I believe it was Rick Bragg who once said that Southerners date events in their lives by the car they were driving at the time.
I believe this to be true.
It was in a deep red Cadillac Sedan Deville that I got pulled over three times within one month for speeding. Whoever said Grannie cars wouldn’t move, were downright wrong. That same car carried me to my senior prom. It also bore witness to multiple days of ditching school my senior year, all while singing along to John Cougar Mellencamp’s Greatest Hits on cassette tape.
My grandfather’s knuckles went white while gripping the dashboard of a blue 1994 Dodge Dakota. He was convinced I was bound to kill us both while coming down the mountain too fast and possibly on two wheels around a curve. That one also drove me many a night through town, “cruising,” as we called it. There was the time I pulled in a little too close to the pole at the drive-in theater as well, and that truck got the short end of the stick on that one.
I drove my graduation present, a 2003 Dodge Ram to said graduation. That truck had to get pulled out of a ditch once too, the whole while I begged my rescuers not to tell my dad or uncle. It’s bumper was also held in place by one of those jumbo black binder clips until the day I sold it.
But my favorite one is a 1989 light blue Chevrolet Cheyenne pickup truck.
It was not a fancy truck. Most of the time, the ashtray was spilling over and there was always dust that acted as a protective topcoat along the dashboard. It had dents and dings. A few had started to rust. The bench seat was busted up on the driver’s side and the stuffing was slowly disintegrating. You could easily find co-op receipts faded by the sun in the dash and/or floorboard as well as empty cigarette packs on any given day. There would usually be a hat in there too, on the seat, just in case he happened to forget his hat on the way out the back door that morning.
I learned to drive a stick shift in that truck, in a hilly cow pasture. There was one close call when I was confident we were headed straight into the pond, backwards. I went with my Pap in that truck to buy three different lawnmower belts in one day. We finally realized we were putting them on incorrectly and thus, why they kept breaking. On one occasion, we went to three different towns to track down the right bearing for a tractor so he could rake hay. It carried us to countless lunches at Mamie’s and countless trips to the Farmer’s Co-Op.
For over a decade, my Pap turned this key nearly everyday in that truck. He hasn’t turned it for over 14 years now and at some point, the truck missed him too much and just gave up.
His picture resides in my wallet where, technically, one would place their driver’s license. He is on my nightstand, so that I see him every morning. And every day I work at my desk which once was his kitchen table where we would talk in the mornings.
And now, I can look down at my hand and see him climbing into the truck and driving into the fields just like it was yesterday.
My sweetest dreams aren’t filled with fame and fortune, but a dusty truck being driven by a Liberty overall wearing, big-bellied man, with a lit Gunsmoke cigarette in hand, and I’m riding shotgun.
**I had Pap’s key made into a ring through this Etsy store (affiliate link). They don’t have a listing for sending one in of your own, but I messaged them and they were happy to do it. Tell them Jenna sent you.