Farewell To A Faithful Friend

I’m about to get maudlin over a vehicle, so if you’d rather have some chuckles today, why not go and check out my very first official blog post, Bad Hotel Karma?  I’ll be back to my usual silliness next week.

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Yesterday I said goodbye to a faithful friend:  a battered 1983 Ford half-ton.  Even though I’d been its official owner for over ten years, I still called it ‘Dad’s truck’.

It’s the truck he drove from Manitoba to Halifax to visit me in 1988.  At a miserable time in my life, he drove nearly 10,000 km (6,000 miles) round trip, and we took a long weekend to drive around Cape Breton Island, just him and me.

It was a leisurely trip, pulling in to explore every tiny “point of interest” beside the highway and stopping frequently to snap photos.  That was before Dad began to suffer from the increasingly debilitating effects of the lung enzyme deficiency that would slowly steal his breath, and eventually his life.  I didn’t spare a thought for the truck at the time; it was just a vehicle that took us where we wanted to go.

Dad at Sydney, on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

Dad at Sydney, on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, 1988

Dad used that truck to haul my piano from Manitoba to my apartment in Calgary in 1989.  In 1998, he used it to trailer my 1953 Chevy from Manitoba to Calgary.  In 2001, I officially ‘bought’ the truck.

I was going through a tough time financially, but Dad wasn’t well enough to drive anymore so the truck had to be sold… and I needed a truck.  When I asked if I could buy it, he agreed.  But when I went to write the cheque, he eyed me with his usual gentle gravity and said, “Now isn’t really a good time for this, is it?  We’ll do it later.”

The truck came to Calgary in the middle of summer, 800 miles in temperatures hovering around 37 degrees Celsius (98 Fahrenheit).  It had no air conditioning, and I was sick with a horrible head cold.  We crept across the prairies, stopping in every little town for Popsicles and cold water.  The truck performed faultlessly.  Me?  Not so much.

I tried to pay Dad for the truck, several times.  At last, I arrived on his doorstep with the cheque already written.  And he smiled and said, “Well, I’ve done some deals with the other kids, too, so we’ll just call it even.”  The cheque was torn up and the issue was closed.  That was my Dad.

By then the truck was twenty years old, but it never let me down.  It hauled furniture and pre-fab outhouses and garbage and tools.  Its capped box served as an impromptu storage shed, and I slept in it many times while camping.  Whenever friends needed to haul something, they knew they could come and borrow it.

The truck lived a hard life.  Parked on the street, its side mirror was smashed by vandals and it got egged and spray-painted.  Other drivers ran into it, five different times.  Sometimes they slid down our treacherous hill on winter ice and only stopped when they hit the truck.  Sometimes they backed into the side of it, apparently unable to see a bright red, twenty-foot long vehicle in their rear-view mirror.

But despite their incompetence as drivers, those people restored my faith in humanity.  I never found a dent in the truck that wasn’t accounted for.  Nobody discounted it as an old junker and drove away without reporting their accident.  Each time, our doorbell would ring and some contrite person would apologize profusely for hitting the truck.

Each time, I told them not to worry about it.  They’d have enough trouble and expense repairing their own vehicle, and they didn’t need the additional cost of an insurance claim.  Dad gave me the truck out of the goodness of his heart.  The least I could do was pass it on.

The truck endured the ravages of age and rust and injury, the years and impacts damaging its body but not its tough engine.  It developed a cantankerous carburetor that I referred to as my anti-theft device.  To start the truck, you had to open the hood, remove the air cleaner, and manually close the sticky choke plate.  Then back into the truck to pump the gas for about 30 seconds, after which you could turn the key while still pumping the gas vigorously.  But as long as you followed the protocol it never failed to start, even in the dead of winter.

That same cantankerous carburetor required three quick pumps of the gas when starting in first gear.  Just a little extra jolt of fuel, or it would stall.  The brake drums were out of round, causing a slight surging effect, and the left-turn signal didn’t work unless you knew you had to pull the signal lever slightly outward and toward you.  Then it worked just fine.

In its stubborn persistence I saw my Dad’s final battle.  The loss of breath, the frequent and increasingly serious illnesses, the wasting and weakening of his once-powerful body.  Labouring against the burden of slow suffocation, his cardiac arrhythmia was so pronounced that when I took his pulse the irregular beat would have done a calypso band proud.  But just like his truck, his indomitable heart wouldn’t quit, and he endured the suffering and indignities with stoicism and quiet humour.

In recent years we didn’t use the truck often, but I kept it insured and registered, and it kept doing what we asked of it, over and over.

