Posts Tagged ‘wife’

Along the Shoreline

August 20, 2011

We take our teenager to the beach today. He wants to show off his new swimming trunks, splash in the surf, girl-watch, and ride a few waves. Bruce and I don’t have to run after Ryan now, we can sit in beach chairs and let him swim on his own. He keeps us in sight; and while Bruce naps behind dark shades, I look up from my book every so often to make sure I see Ryan’s head bobbing above the waves.

 Bruce and I gave up worshiping the sun awhile back. We are content to sit in our folding chairs under the shade of a striped umbrella, share a smoked turkey sandwich with tomato slices from the garden and a bag of potato chips. He drinks iced tea and I pull a bottle of water from the cooler for myself. Between chapters and naps, we chat about our boys, Ryan’s upcoming school year, and Ben’s obsession with finding a truck.

Bruce takes off his glasses, pushes up from the arms of the chair, sneaks me a kiss, and grabs the boogie board, heading in Ryan’s direction. I know how the water draws the boy in Bruce to it. His strides are long and sure as he steps into the surf. I grab the camera and run to the water’s edge to capture a father/son moment.

As I make my way back to the umbrella, I hear the cell phone ringing in the side pocket of the cooler. I answer the phone to my Dad’s voice. It’s been almost a month since my step-mother died. The loss has been hard on him. They’d been married thirty years. We talk for a few minutes about the weather, our vacation, and the boys.

“What have you been up to?” I ask.

“Cleaning out drawers,” he says, with a small catch in his voice.  I want to reach through the phone and hug him.  “I clean awhile and cry awhile,” he says. “When I can’t take it anymore, I go outside. That helps.”

“You know Labor Day Weekend is coming up,” I say. “Why don’t you plan a trip to our house and join us for a picnic?”

I hear him flipping the pages on his desk calendar, the one that has all of his and my step-mother’s doctor’s appointments written in it. “I could come for a few days,” he says. “My dentist appointment isn’t until the following Wednesday.”

I tell him I’ll invite his sister, my Aunt Marsha, Bruce’s parents, our friend Robert, and his girlfriend.

“Tell your Mom and Gilly to come too,” he says.

“OK,” I say. “We’ll make a day of it.”

“I’ll be in touch before the first of September,” he says.

“Do you need anything?” I ask.

He pauses, a long pause. “No,” he says in a very small voice.

“I love you,” I say.

“I love you too,” he replies, and the line disconnects.

I hang up the phone and look out to the horizon, catching a glimpse of my husband and son, riding waves and splashing each other. I pick up the camera again and walk toward them.

In the periphery of my vision I catch a glimpse of a military cap, the kind my Dad wears with the name of his ship, The USS America on it. I turn and find it on the head of an elderly man who’s walking hand in hand with the woman he loves.

I follow them for a few minutes, watching as they take slow, careful steps along the shoreline. They don’t talk, but every once in a while one squeezes the hand of the other.

 I lift my camera to take a picture. I want to capture this moment, not for them, but for myself.

I feel a cold spray on my back. I turn to find my husband cupping more water in his hands to splash me again. I put the camera in my pocket and bend down to the water to give him just as good as he gets.

A Boat, Wrapped in Red Tape

August 12, 2011

Bruce and I have spent a month in the garage, just the two of us. July and August are miserable in Virginia. Humidity hangs in the air, and we’ve had two weeks straight of temperatures in the upper nineties with no relief.  I sit in a dry-docked boat, no water lapping at the sides, no ocean breeze, no cool drink. Sweat runs down my forehead and drips into my eyes. Box fans don’t cut it.  I remove my glasses again, wipe at the salty sting, and curse the day we decided to buy a boat. How could this much work be worth it?

We have less than a week before our Chincoteague trip and not only are we still without a title, we don’t even  know whether the Evinrude outboard motor will run. It sits, attached to the end of the boat, its cover off, wires, like wild hairs, stick up in all directions.

