Farewell old truck

Last month, I bid a final farewell to my 23-year-old truck. It has been a long goodbye, starting when it slipped through the state inspection process in 2008 with a stern warning from my flinty mechanic not to bring it back for renewal. A few calamities were avoided with some clever patchwork, but when July came around, I voluntarily took it off the road, and relinquished it to hauling wood off the mountain behind our house.

A couple months later, I got caught up on some stumps and blew my clutch. There it sat permanently wedged. Green sprouts bloomed up out of the bed, then leaves joined them and snow wouldn’t be far behind.

If it wasn’t for my wife, the truck would still be there as a monument to my inertia – or possibly my unwillingness to let go. Old trucks have a way of growing on you, merging with your personality. When they die, it can be hard to accept and even harder to get rid of. I can understand how country yards can fill up with old things too valuable to throw away and too heavy to move and costly to recycle.

This was my first truck, and probably one of my most impulsive purchases. When I got it, the truck was well-worn, having been broken in by one of my more rebellious students.

It had its secrets, which in time, I became privy to. The driver’s side door didn’t open from the inside and, on particularly cold mornings, it wouldn’t stay closed. A little twine usually did the trick, but once it broke, and the door went flapping in the wind like a one-winged bird. But overall, it was a loyal and reliable vehicle. All last year, it took me 2-1/2 hours a day to and from work. While I never got warm during those winter trips, I often felt lucky.

One frigid morning, I went into the house leaving the truck to warm up. When I returned, it was gone. It had rolled down the hill and wedged itself into a snow bank, unharmed. I threw it in four-wheel drive and went off to work.

It stranded me on the side of road only three times, but they were entirely my own fault. Once I ran out of gas and twice I blew out a tire because I was too cheap to heed the warning signs. All three occasions were easily rectified with the help of passing motorists (not a mobile phone).

Since then, I’ve made it my goal to offer assistance to people abandoned by broken-down vehicles on the side of the road. Never have I met an unpleasant, ungrateful person, although many refused my offer for a lift.

I was always eager to brag about my truck’s longevity and endurance, especially as it edged toward antique status (25 years). One night, on a trip back from Concord, I was pulled over by a state trooper for a broken taillight, but before he tended to the business at hand, he asked, “How old is this?”

He let me go without a ticket or even a warning, just some parting advice – leave the hazard lights on until you get it fixed.

My old truck was simple, carefree transportation. I never misplaced my keys, for they were always in the ignition, locked myself out (or for that matter locked the doors), or worried about someone parking too close to me. I didn’t have to fuss over it or pay homage to it either. It made a statement about frugality, fidelity and simplification. The imperfections and inconveniences were a small price to pay for its many benefits to my wallet and lifestyle.

I expected very little from it. Every time I cranked the ignition, even the last time, as it was being pulled off the mountain, I felt I got more than I was ever due.

Now I drive a new truck — just 13 years old. It is very nice – too nice for my liking, but I’m breaking it in. I worry about luxury creeping in to my life and becoming a basic, inalienable necessity. Once an extravagance hardens into habit, it becomes an expectation that is not reversed without sorrow and pain. It softens and numbs us – and leaves us with a little less wonder, humility and autonomy. 

My new truck has caused me no trouble, but it is hardly a topic of conversation. It fits right in. Just after purchasing it, my older sister, did notice and added, “It’s a cute, little truck.” It is indeed.

Jeff Woodburn of Dalton is a freelance writer and teacher.