19/07/2011 Comments Off on The Truck
It was red, rusted out in spots, but it still drove well. Dad was a mechanic, something he always wanted to be since he was ten, so he was able to take good care of that truck. He spent his evenings and weekends at my uncle Bill’s house, working on cars with him since he was twelve. Grandma thought it was just as well, especially since Grandpa had died a year earlier. Uncle Bill was nearly a decade older than dad, the oldest of the children. Dad was the youngest.
Uncle Bill wasn’t as enthused about cars as dad was. Bill was good at fixing things and hated school, so being a mechanic was a logical step for him. His heart wasn’t really in it, though. Dad’s heart, on the other hand, was definitely in cars. He loved how they were built, how they ran, how they worked, how they smelled, and how they made people’s lives better. He just loved cars.
And so he took a real shine to working with Uncle Bill. By the time he was a junior in high school, he had his own business. Friends from school would bring their cars over for repair, and dad would work on them, offering a discount on his labor. He was a pretty cheap mechanic, and his intuitive ways with cars enabled him to be a good mechanic. Word got around, naturally enough, and dad was able to build up a decent business. After he graduated from high school, he made his business full time.
It really took off, of course, and he became one of the most popular mechanics in town. After a while, he saved up enough money to buy his own place, and so he bought a place out in the country, with a couple of acres and a pond. It was here where he met his future wife.
Mom was a neighbor of his, a farmer’s daughter, conveniently located just west of his house. He saw her one Saturday when she was taking lunch out to her dad, who was trying to get beans planted. To hear mom tell it, he didn’t hesitate for one second, and walked straight out to her in the field and introduced himself. Apparently dad was quite a charmer back in the day, and he managed to get himself invited to Sunday dinner the next day. Six months later, they were married.
With a new wife in the house, it became obvious that a second vehicle would be convenient. And so dad set out to find a new car. He had some business to attend to in Indianapolis one day, related to some issue with his plans for expanding his garage, and so he drove down to the big city. On the way down, off route 19, he saw this beautiful red truck for sale by owner. Curious, he stopped to look at it.
Since he had an appointment at the permit office, he couldn’t stay long. He left a note under the windshield wiper with an offer, his name, and his number. The next day, he and mom went down to buy the truck. Dad drove the truck home, having fallen in love with it. It was a 1954 International truck, painted bright red.
Dad’s ’56 Bel air now became mom’s Bel Air, and the truck was officially dad’s. Two years later, in 1963, I was born.
It wasn’t until I was six or so that I began to remember the truck with much detail. Dad was a busy guy who generally worked every day but Sunday. That was the day we all went to church as a family. When church was over, we would go to our grandparent’s house for Sunday dinner.
Sometimes, though, dad would take a Saturday off. It would be a special day for family, and, in the summer at least, he would drive us to a pond that was about five mile away from our house. We always took the truck.
Mom would sit in the cab with him, leaning up against him, with his arm around her. Even now, that image, forever etched in my memory, brings me a feeling of contentment and peace, as if everything is right with the world. Just knowing that those two people were so deeply in love brings a feeling that just can’t be described.
The kids, of course, would ride in the back. It was always fun to ride in the back, because that meant the wind whipping at your face, blowing hot and cold and fast. Dad would have the radio on, blasting loud for us kids. It was always a country station in rural Indiana; no one wanted to listen to the hippie nonsense that passed for pop. Occasionally, though, dad would go searching for a top forty station. He was a huge Beach Boys fan, and loved their songs about cars. I can still hear Little Deuce Coupe now.
And we would sing along in the back, happy and carefree. “She purrs like a kitten ‘til the lake pipes roar/and if that ain’t enough to make you flip your lid/there’s one more thing: I got the pink slip, daddy.” Daddy had to explain that song to me when I was older.
When I did get older, the truck was still in service. Dad taught me to drive in the truck, although by the point he had replaced the engine and rebuilt the transmission. He even put in some actual lake pipes, although now that seems to be quite ridiculous. Still, it was fun to have him teach me how to shift gears and correct a fishtail on a dirt road.
He also taught me how to take care of cars. He knew I wanted to be a teacher, and always encouraged me to follow that dream. He worked hard to make sure that I had everything I needed to succeed in life. Dad was a wonderful man.
However, he expected me to know how to do maintenance on cars, for when I would own my own car. He was a mechanic, and had heard countless customers tell him how other mechanics had lied to them and ripped them off. Dad was an honest man, and had cultivated a good relationship with his customers. He knew that it would be good for me to know how to take care of my own car so I wouldn’t get ripped off.
And so I learned how to change filters and fluids and light bulbs, and make minor repairs. I still do my own maintenance work today. It helps me connect with my past.
There are a lot of memories in that old truck. I drove my first date, Amy Johnson, in that pickup truck. We went to the drive-in ice cream stand and sat in the back of the truck, eating ice cream and talking. Three years later, back from college on summer break, I took Amy out to that ice cream stand again. This time I proposed to her. She said yes.
Dad’s older now. Though he’s officially retired, he still works on cars sometimes. He only works for family, a few close friends, and a couple of his most loyal customers. He still lives out in the country, just a little off Route 19, in the middle of Miami County. He still has that ’54 International truck. It still runs fine; dad’s replaced the engine a couple of times and rebuilt the transmission a couple more times. Thanks to his careful skill, it still runs well and looks good. There is little more rust on it, though.