Bruce stripped the boat when we got it home. The hull was fairly sound, but everything else needed an overhaul.  I’m no mechanic, nor am I a carpenter, and I’m certainly no boat repairwoman, but I have cleaned, scraped, sanded, and patched fiberglass, measured, cut and pieced the wood flooring, laid carpet, stapled upholstery, cursed bolts into uncooperative holes, then held parts in place while Bruce cursed the same bolts. He’s in charge and I’m the fed-up helper. We’ve barked at each other, pulled ourselves up and over the side of the vessel hundreds of times, and so far, our only reward has been a dizzying high of inhaled epoxy and fabric adhesive.

My back can’t take much more. Last night, I stretched out in the bottom of the boat, looked up into the spackled sheetrock of the garage ceiling, and grieved the loss of seven hundred fifty-two dollars spent on this sixteen foot untitled, unregistered, illegitimate watercraft.

My plan had been for Bruce do the boat repairs while I handled the paperwork involved in getting the title and registration for the boat.  I found that although I’m very efficient in collecting the evidence needed, the state of New Jersey and the state of Virginia are in no hurry to help me.

I go to the mailbox each afternoon, hold my breath, reach inside and look for that Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries envelope. Our illusive title is so close. The process began June  24th, but nothing involving the government is easy or quick.  

The state of Virginia requires that a buyer without a title (that’s stupid us), make every effort to contact the previous owner of the boat to obtain the original title. This involves sending a certified letter, return receipt requested.  If the title is not available, the former owner is asked to send his own certified letter, to us, stating that the title is lost. If the previous title-holder has been searching for his boat, he must send a letter stating that he wants it returned immediately as it’s been lost or stolen. If the past owner is dead or has moved without a forwarding address, our certified letter is required to hang around the post office for fifteen days, after which time, it is stamped as undeliverable and returned to us. Our letter was mailed July 6th. We tracked its location online and waited. The letter returned to us, unopened, undeliverable and un-signed for on July 26th

The state of Virginia also requires that the unopened certified letter, along with a copy of the letter inside the sealed envelope, the New Jersey lien-holder form, a copy of the bill of sale, copy of the cancelled check, copy of the former registration/title holder information, a notarized  Affidavit for Transfer of Watercraft Registration/Title form, all be sent to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.  Within thirty days, if all checks out, we receive a title in the mail.  Thirty days from July 26th is August 25th.  Our vacation falls in the middle. We’re screwed.

 Bruce punches numbers into his cell phone.  He explains what we have done so far, that the papers and the check are in the mail.  “There’s no way to float this boat until we get a title?”  he asks the person on the other end at The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

 The nice lady directs us to Walmart, where we receive our temporary boat registration. It’s good for thirty days. The form states however, in big bold letters across the top: “This form does not constitute ownership.” 

No worries. No one, not even the two of us want to own it at this point.

Going, Going, Gone

July 9, 2011

I’m sound asleep under a light cotton blanket. The air conditioner blows a sweet sixty-five degrees over the bed. Bruce pulls my big toe.

“Come on, there’s less than ten minutes to the end of the auction.  Your boat’s on the line.”

I slide out from under the cover, walk to the kitchen, and lean over Bruce’s shoulder as he stares at the Mac, his finger pressing the refresh button every few seconds.  The boat has been at six-hundred-one dollars for the last three hours.

“What’s your highest bid,” he asks.

“I don’t know. What’s it worth?”

“Good question. The listing says: ‘Boat with motor and trailer, no title’. I’ve had to guess at the condition from the pictures, no mention of the kind of motor it has. I think it’s a Johnson.  If we get it, we’ll probably get there and find the tires on the trailer dry rotted. Who knows whether the motor even runs and exactly what condition the boat’s in.”

“Well should we even be looking at it,” I ask, watching the clock tick down to four minutes and twenty-two seconds.

“Doesn’t cost anything to look,” Bruce says in that helpful way of his.

“Did Ralph ever call you back?” I ask. Ralph was the only non-answering machine voice we found when we called to get information about the boat.  He was in shipping, didn’t even know that they had a boat up for auction. He was going to see if he could ‘investigate’, and get back to us.

“Nope, never heard from Ralph.”

The clock is at a little over two minutes now.  “Do you think it’s worth a thousand?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never owned a boat before.”

“We used to go out on the river in a Jon boat and I remember a canoe,” I say.

“Jon boat belonged to my daddy. Canoe belonged to the neighbor.”

“Oh,” I say.

