My neighbors got a “new” truck last summer. The white, extended cab, Ram 2500 with an eight foot bed sits and idles its diesel engine on the street; there is no driveway on their corner lot. The truck has its bumps and bruises and wears them well. The back end of the truck has a Reinke sticker on both sides of its quarter panels; “More Right Than Rain” it declares.
They didn’t come by the truck willingly. Cassidy only started driving it after its rightful owner, his dad, passed away after being crushed by a tractor in late July. Out the window, I watch Cassidy climb up into its cab, pop the brake, ease out the clutch, and pull onto Washakie. I can’t see that truck without the lyrics of I Drive Your Truck coming to mind. Maybe Cassidy is too old to tear up a field, but probably not. Months after his dad died, he told me he still hadn’t cleaned it out; he walked over and grabbed a brand new 30′ tape measure for me when I told him mine had just broke. “Dad had a ton of them in the truck, still haven’t cleaned it out. . . ” and the lyrics ran through my head once again.
I guess it was that way with my first car too.
My father got the two-door, red Cherokee around the time I was a senior in high school. It looked like the other ones, but didn’t have four-wheel drive and only had two doors. For the family, it was a pretty nice, used car and, for my brother, my mother, and I, it was the car he died in. It was the car my mother and Cindy pulled my dad from as it sat in the road and the car next to which they did CPR on him.
After the funeral and the week I spent at home surrounding it, I drove it back to school in Maine. Then, the cigarettes were still on the dash. They had never made it to the pocket of his Fruit-of-the-Loom t-shirt. I don’t doubt there was a six pack of Mountain Dew on the front seat as well, but that didn’t remain there; the cigarettes were unobtrusive and inane.
Later, after winter beak I traded Jeeps with Josh. He took the red one, it was nicer—he was older after all— and I got the brown one. The brown one was laced with its own memories too though. The four door, 4-cylinder with automatic transmission been dad’s transportation and it was the car that Josh would take when he was allowed to drive to high school; it was the same for me my senior year. Its memories involved soccer and baseball practice, dates, and friends. When I went off to college in Maine, my parents purchased the red one and Josh got old brown to use at the University of New Hampshire down on the seacoast.
Josh drove the red Jeep ’til the rocker panels rusted through from the moist, salty New England winters, eventually hauling it away from the parking lot of his apartment, but not before taking the 15 year old pack of cigarettes off the dash (and the gear shifter knob) and putting them in his other car.
I guess we all have memories and keepsakes; in my closet there hangs a one and a half inch wide leather belt which I took off dad just before we closed the casket. I wore it until the metal wore out and the buckle broke; someday I will get it fixed.
In the days and years following death we wander the landscapes of the lost, we try to make sense of their meaning, of their life, of our intersections. We wade through pictures, clothes, things. We use the time to cry and share. We walk the paths they walk, visit the places they loved. In those days all things are firsts. First night, first week, first Thanksgiving, first father’s day. Then the truck dies and the connection becomes even thinner and more frayed by time.
When I visit my mother I often wander my dad’s landscape. Twenty-six years after his death, there are still places in her house that are his. Some are covered up and re-used in different ways, but walking into the antique shop or down to the cellar, or to the upstairs of the barn I feel him, and feel dreams and feel so connected. Mom always asks if I have been up to the cemetery and usually I do, but that flag and stone ain’t where I feel him anyway. And more than anything, I want that ’53 Chevy on a trailer, I want to work on it with my uncles and put it on a flat bed and drive it west, because that stone ain’t where I feel him anyway. I want to drive his car and I know that with every dollar I spend and every moment that passes is time lost.
So I settle for digging through the boxes of memories that were his dreams and the trappings of a jack-of-all-trades, a master-of-none. Each time I visit, I pull a little something back west with me. I can’t drive his truck but I can swing his hammer, turn his ratchet, and drag a pencil along his speed square. I put on an old red, plaid-ish, wool jacket that collects sawdust into its tiny hairs. A picture of him wearing it in the early 80’s, suddenly sunk waist deep in snow with a smile and a Mt Dew in his hand, sits on my kitchen shelf. I can’t drive his truck but I can wear his jacket and wield his tools. I pick up his lineman’s pliers and marvel at the simple tool in my hand; weathered with age, a yellow rubber handle cover, worn through at the ends. There is a connection there. I slide my arm into the sleeve of a green, paint splattered, L.L. Bean chamois shirt and picture him lumbering, huffing, puffing, up a hillside, old trapper’s pack basket on his back, sweat dripping from his sideburns and receding brow and eeking through the thin cotton Fruit-of-the-Loom pocket tee-shirt that was exposed through that unclosed, green button up.
And I know I am not the only one. These landscapes of the lost everywhere, but they are so prevalent with vehicles, a public display of unwanted inheritances. My friend and co-worker Kevin, lost his son when Joe, 18, was killed. Whenever I see Kevin driving around town in that black, early 2000’s Tacoma with the DaKine pad on the tailgate, the song runs through my head. I wonder how much he has cleaned it out. I wonder when the DaKine mountain bike pad will falter from the sun, from the weather, and how nature and time will just make it easier to put one more piece to bed.
And Gary, another long time friend and co-worker once sardonically lamented that his best friend died and all he got was his truck. Yet fifteen years later, that truck still sits in his back alley, awaiting the next turn of the key.
The first episode of Modern Love struck me to the core and tugged at my heart strings. It resonated so deeply… She didn’t want to get rid of the old car because it belonged to her late husband. [Spoiler Alert] I think the twist isn’t that she actually doesn’t sell the car, but instead is that her current partner/husband who seems rather emotionally distant during the episode, reacts with understanding and empathy.
Sooner or later it happens to us all. What to do with the things our loved ones have? For many, time lets us pawn them off one by one.
And I wonder, who will drive my truck? Who will sit in my house? Who will place my cams or cook in my cast iron fry pan? Who will miss me? I am pretty certain I don’t have the patience to be a parent, too self-focused to give attention and love to another. And the tears roll down my cheeks as I think about aging. Who will remember me? Who will wander my landscape and be lost in it?
Featured Image: Sunset over the Canadian Rockies