Dad’s eyes were as bright as the big red International Harvester he pulled into our hard packed dirt driveway. A new truck. My brothers and I scrambled to be lifted into its seat, perched well above our eyesight. Is that the day red became my favorite color? The sun seemed to shine a little brighter as it rolled into our lives. I wonder if mom was as surprised as we were. This was a huge chunk of a hard earned self employed budget, but that didn’t mean it had been discussed. It was the late 50’s and my father made all decisions about how money was spent.
We were a rural family of five brought up on thrift and hard physical labor that barely kept the bills paid. This extravagant red giant became the heart of our existence, pumping the income that sustained us through the veins of opportunities for its use. The primary cargo that filled the truck bed was the pulp wood my father spent most of his days cutting. Well before I left the warmth of my covers he would be off on his tractor, returning late in the day pulling a wooden trailer filled with the wood his chainsaw had felled and then reduced to stackable chunks. When there was enough wood to fill the truck dad climbed behind the enormous steering wheel and took control of the twenty ton load destined to the paper mill a few hours away. Each piece of wood was cut, loaded, unloaded, reloaded, and unloaded again by the muscles of his sturdy 5’7” frame.
The lore of lumbermen that clear cut acres of trees for fast profit, ruining the landscape and ecology of an entire area, was not part of dad’s story. His discerning eye selected which trees to cut, knowing this land could provide for his family for generations to come if handled with care. The tall straight cherry and oak were allowed to grow for decades until ready to be harvested for use in furniture or cabinet making. The less valued trees, good for firewood or pallet production, were still culled with a plan for the future. He knew the woods. They were his home and his livelihood. He treated them with the respect required to allow them to both provide and flourish; a relationship maybe more nurturing than those he had with the people in his life. Despite Mother Nature’s rule over the sun and rain and wind, dad still controlled the decisions that brought saw tooth to bark and filled the trailer. The control of a growing family, empowered with words and actions to resist the sharp edges of his demands and anger, was a different story.
Other opportunities requiring the capacity of his truck and strength of his body seemed to always be waiting. He loaded the bright red beast of burden with a variety of items to supplement the flow of cash, including: stacks of 70 pound wheels of local cheese, ten gallon metal cans of milk from neighbors’ herds and crates of produce headed to the regional farmers market. Between loads the truck rested in the unpainted oversized garage he had built to protect it. My brothers and I rode in the truck occasionally, sometimes rising before the sun to accompany dad on an early morning run. I’ don’t recall ever seeing mom by his side there. Most days he navigated the routes of his work in solitude. The big red truck was my father’s domain, as much as the kitchen was my mothers.
Dad worked under his own direction for most of his life. When his body began to struggle against the long days and heavy work he moved to a job at the local saw mill building pallets. The big truck was replaced with a small red pick-up. But its cargo of memories, constructed across a long partnership through work and worries, would be carried down the road for many miles ahead.