The clock is now at one minute fifty-four seconds.

“You paying half?” Bruce asks.

“Sure,” I say.

“You got five hundred?”

“Yep, a little over.”

The clock has ticked down to twenty-seven seconds and the price of the boat is now at seven-hundred- twenty-two dollars.

“You up for a trip to New Jersey next week?”

“I’ve got three personal days and two weeks vacation left.”

Ten seconds.

Bruce types in $1000.00 and presses the ‘I agree to terms and conditions’ button.  We are high bidder with three seconds left.  Bruce pushes the refresh button. The screen goes blank.

“Did we win?”

“I don’t know, never had that happen before.” 

He refreshes the screen again and grins.

“I think I’ll  call Ralph,” he says, laughing. “Wonder if  our winning bid of seven-hundred-fifty-two dollars includes shipping?”

A Perennial Bed

June 4, 2011


The speed limit was forty-five and I ignored it, willing the engine faster, letting the wind coming through the open car window dry my tears.  I take to the car when we argue, and on the back roads of Albemarle County, I look for peace.

I was three miles this side of Afton when I spotted a flowerbed in the distance. I slowed.  Purple iris and deep pink peonies bloomed. Poppies, with fuzzy, bent-head buds, were ready to burst their splashes of red.  The terraced hillside, bordered by river rock, was more shades of green than color. Tall, spiked Yucca leaves pointed skyward from the lower patch, while a low-growing ground phlox spread patches of pink and lavender throughout its new growth across the top.  Here and there, tall Johnson grass and chic weed sprouted.  I had a sudden impulse to stop the car, kneel there at the side of the road, and pull the weeds.  It surprised me. I’m not a gardener like my Grandma was.

She tended a perennial garden.  I always thought her toil was wasted for only little bits of color throughout the summer. She spent hours weeding, pruning, thinning, digging and transplanting roots, shoots, tubers, and little scraps of green. Her slight form, draped in a house dress bent over her progeny.  She knew every one by name, which came from bad seed and which from good.  Her apron pocket collected seeds; her straw hat protected her from freckles.  

She didn’t have a driver’s license, so when she and Grandpa had words, he took to the truck and went fishing. She grabbed her hat and fled to her flowers.  She knelt there bare-handed, wielding a trowel, tearing at weeds, turning soil.

I pulled over to the side of the road and parked the car.  I took my camera and photographed peonies, a pink rose and a mock orange. I laid on the ground, eye level with violets and snapped away, imagining myself lost in their purple.  

“You alright young lady?” a shaky voice asked above me.

I turned my head in the direction of the voice and saw a pair of legs wrapped in cotton stockings. The sun was setting and as I looked up, I had to shield my eyes from the glare.  The old lady wore a snap up duster printed with a profusion of hydrangea blossoms.

“Oh,” I said. “I’m fine.  I just saw your garden and couldn’t help myself. I had to stop and take some pictures.”

“I thought something had happened to you. First the car stopped and then you was out here laying on the ground. Scared me. I called to Harold and told him to come quick.”

“I’m sorry I frightened you.  I should have come to your door and asked permission.”

“Oh, it’s OK.  Got our hearts going good though, didn’t it honey?” she said.

“Sure did,” a gruff voice said from behind her.

I got to my feet and held out my hand to the woman. “My name’s Margaret-Dawn.  I live in Crozet.”

“I’m Ruby, and this here’s Harold.”

I shook both their hands and then turned my attention back to the flower bed.  “Your perennials are lovely. It takes a lot of hard work.”

“Labor of love,” Ruby said.

“Sometimes, I think she loves these bloomers better than she loves me,” Harold said, laughing.

“Now you know you spend as much time in that vegetable garden of yours as I do in my flowers,” she countered.

“Guess she’s right,” he said.  “I won’t argue anyway. No use. She always wins.”

She reached up to pat his cheek a little bit harder than she needed to.  “And don’t you forget it,” she said with a smile.

The two of them walked with me around the plants, talking about this one and that, who gave them the shoots or bulbs, how they’d pilfered slips off flowers they saw on the side of the road on a trip, how they’d rooted shoots in soda bottles, and collected heirloom seeds. Harold remembered how much he paid for the “Ruby Rose” he’d given his wife for her birthday one year.  “Paid double for it because I wanted the one with her name on it.”

