On a cool, clear spring day, my daughters and I were bopping down Durham's Foster Street in my pickup. We were guzzling water bottles and juice boxes, worn out from another wild morning of the Durham Arts Council parent-toddler dance class. We had nailed "Wheels on the Bus" and "Toes in the Toaster."
Next thing we knew, we were airborne. A car had run a stop sign and rammed into the truck's back window. We pitched, flipped and rolled down the hill. The truck cab looked like a squashed muffin. Because we didn't see it coming, someone at the hospital had said, our bodies hadn't tensed up—a good thing. We were also all very loose from the dancing. I knew the seat belts, especially the backseat pair around my girls, had saved our lives.
This all happened 17 years ago. My Ford Ranger was rebuilt from the chassis up. The body shop added roll-bar type supports and replaced everything with even stronger components. It became my battle tank, my workhorse: It hauled manure and hosted hayrides, carried firewood and bags of leaves from town. One summer it even showed up in a painting by Raleigh artist Keith Norval. A photo album full of family dogs traveled windblown and smiling in its uneven truck bed.
When my kids hit adolescence, the truck was not their favorite carpool vehicle—"Dad, if you're bringing the truck, park around the corner," one daughter would say. Years later, she shocked me when she asked for a Ranger driving lesson. Alas, when the kids started driving, the old truck got bumped from its cozy space close to the house to the area of vehicle exile near the garden and chicken coop that we have dubbed "Long Term Parking." Family efforts to convince Dad to get a new truck eventually progressed into a more demanding campaign: "Tell Dad to Get a New Truck."
This past winter I was driving home in one of those weird snowstorms, when out of nowhere, a baby deer ran into the front of the pickup. It happened so fast. I swerved, heard a few thumps and pulled over. Both headlights still worked, but the grille, bumper and fender were bent up and trashed.
I took it as a sign: Maybe it was time to get that new truck. It was a crisis of faith. When was the right time? How was I to know? I rang my insurance guy. We talked about old trucks. The word "salvage" came up.
I went for it. The truck had saved my life (and still had a great sound system). For a while, it was trapped in the Bermuda Triangle of car repairs, between my agent, the auto body shop and the insurance company. At one point, the mechanic shook his head, documenting the damage: "You hit a deer, huh? The company likes to see hair in the photos."
The truck again looks regal out there next to the garden sheds. It shows its age on three sides, and it's covered in pollen. Right now, it seems to whisper, "Let's get hauling, let's get some more tomato plants. Crank up oldies, will you please?" Soon.