Last spring two young girls in a big half-ton backed into the side of it.  Another giant dent; another contrite conversation.  Another round of forgiveness with the gentle admonition to drive more carefully in the future.  Just the way my Dad would have done it.

I could have called the insurance company then and let them write it off; maybe gotten a couple of hundred bucks.  Instead I hung onto the truck, not driving it but keeping it registered and insured and in its place of honour beside our house.

A couple of weeks ago I drove it for the first time since the girls in the half-ton hit it.  It started right up as usual, but its shocks were gone.  It wallowed through undulations in the pavement like a ship in heavy seas, and its steering wandered dangerously.  I wanted to cling to it from sheer sentimentality, but I couldn’t bear to see my poor truck endure more dents, more infirmities.  It was too much like watching Dad face a battle he knew he couldn’t win, bravely waiting for the final blow.

In the end, Dad’s every breath was an agonizing struggle.  Coughing literally tore him apart, causing a massive hernia.  The morning after he underwent surgery to repair it, the surgeon told us he could go home that day.  Mercifully, he did go home later that day, but not to any earthly dwelling.  It was April 1, 2004.  April Fool’s Day.  Go figure.

I knew the truck’s time was up, too.  It wasn’t safe to drive and it wasn’t practical to fix, and I didn’t want to wait for the day when its heroic old engine finally failed.  So I called Donate A Car Canada and yesterday my beloved truck went away for the last time.  The Lung Association won’t get much for it, but I’d like to think Dad would be pleased.

Today there’s an empty spot on our street, and in my heart.

Goodbye, old friend.  I’ll miss you.

truck

39 Comments

Filed under Life

39 responses to “Farewell To A Faithful Friend

  1. Lovely, Diane. I am speechless.

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  2. This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time, Diane. Please submit it to an essay contest or magazine.

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  3. Your father sounds like a wonderful man, but did you park that truck in a intersection?

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    • He was… and you’d think I’d parked in an intersection, considering how many times the truck got hit. It was neatly and legally tucked away at the curb in the middle of a block, but the street slopes downward on a curve. Apparently it’s entirely too much of a challenge for our local drivers to navigate.

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  4. Jan

    I read your story and it brought back many fond memories of your Dad and for many others who knew him, I’m sure. He truly was an amazing man. Enjoying all those evenings that we shared with him, playing cards and sharing many stories. It was well written tribute to your Dad, and we do remember the truck ! Good work.

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  5. Beautiful, Diane. This is one of the best posts. Great memories, and I’m sure your dad, and his truck, are smiling at your words.

    Cheers :)

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  6. Leslie Shearer (Beach)

    Thank you for that Diane…I am your former neighbour from down the road a quarter of a mile when you and I were children – Leslie . I do not remember the truck so much as I remember your dad. He was the man that gave the toast to the bride at my wedding and who also was one of the best friends my dad ever had. Because I knew your father all my life, I can say that all the qualities you say about him in your writing are absolutely true. My dad travelled with him shortly after your mother and mine passed away. I can well imagine that a lot of the time they discussed their *vehicles*. Your writing did bring tears to my eyes because of memories long forgotten. My dad is almost 93 now and I will certainly share this with him. Again thanks.

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    • What a marvelous thing. Small world…

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    • Hi Leslie! Wow, how wonderful to hear from you – thank you so much for commenting! I remember you, of course… and I believe I may even have vague memories of your wedding. It seems to me that Mom was fondly giving Dad the gears before the wedding because she thought he should have his speech all written out and instead he had a few notes scribbled on a scrap of paper. I don’t remember the toast itself, but knowing Dad he probably did a good job (at least I hope he did). ;-)

      I’m so pleased to hear that your dad is still with you – I never knew him well but I know how much Dad valued his friendship and their travels together, so he must be a very special person, too.

      Thanks again for writing!

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  7. Kim

    That was so nice…brought tears to my eyes but warmth in my heart !

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  8. Thanks for the walk down memory lane and the tribute to Dad. There will be an empty spot beside your house the next time I come to visit. Take care!

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  9. moondance4me

    That was beautiful Diane. What great memories of your Dad and the truck. Bless him and bless you for sharing.

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  10. Very nice and heart-rendering, Diane. Three tales (for want of a better word…) in one, of your Dad, the truck and your relationship with both. Nicely written.

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  11. A very, very touching tribute. It stirred memories of my time with my own dad (RIP) and the many Saturdays we spent working on the cars in the garage together. A lot of bonding goes on in cars, and a man who would would drive 6,000 miles to hold you in a miserable time in your life is certainly a man I would have been proud to meet.