“Prettiest rose you ever saw too, ain’t it?” she teased.

“My grandma had a garden like this,” I said.

“You grow flowers?” Ruby asked me.

I didn’t tell her that it had always seemed like too much work to me. I didn’t have the heart. “I have a few,” I said.

“Well, let’s just fix that,” she said.  “Harold, go to the shed and get one of those boxes with the pots in it. Let’s fix this girl up.”

“Oh no, please don’t go to that trouble.  I was just admiring…”

“Nonsense girl, no trouble at all. I’m tickled you thought they was pretty enough to stop with your camera.  Now let’s see what you’re gonna need.”

Harold came with the box of pots and some soda bottles filled with water.  Ruby picked and plucked, planted shoots and snipped pieces to put in water to root.  I took a piece of paper from my purse and wrote the names of my new charges, lily of the valley, hasta, coreopsis, ground phlox and tall phlox, coneflower, and catmint.

Harold opened a brown paper lunch bag and I peered inside. “Now there’s some peonies, daffodil, crocus and daylily bulbs in here.  They’re all mixed up together, but you can sort ‘em by size and shape. Don’t take a gardener to tell the difference. There’s also a little bag of poppy, black eyed susan, and daisy seeds.”

As I loaded my new garden into the backseat of the car, I thanked Ruby and Harold for being so kind and generous.

“We’re happy to do it,” Harold said. “You just make sure the next time you stop to admire somebody’s garden, you warn ‘em first and don’t give old people like us heart attacks.”

I dropped my head. “I’m so sorry I scared you,” I said. “I’ll be sure to warn the next people.”

“Good girl,” Harold said.

“You take some pictures when you get these started now,” Ruby said. “Then stop back by and visit us.”

I assured them I would as I turned the car around and headed back home with purpose, but under the speed limit this time.

As I pulled into the driveway, my cell phone rang. It was Bruce.

“How does fresh trout sound for supper?” He asked with a hint of apology in his voice.

“Good,” I said in a brighter voice than I would normally extend.  “I can grill them outside while you till my flower garden.”

“What flower garden?” he asked.

“Did I ever tell you about my grandma’s perennial bed?” I asked.

She Purrs Like A…

May 14, 2011

I hear chains rattle against metal and know some heavy piece of equipment is being hoisted.  I cringe and run through the backdoor and out to the driveway.  No matter how many times I preach, it doesn’t seem to sink in.  He never asks for a spotter.  “One day…” I say, my voice trailing off as he dismisses my comment with a wave of his hand. He’s too excited about this new truck to consider safety.

He pulls himself up onto the mechanic’s body of the Ford F-450 truck and hooks the chain. He turns, grinning at me, showing a thumbs up, hops down and pulls himself back into the cab of the backhoe. The motor revs and the bucket lifts.  Several pops and metal wrenching sounds later, the mechanic’s body lifts and the truck is reduced to cab, metal frame and wheels.

 It’s his new love and to tell the truth, I’m a bit intimidated. Even naked she’s sleeker than his old pickup, younger, with dual back wheels, and she purrs with that diesel engine of hers.  Her exterior is shiny without a single blemish, her interior, a supple tan leather, with automatic dimming lights that whisper romance.  

His old love, the Red Pickup, finally died. She was the woman I could never be.  She was tough, hard-bodied, enjoyed four-wheeling adventures through uncharted territories.  She didn’t have brains, but she did have brawn, get up and go, and a heavy-duty drive train. She hated me and I never liked her much either.  Bruce was certain once we got to know one another, we’d be friends, but we ended up ignoring each other, our only commonality being Bruce.  As long as he loved both of us, we tolerated each other from a distance.

Three weeks ago, Red choked and coughed when Bruce started her. She limped out of the driveway, sputtered to a stop on the road just past our house, wheezed one last time, and died. She sits in the lane now, tag-less, without insurance, and awaiting the yearly equipment auction. I’d have felt sorry for her if we didn’t have such a volatile history.

Bruce didn’t grieve long.  He found the new white Ford diesel in an online Government auction in Buford, South Carolina.  He bid, won, and took off the next morning to pick her up.  He didn’t ask me to accompany him. “I know you have a lot of work waiting for you this week,” he said.  “Ben’s home for Spring Break. He can go with me.” 

