Paw always owned a truck. In fact, a truck was the only vehicle I ever knew Paw to own. He didn’t own a truck because it was the popular thing to do as it is for many people today. Paw owned a truck because it was a necessity for life on the farm. Owning a truck was a completely utilitarian thing for Paw, and he didn’t care a whit for anything fancy. From the time I was aware enough to know that he drove a truck until he stopped driving, I only know of him owning two trucks. One was red, not cherry red and not maroon red, but something in between, and when it finally gave up the ghost, he bought a blue one. That one lasted him the rest of his driving life.
Neither of those trucks had anything extra. You had to do everything manually. You had to shift the gears on the manual transmission, roll the manual windows down and up, and manually adjust the mirrors. There was no power steering or anti-lock power brakes. I don’t even remember either of them having a radio although it’s possible they did, and Paw just didn’t ever turn them on. But it was everything Paw needed, and Paw wasn’t one for anything more than what he needed.
Of course, Paw used his truck for simple transportation. It took him where he needed to go and brought him back again, whether that was to the homeplace farm or up to the store to loafer for a little while, or to town to buy supplies, or to the stock market to buy a cow or sell a calf. He seldom went anywhere else, and when he did, he usually went with someone else. And if he didn’t need to be anywhere, Paw’s truck would set in the little shack that served as a garage for days on end.
As a farmer, though, Paw needed his truck for so much more. In the spring, it hauled thousands of tobacco transplants from the beds near the garden down to the tobacco patch where we set them with hand setters filled with water that came from the barrels of water hauled up from the creek in Paw’s truck. As summer rolled around, Paw’s truck hauled bales of hay from the hayfield to the barn to be stored until winter. (This was after we had a tractor to cut and bale hay. For most of my childhood, we used horses and pitchforks to stack the hay, but that’s a story for another day). In the fall, as the leaves began to turn, and the nights cooled, Paw’s truck hauled the now mature cut and spudded tobacco back to the barn to be hung to dry. And in the dead of winter when it was so cold your hands and feet went numb, and you could see the steam from every breath, Paw hauled that same tobacco to market after we had all spent hour after hour, day after day in that numbing cold grading and tying it into hands and then layering it onto baskets. Paw’s truck was a truck for all seasons.
Now, there is one more thing about Paw’s truck that you need to know. Paw’s truck had a wooden rack that I assume he and my dad built. You don’t very often see a rack on a truck these days which means kids are missing out on a lot of fun. The rack, built to fit the length and width of the truck bed, was made of painted wooden slats spaced a few inches apart. They were nailed to vertical small square posts that fit down into the same size square holes on each corner of the bed. The back of the rack was on hinges to form a door that could be removed when it wasn’t needed. That rack accomplished all sorts of things, both farm-wise and kid-wise, and it was absolutely necessary when Paw would haul cattle or hay bales or anything else, like kids, for instance, that could fall out of the truck bed without it.
Summer was our favorite season for Paw’s truck. We were out of school, of course, so we got to ride in his truck more often. That was always exciting because Dad and Mom didn’t have a truck at that time. But even more exciting was when we had work to do at the homeplace farm which about three miles up the road. We always went early in the morning when the air was quite crisp, even in the summer. My sister Libby and I often got to ride in the back of Paw’s truck, and because he had a rack on the truck, we got to stand up against the cab holding onto the rack. Even though Paw never drove over 35 mph, the cool mountain morning air would hit us square on in the face and blow our hair back in the wind. Our teeth would chatter all the way up to the farm. By the time we got there, our eyes were stinging, our ears were numb, our noses were running, and our arms and legs were covered with goose bumps. It was absolutely exhilarating! On the other hand, it did take some of the wind out of our sails when a bug would fly down down our throats or into one of our eyes!
Sometimes–I don’t remember why– Paw took the rack off for several days. Those, too, were exciting days for us. One of my cousins visited often in the summer, and hè, Libby, and I played in and around Paw’s truck’s rack for hours at the time. Most of the time, it became a mighty fort as we, albeit very politically incorrectly, played cowboys and Indians and took turns capturing each other. At other times, one or two of us were cops capturing and putting the robber(s) in jail. Imagination was not one of our shortcomings!
Who would think something so simple as an old truck and its rack could be so much a part of a kid’s life, but it was. We did have a lot of fun that centered around Paw’s truck, but as I look back on it now, perhaps it wasn’t the truck or the rack or the rides or the games that made it so special. Perhaps it was something much deeper and closer to our hearts. Perhaps it was so special because an old man with a bald head and gruff ways drove it. Perhaps it was so special because Paw was so special.
**These are my childhood memories of growing up in Appalachia. They are true but also subject to the normal foibles of the mind.