Time, Death & Last Looks
As the years went by Johnnyís old pickup truck became such an integral part of our daily existence that we sort of thought of it as a family member.
Our grandpa, who lived right down the road, became so accustomed to the rattles and creaks the old truck made as it passed his house he would comment when he heard it coming. He was blind and wore a hearing aid but was still able to recognize it if he happened to be on his front porch.
"Well, there goes Johnny in that hoopie of his. He drives that thing too dang fast, you know. Why, he give me a ride down to the beer joint the other day and I could tell we was fairly a Ďflyin."
"How fast were you going, Grandaddy?" I asked.
"He told me we was making 45 mile an hour. Now, you know dang well that boy ainít got no cause to be going nowhere in that blamed big a hurry! Itís foolishness if you ask me."
"Well, Grandaddy, people drive faster than that all the time nowadays," I tried to explain.
"Maybe so, but folks git their dang fool necks broke doing it, too." he replied. I sensed he was pretty adamant about the subject, so I simply sat silently as he puffed his corncob pipe, not wanting to say anything which may have sounded argumentative.
A few moments passed and Grandpa spoke again.
"When I was a young man we only went to town once or twice a year, to lay in provisions and to buy seed and such. We were too busy working to be running up and down the road all the time. Of course, there werenít no roads to speak of back then - just some crooked wagon tracks and some cow trails here and there," he reminisced.
"My brother Joe won himself an automobile at a drawing they had at the picture show over in Three Rivers one time. He didnít know how to drive the thing so somebody had to get it started for him and show him how to work it," he continued.
"Did he ever learn to drive it?" I asked, never having heard the story before. I donít know if Grandaddy didnít hear the question or if he simply ignored it. Nonetheless, he kept talking as though he were speaking to someone else - someone I couldn't see.
"He learned pretty fast, I reckon. Once the contraption started moving he steered down along the riverbottoms all the way home. He done that because the land is generally pretty flat and level there and itís mostly clear between the big cottonwoods, you know."
He paused to take three or four long draws on the pipe but got no smoke. The fire had gone out.
"I donít know how in tarnation he ever made it all that way, but he did. When he finally got up here to the house he didnít know how to make the thing stop."
He paused again, struck a match on the concrete porch and relighted his pipe.
My curiosity was aroused by this time and I wanted to hear the rest of the tale.
"So, what ever happened? Did he jump out of it or what?" I asked.
"No, he drove it around and around the place until it finally quit. Run out of gas, I reckon. It made an awful racket and stirred up a helluva commotion. The dogs went plumb crazy. They was barking and howling and chasing that thing. All the youngsters run and hid under their mamaís skirts, afeared fer their lives. He run over three or four good laying hens, spooked the horses and my milkcow wouldnít give down for several days," Grandpa said, his expression completely solemn.
Thinking he was finished talking, I stood and started toward the yard gate. Before I reached it he returned to his original train of thought.
"Thatís whatís wrong with this world today - people are in too blamed big a hurry to git somewheres and in too blamed big a hurry to git back. If they spent all that time tending to their business theyíd be a lot better off if you ask me," he said.
At the time I thought Grandaddyís comments were simply amusing. I couldní t envision a time whenever I would find more wisdom than humor in his words. In my simple world of that day the pressing issue of the moment was whether or not I was going pass into the seventh grade.
Time was a plentiful commodity to me then, like the waters of a huge, placid ocean. There were yet no waves or undercurrents in my life, and it seemed to me that time flowed very slowly. It dribbled and dripped while I longed for the waves to rush in and sweep me from the shore.
Little did I suspect how truly fast it was moving. In that respect I was very much like my blind grandfather sitting on his porch - regardless of whether I realized it or approved, the times were certainly changing all about me.
One of the last events to unfold as Johnny and I went about our daily routine in his truck involved the untimely death of an animal. I couldnít tell you exactly why, but my memory of what happened has always been a vivid reminder to me that life is a precious but fragile thing which should never be taken for granted.
One of our best young cows failed to show up at the feed troughs one afternoon. We drove the pasture out looking for her but she must have already been down, out of our line of sight.
The second day we saw buzzards circling and found the carcass.
Her eyes had already been pecked out.
Upon examination we determined she had choked to death on a spent shotgun shell. Cattle are not discriminate eaters. They are four-legged vacuums. A shotgun shell swallows easily for a cow but digests very poorly. Usually the thing passes harmlessly through and ends up as decoration for a cow pie.
This one didnít. It hung in the poor animalís throat, clogged the air passage and caused her to die.
Johnny and I tied her rear legs with sisal rope, ran a chain from the rope to the Chevy and dragged her down a trail to an flat, rocky spot. We covered her with dried branches, siphoned some gasoline, threw it on her and tossed a match.
The coyotes had barbecue that night.
Such were the fortunes of a cattleman, Johnny said.
A day or two later Chevyís big six cylinder engine began to knock. Johnny ignored it and kept driving. On his way to the post office that afternoon he experienced what mechanics call a major engine failure. A rod disconnected itself from the crankshaft and smashed a hole in the side of the block.
A passing neighbor latched a chain onto the truck and towed it home. I was in my bedroom reading a comic book when Johnny came in and demanded that I come help him.
" Reckon you can fix it?" he asked as we peered under the hood at the damaged engine. I could tell by his expression he already suspected no amount of baling wire was going to work this time.
It was a sad moment - like whenever you hear that a good friend is gravely ill.
We werenít really sure how bad it was until Dad came home later that day. He took one look and officially pronounced the truck dead at the scene. No one had much to say as we walked away, leaving it sitting there in its regular spot beneath the tree.
The next morning I rose and wondered if I had simply had a bad dream. From the front porch I saw Johnny seated behind the wheel and went out to see what he was doing.
He had a screwdriver and was trying to remove the turning knob from the steering wheel. Although the plastic bubble which encased the scandalous photograph was scratched and worn, the scantily-clad model with the ample bosom was pretty as ever beneath it.
"You know, itís a funny thing," he said, "Mama never said a word about this and I know she saw it whenever we were hauling hay. I wonder why?"
"I donít know." I replied.
"Maybe she figured it wasnít her business," Johnny answered himself. I got the impression he was talking just to keep from thinking about what he was doing - getting the truck ready to be sold and hauled away.
Dad came in from work, saw us under the mesquite tree and walked over. He could see what we were doing and sensed what was on our minds.
In a rare display of sensitivity he put a big, rough hand on Johnnyís shoulder and said, "Donít worry. Weíll find another pickup. Maybe even a better one, you canít tell."
"I just hope itís as good," Johnny said.
"This one will be hard to beat, thatís for sure. Itís been through a lot. Both you boys did lots of growing up in this old thing. I kinda hate to see it go myself," he replied, walking quickly away before he exposed any more sentiment.
We made more small talk as Johnny removed the brass steer from the hood and retrieved his other personal items. Later in the week a man from a salvage yard in a nearby town came with a wrecker.
He lashed a strange-looking apparatus to the Chevy, lifted its front wheels off the ground and rattled off down the road with it in tow. Johnny and I stood and silently watched.
I remember reading Johnnyís bumper sticker for the last time as the truck rumbled across the cattleguard on its way out.
The "Cowboy Cadillac" was gone.
We certainly didnít suspect it then, but an era of innocence and simple lifestyles was soon to follow.
Copyright © 1999 by Michael Bedwell
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