Note: I wrote the following back in 2008 after losing my home and vehicles to the catastrophic Columbus Flood of 2008. I thought this might be a nice tribute to share this Father’s Day, 2018 to recognize the 10th anniversary of that flood…and of course, as a memory of my dad, Leon Nicholas.
Yesterday I borrowed my dad’s truck.
After Dad died, with no particular discussion, our family decided to keep his truck to be used by any of us who just needed it for a few days for whatever reason. There should be no shame in asking for it, so I’m not sure where my reluctance comes in…maybe the natural reluctance of an adult child to ask for a parent’s help in any way.
Climbing into my dad’s truck reminds me of being a small child and crawling into his lap. The truck is a big ol’ full size pickup and entering requires climbing. I grab the huge well-worn steering wheel and launch myself upward. Once inside, I am welcomed by nubby soft cloth upholstery and the smell of my dad, a mix of honest workingman sweat, a lifelong tobacco habit, gasoline and old garage smell, Old Spice and maybe just a hint of one or two other types of alcohol.
My dad was a big man, not just to me as a child, but to others as well. His family’s name for him was Guy, but his nickname to the outside world was Nick, and somehow over the years, he became Big Nick to all who knew him. He was a jack of all trades, able to do anything to support his family…build houses, operate heavy equipment, lay asphalt. He built our house, the one I think of as home, when I was seven or eight — built it almost single handed, a carpenter learning brick laying and electrical installation in the process.
Dad bought this truck sometime around the time he retired. He bought it brand new “off the lot,” a rare act in those days and I’m not sure, but I think he also bought it “straight out” which is Hoosier for “paid cash.” He loved this truck. He loved the bigness of it, the red-and-whiteness of it, the chrome of it.
The truck I’m driving today reminds me of his early years as a workman because it’s a workman’s truck. It has fog lights and a toolbox and improvised carpeting he made from cut up commercial door mats. The big bench seat can seat 3 people comfortably, but 4 sweaty laborers could get to a job site by squeezing in and clutching their thermoses tightly. The truck has an automatic transmission, something my dad really thought was essential and miraculous as his aching joints and muscles began to cause him chronic problems…no more jamming in the clutch and working the gearshift to find a gear that worked. How he would have loved to have this truck back in his working days.
The one real luxury he allowed himself when he bought the truck was the air conditioning, but it’s less than perfect now and I find myself cranking down the two front windows, prying open those little wing thingys to deflect the wind from my face and just feeling the road blow by me.
The truck is sort of a visual experience, and I see heads turn at the sight of this big old red and white truck, decked out with chrome running boards and chrome bed rails, driven by this short, somewhat sturdy, 50 something…well, you get the picture! I feel like my head is barely visible behind the steering wheel.
Probably the most remarkable thing about the truck is the huge silver ram’s head hood ornament. From the front, it appears to be only the ram’s head with dramatically curved ram horns, but from my vantage point in the driver’s seat there’s the view of an anatomically correct (if somewhat proportionately challenged) ram’s butt. You can point that ram head/butt at the white line on the side of the road and motor on, drifting a little from time to time. You have to let it drift, because if you try to force it the truck gives you attitude and you can wind up fighting it left and right. Just let it go, the best way to drive it is to just sit back and enjoy it.
Drivin’ Dad’s truck takes me back to days when we were all stronger, when our needs were simpler, when comfort and joy could be taken in feeling the wind of the highway while riding high in a big old truck.