Twenty hours later, I heard her distinct purr as Bruce  coaxed her into the driveway. He walked straight past me, into the house, exhausted, and fell into bed without even a kiss hello.  “Must have been a long, hard ride,” I mumbled.

He’s been with her ever since.  Tonight Bruce was out in the garage, welding and painting a flatbed body for her, all sleek and smooth with twelve inch treated pine board sides around the edge.  She has a new trailer hitch and he’s ordered one of those vanity plates for her. “FLATBDN” it says.

I went outside just a few minutes ago and wandered over to Old Red. Opening her driver’s side door,  I slipped inside and patted her dash. She wasn’t looking so bad now.  I wondered how much it would cost to get her running again.  The two of us watched as Bruce backed his new love out of the stall and parked her under the huge oak tree. He got out and took a rag from his pocket, wiping a smudge from her fender. He stepped back and smiled.

“They’re calling for high winds tonight Red, and that tree’s leaning,” I said, pulling up the door handle to warn Bruce. Something stopped me.  I let go of the handle, leaned back in the seat and smiled myself. For the first time ever, Red and I agreed.

For the Love of a Trailer

February 20, 2011

We’re sitting at the kitchen table.  My eyes are closed as I savor the smell and  taste of my first cup of morning coffee.  I have a whole day ahead of me with no plans.  Bruce has his nose up close to the screen of his Mac.  He’s reading  the specs of some piece of heavy equipment out loud.  I’m not paying too much attention. He does this a lot.

“Look, I found one in Alleghany County,” he announces, turning the laptop around so I can see.  “It’s what we’ve been looking for.”

I focus my attention to the rusted hulk on the screen. “I haven’t been looking for a trailer, you have.”

“Ok, I found the one I’ve been looking for.  Its tongue is longer. It’s more heavy duty.  It’ll carry the backhoe.”

“We already have two trailers,” I say. “They look big and heavy enough to me.”

He looks at me and sighs.  This is where he usually starts talking like he’s explaining something to our youngest son, in simple words with bulleted specifics.  I’m not interested in the explanations. I give up listening, and leave to start putting together my day pack for the trip.  

We head out a half hour later toward Clifton Forge, that’s the location listed in the online Government auction. We’ve been there before.  We honeymooned at Douthat State Park, just outside of Clifton Forge thirty years ago.  Our cabin was a rustic log structure with a huge fireplace.  I remember spreading a blanket there and eating our first meal together picnic style. The food was left over from our wedding reception. The bubbles in the champagne tickled my nose. At nineteen, I wasn’t old enough to drink legally, but my new husband was. We planned that honeymoon week and our entire life together that night.   

Clifton Forge is a small railroad town set in the midst of the Alleghany Mountains. Houses and businesses line the sides of Main Street.  At one end is the train depot. I remember that. At the other end is a Community College. That’s new.  I can’t imagine what they teach there, Coal Mine Management, Train Engineering, Principles of Logging?  I’m surprised that there are enough young people living around the tiny town to attend the college. 

I’m more excited about the drive than I am the trailer. The road is straight, the mountains are beautiful and the leaves are turning. It misted rain all night, but the clouds are lifting and the weatherman forecasts sun by afternoon to our west.  I pack the camera and two books.  I never know exactly how long a three hour trip will take.  Ones in the past have sometimes carried over into the next day.

When we leave home, the trailer lists for $365.  We climb up into Bruce’s new dump truck, my first time in it, two steps up, grab bar, hoist self, sitting on top of the world. This dump truck dares smaller vehicles to pull out in front of it. It’s a diesel road tractor with air horns. When Bruce makes a decision, he goes all-the-way-big.  We can barely hear each other over the roar of the engine.  I wonder why the International even has a radio.

We bump along the interstate.  The further west we drive, the lighter the sky becomes, but clouds still hang low and drift along the tops of the mountains.

“Help me watch for the exit,” Bruce says. 

I’ve been taking pictures from the passenger window, but the side mirror is hindering my artistic abilities.  I’m glad for the diversion.  The Dabney S. Lancaster Community College is at Exit 150-B in Clifton Forge.  I’m amazed that Clifton Forge warrants two exits. 