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    • Thank you, Chris, and I’m glad you have wonderful car-related memories of your dad, too. There’s nothing better than tinkering with a car on a nice sunny day with some cold beer at hand. :-)

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  12. Diane your post leaves me with a lump in my throat. Your talents as a writer are so broad. I feel as though I have met your Dad through your eloquent words. A wonderful tribute to him and the faithful truck you and he shared. Hugs to you.

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  13. jenny_o

    This is beautiful and sad and uplifting. You had a great dad.

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  14. Beautifully done, Diane. Your dad sounds like mine. I miss him, too. Your truck reminds me of a Ford Courier I had years ago. Bought it with 80k miles on it from a friend. It saw me through several tough years as I went from 37 year old college freshman to 41 year old rookie engineer, then our older son learned to drive in it and thrashed it for a couple of years, then my younger son learned to drive in it and put it through hell for more years. We finally sold it for 200 dollars to a guy who had just gotten out of prison and was starting a handyman business. It worked faithfully for the guy for another decade. Something over 300k miles on it by the time we sold it. My son’s and I made a lot of memories in it. Some were actually good. :)

    Like being first into the big commuter parking lot at Texas Tech after a big snow and carving the place UP before the campus cops ran us off. And doing the same thing at a dirt parking lot after a rain. And having to make a serious pass through a car wash before we could bring it back to the driveway. :)

    Going sideways with my kids was fun. They’re 38 and 36 now, and it’s STILL fun. Just ask ‘em.

    When my boys are looking back some time, I hope they remember the times we spent laughing our brains out while writing our names in letters a hundred feet tall while blowing 50 foot rooster tails of mud and snow out from under that old Courier…sideways. :)

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    • Oh, what fabulous memories! There’s nothing more fun than a wide-open space and a four-wheel drift! I think my dad was always very conscious of setting a good example for his kids, so I only have one memory of him loosening up in his ’66 Corvette convertible. It had the 427 big-block, tall gears, and three-barrel racing carb – just a big, gaping hole instead the two usual throats. The clutch was rock-hard, pretty much just on or off, and the cam was so lumpy you couldn’t really drive it at less than 30 km/hr. I absolutely love that deep, lolloping rumble! ;-)

      There are lots of long, straight, flat, desolate highways around where I grew up, and one day he pulled out on the pavement, looked both ways (no vehicles in sight), and put the hammer down. And then did a bit of dodging back and forth between lanes. I was a young teenager, terrified and absolutely delighted. I never got to drive that car, but some day maybe…

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      • I have a Vette story. A mechanic buddy of mine was 16 with a brand new drivers license and no car. His dad had brought the family to town on a Saturday afternoon, and my buddy, being way too cool to hang with the parents, was walking down main street. He saw a brand new, shiny black, Corvette coupe sitting in front of the Chevy dealership, and he stopped to lust after it and drool on it. After a few minutes a young man not much older than himself came out and said, “Wanna go for a ride?” My buddy almost choked trying to say yes. So the guy opens the passenger door for my buddy, gets in the driver’s seat, fires it up, and heads out of town. Small, rural town in the Texas Panhandle, okay? They drive onto a nice smooth deserted highway, and the driver stops, checks the horizons, snicks it into first, then hammers it. 6,200 rpm through all four gears, holds it there for a while, then stops, turns around, and does it again. Slows down, idles back through town, does a smooth u-turn back to his parking place, and says to my buddy, “Now go tell your daddy you’ve been 165mph on two-ply tires.”

        My buddy says he wisely didn’t tell his daddy anything. :)

        And yes, that was the 425hp solid lifter 427. Still had dealer tags. Gad, what music…

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  15. I love this post Diane! It’s a beautifully written tribute to both man and machine. The fact that your Dad’s quiet determination, gentle understanding and love lived on through the truck for another decade after his passing is heartwarming to say the least. It’s also inspiring to consider all the contrite drivers who made contact with the truck remembering your patience and understanding and paying it forward in similar situations down the road. :-)

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    • Thank you – I like to think they’ll pay it forward. Sometimes it’s hard to remember to be charitable when I’m cussing out other drivers in traffic, but I try to show a little understanding every now and then. ;-)

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  16. What a wonderful but heartbreaking story. I can understand why you wouldn’t want to part with it. Sorry to hear your dad had to suffer so. I’m sure he’d be proud of how you nurtured his vehicle, not to mention how proud he’d be of all you’ve accomplished this past decade since his passing.

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  17. Beautifully written Diane. A great tribute to both the truck and your Dad. He was obviously a very stand up guy. Good job!

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