One of the reasons I went down to Missouri last week was to pick up my father’s pick-up truck, which is now my pick-up truck. It’s a 1998 Dodge Dakota extended cab (V6, 2WD), and the odometer didn’t turn 51,000 miles until I was somewhere in Iowa on the drive home. It’s in great shape, and my mom had had it detailed before I came for it so the interior was in like-new condition. In fact, the steering wheel was kind of slippery.
I had sat in the truck last November when I was home for Thanksgiving, only a few weeks after my father died. I rifled the glove box and center console, finding miscellaneous to-do lists and receipts, half-a-roll of Life Savers, and a few pipe filters in the ashtray; I could smell the old tobacco. Pictures of his grandchildren were clipped behind a visor, and the dashboard was coated with dust. When I climbed in the other day everything was wiped down, polished and antiseptically clean without a trace of him, except for a Shriner’s medallion on the back window. I’m not a Shriner, so I’ll have to find a way to remove that and mail it to my brother.
The truck had been parked on the carport, behind the section of garage that had been turned into his re-upholstery workshop. I climbed down from the truck and then down into the shop, looking around for a screw-driver. The shop has barely been touched in the last few months, other than to remove the unfinished projects that had been waiting for him to feel better. Scraps of fabric, several extension cords hanging from straps, a workbench, some stools, the heater I had bought him for Christmas several years ago, some photos of he and some friends taken at the golf course and tacked to the wall. There were two calendars, one featuring a picture of Ronald Reagan. Both were turned to May, 2007; he had been diagnosed in June. My mother came in and joined me. “I’m not changing a thing,” she said.
As I drove back to Minnesota I took stock of my new ride. I liked the above-the-traffic driver’s position. The truck drove true, without shimmy and the only strange noise was a brief turbine-sounding whine when the speedometer moved between 45 and 50 mph. Hmmm. How does it ride? *BUMP* Like an empty truck. I started a mental to-do list of tasks and upgrades: a little wobble in the brakes when coming down from highway speed, perhaps I should get the rotors turned; new wiper blades; add a tonneau cover; replace the AM/FM/Cassette with a new stereo with CD-player and iPod port; perhaps new speakers since these seemed to buzz with any significant bass tones. I’d only driven about 180 miles since I filled the tank; I looked at the gas guage; 1/4 tank left. YIKES! I added “tune-up” to my mental list, but I soon realized that the engine was turning at 2100 rpm at 70 mph in overdrive without a hitch or falter, and the old man had been pretty methodical about his maintenance. It could well be that 17 mpg was all I was going to coax out of the truck on the highway.
I had an older model Dakota several years ago when the responsibilities of home ownership had shown us the value of having a pick-up truck. Granted, there may be only a few times a year when you need one, but when you need one you really need one. Nevertheless, I’d foolishly let that earlier truck go, and it created a gap that has taken me this long to fill. Given the circumstances, I could have waited a bit longer.