On the Way to Millington

The only thing worse than going to Millington, is having to drive the 1987 four wheel drive red pickup truck to get there. I hate that truck, and the feeling is mutual. It teases me. I turn the key, the engine cranks up, but just let me put it in gear. It chokes, sputters and dies. I curse. It laughs “rrrr, rrrr, rrrr,” and we start all over again. The truck and I usually ignore each other. It sits in the driveway, its back to me and I tip toe around it. Today we had to go together to rescue the only person who loves both of us, Bruce.

Millington is on the other side of White Hall, nearer to Free Union, but this side of Pea Vine Hollow. That’s where the dump truck broke down. That’s when Bruce called and said, “You need to bring the Four Wheel Drive to Millington.”

“Can’t I just bring the tool box in my car?”

“You can’t pull the dump truck out of the ditch with your car.”

“You didn’t say you were in a ditch. You said you broke down. How’d you get in a ditch?”

“I was going to try to drive it home, see how far I could get. It’s been overheating. I reached for the cell to call you and the road gave way under the front wheel. They’re putting in a culvert up here and the dirt is soft. I think the dump truck blew a head gasket. I can’t get it to cool down and hold water. It steams up and blows the water out. There are two cars behind me that can’t get out and you’re twenty five miles away. Can you just get in the truck and come on?”

“I hate that truck. I hate it. It won’t run for me.”

“If you drove it more often, you’d get used to it. Just crank it up, pump the accelerator three times, put it in gear and take off. It’s easy,” he says.

“It’s easy for you. Where are the keys?” I ask.

“I think they’re in the garage.”

I stomp out to the garage and dig around in the desk until I find the key. I climb behind the wheel, turn the key, pump the accelerator three times, put the truck in gear, and it cuts off. I repeat the process, holding my breath, imagining people behind Bruce, blowing horns, cursing him, calling tow trucks or County cops. The truck starts. I pump the gas, put it in gear and it sputters, then shuts off. I pound the steering wheel, then the dash.

“Dammit, you’re going to start, and we’re going to drive to Millington and pull Bruce out of a ditch. You need to listen to me and follow directions. I know you hate me, but this is important. Please start. I’m not asking for me. I’m asking for him.”

It takes two more tries and when I finally get the thing in gear, I peel out of the driveway. The truck runs on regular, as cheap-as-it-comes gas. When I’m driving it, I runs on part fear and part adrenaline. There are several ways to get to Millington. One is mostly straight, but longer. The other is on a winding road that runs past Beaver Creek Dam. Bruce is in trouble, so I choose the short cut. There’s play in the steering of the truck, a lot of play. I don’t consider the play until I turn onto the winding road leading to White Hall. Sweat breaks out on my forehead and I roll the window down. There’s no air conditioning and the heat runs full blast winter and summer. Hot flashes, an excellent heater, curves in the road, play in the steering, and nervousness don’t mix. My nausea as well as my hate for the truck grows.

This is a drive that I would usually enjoy. The scenery is all old barns, blue mountains, split rail fences and wildflowers. I carry my camera with me all the time. Generally, I’d pull over to the side of the road several times and take photos. No time, no place wide enough to pull over, and no creative energy keep me driving.

Out of White Hall, Garth Road is a bit straighter and I’m more familiar with the route. I’m calming down and know that Millington is just up the road. I turn left toward Free Union and pass the old farm houses I recognize. A left onto Wesley Chapel Road leads me closer to Pea Vine Hollow. Bruce is almost close enough to walk to now. The paved road changes to gravel and I get to a Y in the road. Not sure which way to go, I open the cell and call.

“Bear right at the Y and I’m about three quarters of a mile on the left. I’m walking down the driveway to meet you.”

I breathe a sigh of relief when I see his blue clad figure walking toward me. I want to turn off the truck and jump out right then, but pull into the driveway and follow him to the dump truck. It’s sitting precariously, the front passenger wheel at an odd angle. It almost looks as if the axle is broken. “No it’s just way over in the ditch,” Bruce says.

I get out of the truck, my job done, and walk to the shoulder. “Where are you going?” he asks. “I can’t pull it out by myself. Do you want to drive the pick up or the dump truck?”

“Neither,” I say. “I’ve done my part.”

Bruce shakes his head and chuckles at me. “Which one do you want to drive?” he asks again.

The dump truck looks too much like it will tip over, so I choose my enemy. I pull myself behind the wheel and Bruce reaches in and turns the key to start it. The truck starts right up. He looks at me and smiles.

“It starts just fine,” I say. “It’s when I put it in gear that it acts up.”

Bruce turns, hooks the chain to both trucks, locks the hubs on the four wheel drive, puts it in gear for me and pulls himself into the dump truck. He has much more confidence in me than I have in myself.

He points for me to pull off, and I put the pickup in drive. It behaves and I push down on the accelerator. I feel the chain tighten and the truck groans. I push on the gas a little more and feel the tires grab. The truck takes off and the dump truck comes with it. Bruce motions for me to stop. He unhooks the chain.

“Drive down to the church,” he says. “Pull over and wait for me.”

Wesley Chapel is about two miles down the road. I pull into the parking lot and Bruce pulls in beside me. The dump truck is smoking, dripping oil and water.

“Motor’s gone,” he says, dropping the hood. “Oil’s all over the engine.” He flips open his cell phone and calls my Step-Father who has a low boy trailer. He’s not sure where to come, so Bruce offers to meet him at Free Union and lead him to the Chapel. There’s a big sign in the parking lot warning owners of equipment and vehicles not to park there or towing will result.

I prepare for such occurrences. I have my camera, two books to read and a Little Debbie snack cake. I offer to sit with the dump truck. Wandering out to the cemetery, I begin to take some photos. Bruce calls to me before he gets in the pickup. “Do you have your cell phone in your pocket?”

“I have it,” I call back.

“If it gets dark, get in the truck,” he says.

“I will,” I assure him.

I wander the cemetery for awhile and find an old white gravestone with a lamb sculpted on top. It’s the grave of a boy, Charles Edward Morris. He was born May 10, 1950, and died May 14, 1962. Charles was twelve years old. The sky behind the marker is little boy blue with puffy white clouds, reminding me of a sheep. I kneel down and point the camera so that stone, sky and clouds are in my view.

As the sun sets, the horizon turns shades of pink, orange, yellow and gold. I think this is a beautiful place to be buried, with the mountains in the distance and the sun painting a different picture each night before the moon and stars come out. I sit quietly and watch as the canvas changes, streaks of color brightening, fusing, spreading out again, fading and finally disappearing to shades of gray as the sun disappears.

I hear the truck in the distance and the men return to load the dump truck onto the trailer. Bruce and I climb into the pickup for the ride home. He drives.

“You know, just beyond where we were tonight, there’s a place called Fox Mountain. I’ve never been there until today,” he says. “Before the truck broke down, I thought, I’m going to have to bring M. Dawn over here so she can take some pictures. You’d love it.”

“We’ll have to bring the car over this weekend,” I say.

“No, we’d have to bring the truck. The road’s too rough. We’d drag the bottom out of the car.”

I roll my eyes and sigh. “I hate this truck,” I say.

“Sure served its purpose tonight.”

“I guess,” I say. “doesn’t make it any more fun to drive. It just doesn’t like me.”

“Maybe the two of you should spend more time together, get to know each other,” Bruce says. I can tell he’s smiling, laughing at me.

“I’ll go to Fox Mountain with you in the truck this weekend if you drive,” I say.

Bruce chuckles, pats the seat for me to slide over closer to him, and says, “See, I told you the two of you would get used to each other.”

I wonder which one of us he’s talking to.

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