“There it is,” I say.  “At the end of the ramp, take a right.”

As we pull off the interstate, the entrance to the school is right there. The road dead ends at the school.

Bruce follows the parking lot around to the rear of the college until he finds what looks like a buildings and grounds garage. It turns out to be the welding shop.  Students are busy at work, helmets donned, sparking metals together.  A man hurries out to Bruce and points him in the direction of the saw mill.  That’s where the trailer waits.

We backtrack to a small gravel path, just wide enough for the dump truck. It’s  guarded by a Keep Out sign.  Bruce drops into a lower gear and we descend a steep hill.  A saw mill appears on the left, students at work there too. A bulldozer and log truck with knuckle boom watch us from the parking lot.  A tree planter squats in the bushes. Bruce pulls up to the trailer, where it lies dying in the weeds, tires flat, metal rusted, floor rotting. It’s worse than the two we already have. Even I can see that. We couldn’t even drag it home if we bought it.  We’d have to have a trailer to haul it.

Bruce drops down to the ground, and I struggle, trying to find my footing on the steps, grabbing for the handle to ease my landing.  We walk over to the trailer.

“It’s ugly and broken,” I say.

“Let me measure it,” Bruce says.

How he finds promise in this wreck, I can’t imagine.   I get back in the dump truck and open my book.  My decision is already made.  Leave the monstrosity here.

It takes Bruce an hour to inspect the behemoth.  He puts on his coveralls, takes out his tape measure and begins calculating.  He’s busy with numbers and schematics.  He lifts parts, slides under on his back, shines a flashlight, measures some more and decides it could work.

“Needs fixing, but it’ll work. We can’t haul it away like it is,” he says.  “We’ll have to pull it out into the parking lot, repack the bearings….”  I’ve stopped listening. I shake my head and wonder again just why I married this man.

He pulls himself up into the truck and starts the engine. “I’m taking you to lunch,” he says.  “Where do you want to go?”

We had stopped at the Outdoor People Store in Clifton Forge for fishing supplies on our honeymoon.  It was right across Main Street from the C&O Railroad Depot Restaurant. Lunchtime sent us in that direction.   It was a small, square, block building next to the railroad tracks. The interior was bright and clean with a lunch counter and several small wooden tables dotting the tile floor. We opened the door to the tinkle of a bell and the aroma of fresh baked biscuits drew us in.   The food was almost as good as what came out of my Mama’s kitchen.

“I wonder  if the C&O Depot Restaurant is still there,” I say.

Bruce heads in that direction  The small building is still there, feeding railroad workers and townsfolk.  The door bell tinkles, and I’m nineteen again, just married and hungry.  A sign boasts Today’s special:  Chicken and Dumplings, mashed potatoes, green beans, biscuit, all comfort food.  A glass case displays home baked apple, cherry and peach fruit pies. We decide on two specials with sweet tea.  Bruce orders cherry pie. I choose apple. We sit at the counter and watch trains filled with coal roll slowly by the window. 

As we eat our meal, we reminisce about our time spent here years ago.  Bruce taught me how to bait a fishing hook, and fry the catch over an open fire.  I taught him how to make a bed, only to have it in complete disarray a few minutes later.  We laughed, talked, and made plans for a house, and babies.   He lifted me up under my arms and sat me on the hood of his truck.  He laid his head in my lap and told me he didn’t know he could be so happy.  I was a tiny thing back then.  Thirty years later, we’ve spread about the middle and  we’re contemplating broken-down trailers.

Bruce takes out his wallet, pays the tab, leaving a few bills for a tip.  We head to the truck and turn toward home. The auction ends at seven p.m. and the drive is several hours long.  At exit A, Bruce unexpectedly veers right,  and turns in the direction of Douthat State Park.  At the entrance, he pays the fee and we rattle over the speed bumps toward the dam and cabins.  It hasn’t changed in thirty years. We park in the lot overlooking the lake.  The sun has come out and the wind has picked up. The ripples on the lake sparkle and a few boats float here and there on its surface. 

“Want to get out and walk around some?” Bruce asks me.

“Sure, that would be nice.”

