“I remember riding home on a summer’s eve in the back of an ancient Ford pickup truck, with two 8-year-old cousins for company and my uncle Roscoe at the wheel.
“We’d been swimming and we were sitting on the inner tubes for comfort, and had a couple of old quilts and an elderly dog wrapped close for warmth.
“We were eating chocolate cookies and drinking sweet milk out of a Mason jar, and singing our lungs out with unending verses of Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall.
“With stars and moon and God overhead, and sweet dreams at the end of the journey home.”
— Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
One of my early memories of riding in a pick-up truck was my great-grandpa Charlie’s Studebaker, which he treated with great care. When he came upon the only stop light between his home and ours, he turned the ignition off to give her a rest. The rounded front of that Studebaker truck, the perfectly clean, shiny red body, the gleaming fenders … I have managed to hold it all in my memory.
I once asked if I could ride in the back if I sat perfectly still, and he told me he would rather I sit up front and help him drive so we would be sure to get where we were going. I was probably about 6 years old, of no real use to anyone in the driving or direction department, but Grandpa Charlie made me feel he simply could not get along without me.
I sat up a little straighter, my head held high. I could not have put it in to words then, of course, but my sweet, old great-grandfather may have been the first person to show me exactly what it felt like to know one is loved beyond measure.
In 1958, his wife Anna Chloe had died. Opposites in every way, cheery Charlie’s wife has often been described as having a challenging demeanor. My father grew up knowing his maternal grandfather was going to get yelled at all through lunch. After she had her say, he would politely thank her for the delicious lunch, get up and head back out to do his farming.
After her death, my parents would pick Charlie up and bring him to their home nearly every day for his meals, as they worried about his deep sorrow.
He would have been well in to his 70s by this time, and decided to have a farm sale. Many of his friends had died, and with his wife’s passing, he battled to find the will to go on. The following spring, I was born. Grandpa Charlie was charmed. Many family members have told me my arrival saved his life.
Charlie had shouldered a lifetime of sorrow, beginning with the death of his only sister and his father while still a child. He was put on a train immediately after his father’s funeral in Pennsylvania to go find a farm in Ohio that could keep the young family afloat, then helped move his mother and young siblings there. He was 12 years old.
Later, he would nearly collapse with the death of his dear daughter, my dad’s mother, when she was 35. In a cruel twist of fate, Charlie watched his grandson forced to become a man while still a child just as he had been.
But the years that I came to know him, Charlie was pure joy. He had the most beautiful blue eyes, snow white hair, and the spirit of a jolly jokester. He loved candy and cake and pie, though he remained thin and fit by working right alongside my dad. I realize now how young my father was, consumed with building a dairy farm and a family. Grandpa Charlie had to have been a help. The benefit ran both ways.
I recall a second time I asked to ride in the back of a pick-up truck, eager to see what it was like. After telling me of the danger for someone as light as a feather to ride back there, Grandpa Charlie agreed to climb up in the bed of my father’s old farm truck, holding me tight. My dad had backed the truck up to a grassy bank to make the climb easier for both of us. As my father drove slowly back a farm lane to check on a field, Grandpa Charlie and his sidekick whooped and hollered as if riding a roller coaster.
Many years have come and gone. Sadness and loss come to us all, and dark times in life challenge us to find new, meaningful purpose. Never give up. A new reason to get up every morning just might arrive when it is least expected.
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