy boots and blue jeans, of the time he and another friend butchered a deer they found on the side of the road, of the young woman who says Michael took her in when she had nowhere else to go, of the woman whose car Michael fixed after he came across her broken down on the side of the road.

As his friends gathered around her at the Cave, for a moment, Sandy’s strength broke. For a moment, she let down her guard, and the tears came. She looked around and said; “I know Michael is gone, but he isn’t.”

She looked at each of them in turn.

“There’s a piece of him, in each of you.”

(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)

Sandy isn’t telling this story because she wants your pity, or your help. Not because she wants people to think Michael didn’t make a bad choice on that night - he did. She wants people to hear Michael’s story, to see his car. She hopes that by doing so, maybe one person will think twice, will slow down. Maybe, in death, Michael can save a life.

“I’m just trying to figure out the plan and purpose in his death and what God wants me to do,” she said.

She is considering putting the wreck on a truck and taking it around to county fairs. To show kids what can happen. To show them they are not invincible. To show them that no matter how good a driver you are, all it takes is one mistake.

“He loved speed. Speed was his gig and it finally killed him,” she said.

There’s was a tattoo on Michael’s arm, which read “It is what it is.” Another, on his leg, depicted a Phoenix rising from the ashes.

Michael wasn’t perfect. He had his rough edges. He made mistakes. It is what it is. And Sandy knows there is nothing she, nor anyone else, can say or do to bring Michael back.

As long as there have been cars there have been people - mostly young men - who have tinkered with them. Trying tried to push the limits of what their cars can do, to go faster than everyone else. It is unlikely that Michael’s death will stop this phenomena. But if his death can make one person think twice, get one kid to slow down, then Sandy believes - firmly believes - that his death will have had purpose.

“I don’t need to be told: ‘Oh I’m sorry’, I don’t need to hear it,” she says. “I don’t need anything else. I’m wanting Michael’s message out there to slow these people down. … That’s what I want out of it.

“Why did Michael die? He was driving too fast. That’s the message.”

His friends talk about fixing the car, or taking the engine from it and putting into another car. As if, by rebuilding it they can bring Michael back. As if Michael is still out there, somewhere, driving down a lonely country road on his way home.

A few nights after he died, his mother heard another car booming through the neighborhood. She sat bolt up right and said, “Michael’s back from the store!”

Bill looked at her for moment, then slowly said, “Sandy … that’s not Michael. Michael’s not coming back …

“He’s gone.”

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Online:

http://bit.ly/28JbBk4

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Information from: Pennlive.com, http://www.pennlive.com

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