He opens the door to the truck and hops down.  I reach over, lock his door, slide my purse under the seat, and turn to open my door.  Bruce is standing there waiting.  He reaches up, puts his hands under my arms and lowers me to the ground.  He kisses me and we walk hand in hand toward the path to the lake.

“Wonder if they have a cabin open tonight?” he asks.

“What about your trailer?  The auction ends at 7:00.”

“We’ve already got two trailers,” he says. “I can do without another one for awhile longer.”

Now I remember why I married this man.

On the Way to Millington

September 25, 2010

The only thing worse than going to Millington, is having to drive the 1987 four wheel drive red pickup truck to get there.  I hate that truck and the feeling is mutual.  It teases me.  I turn the key, the engine cranks up, but just let me put it in gear.  It chokes, sputters and dies. I curse. It laughs and we start all over again.  The truck and I usually ignore each other.  It sits in the driveway, its back to me and I tip toe around it.   Today we had to go together to rescue the only person who loves both of us, Bruce.

Millington is on the other side of White Hall, nearer to Free Union, but this side of Pea Vine Hollow.  That’s where the dump truck broke down.  That’s when Bruce called and said, “You need to bring the Four Wheel Drive to Millington.”

“Can’t I just bring the tool box in my car?”

“You can’t pull the dump truck out of the ditch with your car.”

“You didn’t say you were in a ditch. You said you broke down. How’d you get in a ditch?”

“I was going to try to drive it home, see how far I could get.  It’s been overheating. I reached for the cell to call you and the road gave way under the front wheel.  They’re putting in a culvert up here and the dirt is soft. I think the dump truck blew a head gasket. I can’t get it to cool down and hold water.  It steams up and blows the water out.   There are two cars behind me that can’t get out and you’re twenty five miles away.  Can you just get in the truck and come on?”

“I hate that truck.  I hate it.  It won’t run for me.”

“If you drove it more often, you’d get used to it.  Just crank it up, pump the accelerator three times, put it in gear and take off.  It’s easy,” he says.

“It’s easy for you. Where are the keys?” I ask.

“I think they’re in the garage.”

I stomp out to the garage and dig around in the desk until I find the key.  I climb behind the wheel, turn the key, pump the accelerator three times, put the truck in gear, and it cuts off.  I repeat the process, holding my breath, imagining people behind Bruce, blowing horns, cursing him, calling tow trucks or County cops.  The truck starts.  I pump the gas, put it in gear and it sputters, then shuts off.  I pound the steering wheel, then the dash.

“Dammit, you’re going to start, and we’re going to drive to Millington and pull Bruce out of a ditch.  You need to listen to me and follow directions.  I know you hate me, but this is important.  Please start.  I’m not asking for me.  I’m asking for him.”

It takes two more tries and when I  finally get the thing in gear, I peel out of the driveway.  The truck runs on regular, as cheap-as-it-comes gas.  When I’m driving it, I run on part fear and part adrenaline.   There are several ways to get to Millington.  One is mostly straight, but longer.  The other is on a winding road that runs past Beaver Creek Dam.  Bruce is in trouble, so I choose the short cut.  There’s play in the steering of the truck, a lot of play.  I don’t consider the play until I turn onto the winding road leading to White Hall.  Sweat breaks out on my forehead and I roll the window down.  There’s no air conditioning and the heat runs full blast winter and summer.  Hot flashes, an excellent heater, curves in the road, play in the steering, and nervousness don’t mix.  My nausea as well as my hate for the truck grows.

This is a drive that I would usually enjoy.  The scenery is all old barns, blue mountains, split rail fences and wildflowers.  I carry my camera with me all the time.  Generally, I’d pull over to the side of the road several times and take photos.  No time, no place wide enough to pull over, and no creative energy keep me driving.

Out of White Hall, Garth Road is a bit straighter and I’m more familiar with the route.  I’m calming down and know that Millington is just up the road.  I turn left toward Free Union and pass the old farm houses I recognize.  A left onto Wesley Chapel Road leads me closer to Pea Vine Hollow.  Bruce is almost close enough to walk to now.  The paved road changes to gravel and I get to a Y in the road.  Not sure which way to go, I open the cell and call. 

