Sunday, July 17, 2011

Me, Dad, and our trucks

Yesterday afternoon I watched as the new owner of my F-150 pickup truck drove it out of my driveway. It was a bittersweet moment for on the one hand, it was good to see something I didn't need or use be gone replacing it with cash in my pocket. On the other hand, the truck had originally been my Dad's; me buying it from him back in 2007. As I watched that black Ford truck leave my life, I had a few moments of memory recall about the history of me and my Dad, and the trucks that have bound us together throughout my life.

The first picture I ever remember seeing in my Mom's many photo albums, was a smiling me sitting behind the wheel of a 1954 Dodge pickup truck my Dad had affectionately nicknamed, "Hugger" for the bold orange paint he'd applied to it himself. Hugger was the vehicle that was honored to carry the Just Married! banner after my parents said their vows, and if my memory serves me correctly, which I doubt is possible at all, was also the vehicle that carried those same two people home from the hospital with their firstborn child, me. I am honored to now own that picture, and it is one of my treasured possessions.

When I was five years old, my Dad bought his first --and only-- brand new vehicle. It was a 1980 Datsun pickup with a snazzy fast engine connected to a standard five speed transmission. As a new vehicle, it held the honor of being parked on the concrete pad; except of course, when Dad would move it so I could play basketball. When I was eight years old, I asked Dad to move the truck so I could play said game. His response? "Move it yourself." He spent the next five minutes teaching a young boy the finer points of driving a stick shift. After assuring him I knew what I was doing, I settled into the driver's seat of the black pickup truck with him in the passenger seat, eased out the clutch, and backed it right into a pine tree; effectively killing half the evergreen.

My Dad was with me to cheer when I took and passed my Driver's Permit test. On the way home, he pulled onto a side road and turned off the 351W engine of the green Ford van he was driving. (I know it's not a truck, but it's close.) "You drive the rest of the way home," he said. After a few bumps and grinds, I got the hang of the Three on the Tree standard transmission, and we were off. That is, until we came to a STOP sign on a hill with a car behind us. I was certain I would roll back and wreck the new car that was resting too close to my bumper. Dad sat calmly beside me and smiled. "Just let out the clutch and floor it," were the only words out of the mouth of the man who usually never shut up. So I did just that, leaving two black marks all the way across the state highway I'd failed to look both ways before pulling across.

The summer I turned eighteen, Dad found another old Dodge pickup truck. This one was a 1948, rust covered, pile of junk with no doors or bed. After losing their business from the car accident that would (in the future) leave Dad to live in a wheelchair, my parents had barely enough money to pay their monthly bills. So when Dad asked me if he could borrow money to buy the hunk of metal, I agreed. After spending an hour getting it running, we strapped ropes across our waists for seatbelts, and drove the doorless, hoodless, bedless truck the two miles home, only to have it run out of gas a quarter mile from home. Skipping ahead, for the next ten years, we dreamed big dreams of fixing that truck up, but never did anything to it except push it from one side of the garage to the other on many occasions. When Dad was finally resigned to his wheeled existence, he gave me the truck before moving three hours away from my boyhood home.

When I was twenty, Dad bought a 1984 Ford Ranger in brown. When I gave my sister my car to take to college, as a thank you my Dad gave me the Ranger. A few months later, thinking I wanted a car instead of a truck, I made a deal with someone to trade the truck for a beater Thunderbird plus $400 which was to be given to Dad in payment for the truck. On the day before the trade was to be made, I slammed the heavy bumper of my work vehicle into the front of the Ranger. I went inside to inform Dad I may had possibly just lost him his $400. To my surprise, he shrugged his shoulders and went outside to drive it with me and make sure it was still road worthy. The anger I'd expected was replaced with forgiveness and compassion, and a smile.

After I'd married, Ell and I were on our way to dinner at a restaurant when we spied a green van that looked strikingly familiar. I immediately turned the car around and jotted down the digits on the windshield. The next day I called the number and met the man who owned the van. As I'd guessed, this was the man who had bought my Dad's work van years earlier. When I found that fact out, I plopped down the cash and bought that glorious van with the Three on the Tree. The next weekend, Ell and I drove it to Warren to surprise Dad with my buy. To say he was beaming would be an understatement. We immediately jumped in the front seats to relive our old glory days. As I drove it behind the church where they lived to turn it around, the brakes went out and we crashed down a hill, over a curb, and into a thankfully-empty parking lot. Since I had a whole parking lot to get it slowed down, I floored the big block engine and spun the giant van in a perfect donut in the loose gravel. We came to a stop beside my parent's front door, laughing and laughing and laughing. I never drove that van again, and I happily remember its last ride being shared by Dad and me.

Before I turned 32, my Dad had been confined to a wheelchair for almost six years. Before he'd lost the use of his legs, he'd bought his dream truck, a black, Ford F-150. It was a 1997, and for many years after they moved to Columbus, it was the transportation truck for Dad's wheelchair, with Mom behind the wheel. When it became too much for him to get in and out of, he sold it to me. For a couple years, Ell and I used it as our extra vehicle when one (or both) of our Volkswagens were broken down, and then in 2009, it became my everyday vehicle. It lived through its share of my driving turmoil, but never with my Dad in the other seat as all of our previous adventures.

And so as I watched the truck driving out of the driveway with someone other than me or my Dad behind the wheel, I cried. Those days are behind me; a casualty of growing up. When I myself am old and gray, and my Dad is long gone, I'll always remember our times in our trucks. I've never owned a truck that wasn't my Dad's first, and for that I am honored. My Dad and I are bound by so many other things more tangible than a truck, but it's those trucks that will always be our's and our's alone. When we get to Heaven, Dad, I want to go for a drive in Hugger, just for old time's sake. I love you, Dad. Thanks for the memories, and thanks for the trucks.


Blogger Swedish Mama said...

Wonderful memories. The 54 Dodge also has alot of memories, you should get your Dad to recount some of them to you, including his adventure with pine trees. Hugger was named for its paint color--Hugger Orange--a Chevy color, the closet your Dad came to owning a chevy. thanks for the smiles...Mom.

Yes, you did come home from the hospital in Hugger, we also drove to the hospital during the worst of my labor in her...

12:19 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

love this.

9:26 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Thanks for the stories!

10:13 AM  

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