Gary Gardner (grgardner) wrote,
Gary Gardner

Tears And An Old Truck

The rain came back this morning, so I didn't get up early, get a Starbucks, and a road map and head south like I would have hoped to.  Driving a vehicle is not always my preferred way to travel as you know -- but if I can't get on the bike, it's the next best thing.  Relaxing in the big cushy leather seat of the Hummer, or even an old pickup truck, with some good tunes on the radio, and an open road with no destination in mind does wonders for my soul. 

This morning while folding laundry and listening to the I-pod, a song came on -- and yeah, I cheated a bit yesterday by making a cliche' post using song lyrics rather than original thoughts, but once again it seems appropriate, and someone else has captured what I would have said anyway only better.  This time it was Alan Jackson and "Drive".  That song has always made me think of my father, who passed away last May.  This past week my brother Gordon sent me a picture that tied it all together too.  He found it while grocery shopping in Salt Lake City and sent it to me from his camera phone.  It looks an awful lot like the truck we had when we were kids and that is summed up in the song:
Just an old half ton shortbed Ford
My uncle bought new in '64
Daddy got it right 'cause the engine was smoking
A couple of burnt valves and he had it going
He let me drive her when we'd haul off a load
Down a dirt strip where we'd dump trash off of Thigpen Road
I'd sit up in the seat and stretch my feet out to the pedals
Smiling like a hero that just received his medal

It was just an old hand-me-down Ford
With a three-speed on the column and a dent in the door
A young boy two hands on the wheel
I can't replace the way it mode me feel
And I would press that clutch
And I would keep it right
And he'd say, "a little slower son you're doing just fine"
Just a dirt rood with trash on each side
But I was Mario Andretti
When daddy let me drive

This is most likely NOT the truck we had -- which my brother and I both have fond memories of.   Dad had gotten rid of it a few years before he died and Gordon and I both had wanted it and we would have had to fight over it -- which is probably why Dad sold it.   I pretty much learned to drive in that rig, I wrecked it, and Dad and I rebuilt it.  So the combination of that song, and that picture, and my already fragile emotions, has me crying into the laundry on this Sunday morning.  The verse about the old Ford could have been written by me or my brother.  Dad was a mechanic and we'd replace burnt valves, brakes, and everything else (you could actually work on it unlike vehicles today.) I've never posted much about my Father -- but I have said in the past that it was he and my Mother that gave me the gift of wanderlust and to take joy in traveling down a highway.  As I post this I dug up the eulogy I gave at my Dad's service last year, and the following story about the truck is from that eulogy.  So I'm going to post it here for my Dad, for my brother who sent the picture and for Alan Jackson's song which brought it all flooding back this morning.

Dad also taught us that wanderlust was a good thing – in fact I think the greatest gift my parents gave me was the gift wanderlust – to enjoy travel and the open road and seeing what’s around the next bend, and not being afraid of going somewhere I’ve never been before.  For that I’m most grateful.  However, wanderlust for Dad often was often more about GETTING THERE! rather than the journey itself.

In about 1968 Dad and Mom bought pickup truck with a cab-over camper.  We went everywhere in that for many years and it became our second home.  It really is how I came to love the open road and going places.   However, while Dad was obsessed with getting to where we were going, us kids (or at least me) wanted to stop at every road side attraction along the way.  Dad would have none of that – in fact we hardly ever stopped to go to the bathroom – my brother and I had the “pee can” in the back of that camper – it was an old 5 pound Folger’s tin coffee can with its  re-sealable plastic lid that we’d kneel on the floor of the camper as it rocked down the highway trying our best to “aim” and make sure it didn’t slosh – and Dad would get a mischievous look in his eye and find every damn curve and chuckhole in the road whenever Gordon or I had to answer that call of nature.  To this day I can’t pass a can of Folgers without thinking of that, and I buy my coffee in a bag.

That camper also taught us about persistence.  I remember well one fishing trip on opening day.  The opening day trip to China Meadows was our tradition – Dad, Gordon and I, along with our neighbor Rich Robinson and his boys would go every year up to China Meadows.  Rain or snow, we’d go.  Except one year.  We did the usual thing – leaving Salt Lake after work on Friday and heading up to the Uintas, but this was a big snow year, and it was dark, and the road was bad, and it was obvious we were the first people up there that year.  About 9pm, in the pitch black dark, some 7-10 miles from China Meadows, we ran across a downed tree blocking the road.  We had no way of cutting through it, and it was dark, so we decided to set up camp there, in the middle of the road, and see what happened in the morning.  But after a while, Dad decided – no, we’d back down the road, turn around and go somewhere else.  By golly we came to fish and we were going to fish!  So about midnight we headed out of the Uintas, and back into Wyoming and towards Flaming Gorge.  We got there about 3 or 4 in the morning, slept for a bit, and found that the campgrounds were either full or closed.  That wasn’t going to stop us, so we loaded back up and went down the road to Starvation Reservoir.  We got there, and the fishing was LOUSY – but by golly we were fishing!  Then the rains came, and Dad finally had enough and we headed back to Salt Lake, getting home much to mother’s surprise in the early evening of Saturday, being gone a tad over 24 hours.  But Dad persevered through it all and we got to fish on opening day.

I don’t think anyone here who knew Dad in those years will forget that camper and truck.  He loved them, he did all the work on them, and the truck lasted well into the 1990s even though it probably shouldn’t have.  I’ll never forget the day that I wrecked Dad’s truck and camper.  I was about 15 – knew, or thought I knew, how to drive.  I needed to move the truck so we could play basketball in the driveway.  It had a manual transmission and had a stick shift about 6 feet long it seemed, and rather than get into reverse as I wanted, I somehow put it into  1st.   I slammed the truck into the camper and then into the house – the camper was crushed as was the cab truck onto me – however I was unscathed.  At least for a while, for I fully expected to be killed when Dad got home.  I called my mother and pleaded with her to get home before Dad did.  But Dad didn’t yell, he didn’t scream, he didn’t kill me – I think he was as relieved as I was that I was alive.  And he and I rebuilt that truck ourselves – there was his frugality again.  We hammered out the cab frame (it never did keep out the rain as well) and rebuilt the side of the camper, and it ran and ran – and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if it is still running to this day.

From the looks of the picture my brother sent -- it just might be.

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