“Bear right at the Y and I’m about three quarters of a mile on the left.  I’m walking down the driveway to meet you.”

I breathe a sigh of relief when I see his blue clad figure walking toward me.  I want to turn off the truck and jump out right then, but pull into the driveway and follow him to the dump truck.  It’s sitting precariously, the front passenger wheel at an odd angle.  It almost looks as if the axle is broken.  “No it’s just way over in the ditch,” Bruce says.

I get out of the truck, my job done, and walk to the shoulder.  “Where are you going?” he asks.  “I can’t pull it out by myself.  Do you want to drive the pick up or the dump truck?”

“Neither,” I say.  “I’ve done my part.”

Bruce shakes his head and chuckles at me.  “Which one do you want to drive?” he asks again.

The dump truck looks too much like it will tip over, so I choose my enemy. I pull myself behind the wheel and  Bruce reaches in and turns the key to start it.  The truck starts right up.  He looks at me and smiles.  

“It starts just fine,” I say.  “It’s when I put it in gear that it acts up.”

Bruce turns, hooks the chain to both trucks, locks the hubs on the four wheel drive, puts it in gear for me and pulls himself into the dump truck.  He has much more confidence in me than I have in myself.

He points for me to pull off, and I put the pickup in drive.  It behaves and I push down on the accelerator.  I feel the chain tighten and the truck groans.  I push on the gas a little more and feel the tires grab.  The truck takes off and the dump truck comes with it.  Bruce motions for me to stop. He unhooks the chain.

“Drive down to the church,” he says. “Pull over and wait for me.”

Wesley Chapel is about two miles down the road.  I pull into the parking lot and Bruce pulls in beside me.  The dump truck is smoking, dripping oil and water. 

“Motor’s gone,” he says, dropping the hood.  “Oil’s all over the engine.”  He flips open his cell phone and calls my Step Father who has a low boy trailer.  He’s not sure where to come, so Bruce offers to meet him at Free Union and lead him to the Chapel.  There’s a big sign in the parking lot warning owners of equipment and vehicles not to park there or towing will result. 

I prepare for such occurrences.  I have my camera, two books to read and a Little Debbie snack cake.  I offer to sit with the dump truck.  Wandering out to the cemetery, I begin to take some photos.  Bruce calls to me before he gets in the pickup.  “Do you have your cell phone in your pocket?”

“I have it,” I call back.

“If it gets dark, get in the truck,” he says.

“I will,” I assure him.

I wander the cemetery for awhile and find an old white gravestone with a lamb sculpted on top.  It’s the grave of a boy, Charles Edward Morris. He was born May 10, 1950, and died May 14, 1962.  Charles was twelve years old.  The sky behind the marker is little boy blue with puffy white clouds, reminding me of a sheep.  I kneel down and point the camera so that stone, sky and clouds are in my view.

As the sun sets, the horizon turns shades of pink, orange, yellow and gold.  I think this is a beautiful place to be buried, with the mountains in the distance and the sun painting a different picture each night before the moon and stars come out.  I sit quietly and watch as the canvas changes, streaks of color brightening, fusing, spreading out again, fading and finally disappearing to shades of gray as the sun disappears.

I hear the truck in the distance and the men return to load the dump truck onto the trailer.  Bruce and I climb into the pickup for the ride home.  He drives. 

“You know, just beyond where we were tonight, there’s a place called Fox Mountain.  I’ve never been there until today,” he says.  “Before the truck broke down, I thought, I’m going to have to bring Train over here so she can take some pictures.  You’d love it.”

“We’ll have to bring the car over this weekend,” I say.

“No, we’d have to bring the truck.  The road’s too rough.  We’d drag the bottom out of the car.”

I roll my eyes and sigh.  “I hate this truck,” I say.

“Sure served its purpose tonight.”

“I guess,” I say.  “doesn’t make it any more fun to drive.  It just doesn’t like me.”

“Maybe the two of you should spend more time together, get to know each other,” Bruce says.  I can tell he’s smiling, laughing at me.

“I’ll go to Fox Mountain with you in the truck this weekend if you drive,” I say.

Bruce chuckles, pats the seat for me to slide over closer to him, and says, “See, I told you the two of you would  get used to each other.” 

I wonder which one of us he’s talking to.