Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"The Story of your Life is...." Your Pickup (with credit to Tom T Hall)

That line comes to me as I peer through the windshield at the 5 foot of white gravel that constitutes the range of my headlights. I drive slowly anyway as the stillness of an summer evening cooling down to dew point holds the road dust near the ground. But I don't increase my speed once I reach the blacktop; the glass prisms on my decade old Dodge are yellowed with the automobile equivalent of cataracts. Its difficult to switch gears without outrunning your night vision, but I guess its just as well that the red pickup and I are neck and neck in terms of age and mileage.

When I meet someone on the road who says 'Well, I've scared the deer away for you'. I laugh. 'Remember what I'm driving! There is no place to put any deer damage on this truck! You want your kids safe on prom night? This is the truck they should be driving." Its no exaggeration. Fourteen years and 300,000 miles of farm roads, hitching, unhitching and pulling a fifth wheel, and Lord knows how many blown out tires on I-80 have given the red pickup the complexion of a demolition derby.

But, as Tom T. Hall notes, the story of your life is in your face. Its written there in little tiny lines. The stories of our life are written in our vehicles, the consequence of the decisions made to "drive it one more year unless something REALLY bad happens..." And the next year's decision, "Well, we never drive it very far anyway; and its certainly not worth anything." Until it becomes almost a source of pride to look at our fleet of rattling old diesel pickups, tallying the miles and forgetting the years.

As a family, we've never really been car people. The car we drove on our honeymoon was a sterling example of American hubris and shoddy design, a baby blue Ford Torino with a minuscule back window and an engine that drank gas and oil in roughly equal quantities. It was the '70s, you know. My parents had a 25 ft. long Plymouth Fury, but while I was at college, it was replaced with a tiny little yellow Toyota. Change was in the wind.

The wind of change for us was the arrival of a baby girl and, shortly thereafter, another baby girl. Your treasured offspring do not ride in noxious Ford Torinos. We were young, we were broke, and we ordered the most stripped down model of the boxy little Ford Fairmont available. We had two car dealers in Tarkio back then, you know. Our concession to comfort was air conditioning; our concession to style was to choose the color red. It had three speed on the column, vinyl bench seats and four doors. We were a family; it was our family car.

That little Ford lasted a long time, given the standards of the day. We drove it six years and 103,000 miles. By the time we traded it, only two doors would open and shut and only the passenger window worked anymore. We drove that car to South Dakota, Colorado, the Grand Canyon, Kitty Hawk, Cooperstown, as well as the country roads of Atchison county. Our kids wore their seat belts, but they were far from the 40 something pounds and inches required by regulation these days.

Blake's pickups were not so long lived. The red and white Ford he and Kevin shared when we married was replaced by a blue Chevy when the Ford ceased to perform any of the functions a vehicle should without human intervention. We borrowed Grandpa's "new" pickup the week before Lee's due date because the roads were so bad and Blake's pickup too unreliable. The blue Chevy perished in the driveway when it overheated and the aluminum engine block splintered.  It was followed by a 1982  two tone gold Ford, the color scheme just as ugly then as it sounds today.  The '80s were bad years for farming as well as pickups; we endured that pickup for eight interminable years and three engines before what was left of the thing became scrap in 1990. 

I could go on.  In a triumph of hope over experience, our love affair with diesels has led to a stubborn refusal to admit that diesel engines and passenger car transmissions are incompatible even after two different cars of different makes in two different decades caught fire and stranded us along I-29.  But our loyalty to Dodge diesel pickups is also sentimental...our aging...and now aged...fleet of grumbling giants would be put out to pasture were they flesh and blood.  When it comes to our pickups, the decades of service take on the gravity of a long business partnership...and its difficult to ditch your partner even if the interior is redolent of mouse and the fabric on the ceiling drifts around your hat like cobwebs.

 Blake and I approach an anniversary with a zero on the end in a couple of years. The tally on the old Dodges is 47 years this summer.  Blake talks about getting a new pickup to drive around, one with paint and satellite radio, doors that seal and an air conditioner that cools. 

One that has a tailgate.

But.. he hasn't done it yet.

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