Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Old GMC

A lot of firsts are tied up in that truck I so crudely depicted in the painting above. It was my first pick-up truck. I paid for it with a student loan when I first moved from Florida to Texas. I was going to be a church ministry major at TCU. In that freshman class, I was one of only two students interested in pursuing that line of education. The other was a girl from Chicago who coincidentally had undergone the same type of childhood heart operation I had experienced. No, we never compared our scars, but we did both feel out of place as horned frogs. She, because she was from Chicago and had no appreciation for anything Texan, and me, because I felt like I had some special prestige as the token blue collar kid on campus. I know better now...but back then, I was certain that no one else at a private school felt as alien as I did to that "prestigious" environment.

The old GMC looked out of place, parked between the Volvos and BMWs in the stadium commuter parking lot, but I loved driving it, even if the floorboard let water splash up my left leg. With its crusty plastic interior panels and its oven-baked black paint with red taped stripes, I felt like I was driving a piece of culture everywhere I went. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, and many Saturdays, I drove it to a construction site, my first real "manly" job, where I learned to stack bricks, make mud, and build scaffolding, and where I learned that rough men are still boys, kids at heart. The best of them wanted to laugh once in awhile to make the day seem shorter, and they could all tell good stories while stacking those bricks.

There were other firsts associated with that old truck, some, the ones regarding certain passengers who may have shared that bench seat in the glow of a stereo dial, are better left to memory and not the page. The most reliable companion to share that bench was Cosby, my old Lab. He was much neater in appearance than my poor rendition above. Large-boned, he had the classic lab look: strong, friendly, curious, watchful. He rode with my family from Florida to Texas, and then, he was my sole companion on an otherwise lonely trek to North Carolina.

Seven Springs, North Carolina is where I first rolled a truck. Totalled it. I was driving a narrow farm road, only doing about 45 mph, when I slipped off the shoulder on the right side of the road for a bit. In trying to correct myself, I pulled back onto the pavement, and watched as a street sign post seemed to cross the road and nail my fender...the loose play in my steering must have been partly to blame...I could  always move the wheel nearly a quarter of a turn before engaging the steering rods...losing control, it seemed all I could do was watch as the hood slammed into the black ashes of a burned-out wheat field. I saw the horizon rolling and I remember the crunching sound and this guttural kind of moan I made as it all went to pieces around me.

When the GMC stopped rolling, I reached for the key and turned off the ignition, unbuckled my seat belt, and stepped through the windshield as the truck continued to lay on the driver side. I walked across the smoldering field, sat on the shoulder of the road, and looked at the mess I had made.

The truck's path cleared out the loose ashes and burnt chaff to reveal a tan, sandy soil underneath. My fishing gear, art supplies, random books, all scattered in a semicircular path...I had a little bit of everything in that thing, and now it all lay, a pitiable mess.

Seeing the wreck happen in front of her on her way to work, a registered nurse stopped and asked, "are you all right?" She made me stay seated and gave me a cursory look-over. Soon, members of the small farming community who knew me from church, showed up. One, an elder in the church, said, "Bryan, I saw that deer you swerved to miss..." and I smiled, knowing that he was trying to give me a story to tell the patrolman who was approaching the scene.

My pastor, Ashley Summerlin, a retired policeman himself, ended up greeting the highway patrol officer, and in his diplomatic, preacher's persona, said, "Officer, everything that boy owns is all out there in the ashes. The last thing he needs today is a ticket." The officer, sporting his shiny aviators, seemed to nod just a bit, and before he left the scene said, "well, son, I hope the rest of your day turns out better than your morning did."

A friend of mine, Ricky Thompson, agreed to tow the wreckage to my Uncle Billy's yard until we could figure out what to do with it. It was a clear loss, but as much as I loved that truck, I knew its time would come.

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