Well, they towed away my truck today. It was a good truck. Losing a good truck is never easy, but this one hit pretty hard: as it left my lot today, one more connection with my dad was severed.
My mom bought the red Ford F-150 for my dad as a gift some number of years ago. The picture of him standing next to it on that day reveals a man that is deeply uncomfortable being in the spotlight (even if it’s just his wife taking a picture of him in his own driveway), yet very excited about his new mode of transportation.
He put tens of thousands of miles on that truck; his job towards the end involved driving all over the state while working for a Dakota Access Pipeline contractor. Being a former railroad man, he often pulled over during those work trips to take pictures of the graffiti that decorated freight cars sitting idle on the tracks along his route, before posting them to his Instagram account (I believe I had a hand in pressuring him into signing up for that particular social media platform). He was proud of the long hours he spent on the road though, because his measure of a man was how hard they worked. He was proud of those Instagram pictures too, carefully composed while leaning up against his truck (if you’re interested, it’s still up @skovlundsr.marty).
The truck itself isn’t luxurious by any stretch. Certainly no leather seats or back-up camera, but it has four-wheel drive and the air conditioner works — which is more than he could say about the majority of the vehicles he piloted during his life. Red seemed a bit flashy for my dad, but then again, underneath his humble, hard-working facade, I believe he was a bit of a showboat when given the opportunity: He drove a Z-28 Camaro before I came along.
I remember when my wife, newborn daughter, and I were living in Colorado shortly after I left the military. It wasn’t an easy time for us on many different levels. But my parents had six chairs from the old railroad round house my dad spent 14 years working in, and asked if I wanted them. Of course I did, but didn’t have a way to get them from Huron, South Dakota all the way down to where we were in Colorado Springs. My dad hopped in his red truck and drove 13 hours to get them down to us. A long way to go just to deliver a few dilapidated shop chairs, but then again I don’t think the chairs were the reason for the trip so much as they were the excuse.
That wasn’t the only time he drove a long, lonely trip by himself just to see one of his sons. He once drove thirty hours, straight through (only stopping for gas), after missing his flight due to weather, so that he could see my brother graduate from Ranger selection. He missed the ceremony by only thirty minutes — maybe an hour at most, due to gridlock traffic in Alabama just shy of Ft. Benning. Upon seeing the complete exhaustion in his eyes as he pulled up in the parking lot, I don’t know if my heart hurt with pride at how motivated he was to make it; or hurt with sorrow that he just barely missed the ceremony after working so hard to get there on time. As I sit here now, my heart hurts at the thought that maybe he felt that he disappointed my brother and I by not making it on time.
My dad may have been the most stubborn man to bear the weight of ALS since Stephen Hawking himself. He wasn’t a helpless man — never was — and had no intention of becoming one, so he fought the progression of that awful disease every step of the way. He held off on using a walker for as long as he could stand on his own, and he held off on getting into a wheelchair for as long as he could still use a walker. And of course, he kept driving that truck until he could no longer physically get into it. Hell, he even picked me up from the airport, two hours away from home, just so we could go get a burger at Five Guys together and spend some time talking uninterrupted on the drive back. He wasn’t moving as good at that point, but I cherish the memory.
He didn’t want to hear it, but at some point I talked to him about taking the truck off his hands. He eventually agreed; It’s not that he couldn’t drive anymore — he’s not helpless, remember — it’s that his son needed a good truck. Or something like that.
And It is a good truck. I drove it back over to my parents’ house, the home both my dad and I grew up in, just a few hours after my brother and I zipped up his body bag in the living room. It was the first time I drove my dad’s truck without him alive, and it was on that drive that I consciously thought about how I was gonna keep this Ford for a long time. Maybe my daughter could drive it once she got her license, I thought, trying to focus on anything but the insanity of funeral preparations I was surely about to dive into.
But it wasn’t meant to be. About a month ago, ten months after I carved my dad’s initials into the wooden coffin he occupied, my wife was driving the truck to work. Making her way down our street, a neighbor roared out of his driveway, t-boning the drivers side of our red pickup. Fortunately, it’s a good truck that sits pretty high off the ground, and the offending vehicle sat fairly low to the ground. My wife was relatively unscathed in an accident that could have been much worse if it weren’t for that height difference.
After the insurance inspection, it turned out that the accident was bad enough for the truck to be a total loss.
I didn’t intend to watch as the tow trucker conducted his business today, but my daughter wanted to go down and say ‘bye’ to the truck once she saw it up on the flatbed from our second story window. It’s just a material possession; life’s real treasures either have a pulse or aren’t something you can touch at all, but I guess there’s something you can’t quite put your finger on when it comes to sitting in the same spot your dad sat. Gripping the same wheel that he gripped. Driving the last thing he ever drove.
It’s one more thing that connected us, that I no longer have.
It’s a good truck. Someone might buy it at auction, fix it up, and ride it down the road a few more times. Maybe their kid will learn how to drive in it some day. Or maybe, if the universe sees fit, it will provide reliable transport to another humble, hard working man who’s looking for an excuse to go see his kid, all grown up and living far away.
But hell, I don’t know. Maybe it’ll end up rusting out in a scrap yard somewhere. If there’s one thing that watching my dad die taught me, it’s that not everyone or everything gets a fairy tail ending, no matter how deserving. Even a good truck.