Paying Love Forward: ‘The Red Dudette’

Townhouse_7RedDudeShe’s like someone who can’t take a bad picture. Even with her age and hidden damage, she is a good lookin’ truck. She’s reliable, in good health and special … very special. She is the embodiment of years of a father’s love.

Before divorce I’d foolishly entrusted all of our money and property in the (now) ex-husband’s name. My Father, God rest his soul, gave me his old pickup truck. Dad had a nickname for everyone and everything close to him and his truck was no different. He called it The Red Dude, thoughtfully renaming her The Red Dudette when gifting her to me.

… it’s a fit old truck with all of the subtle bedazzledness he’d so tenderly invested. I’m an old lady and just accelerating at a stoplight makes the tires squeal. Yeah that kind of “subtle begazzledness.” Dad always liked his vehicles fast … .

Dad bought her at an auction with a bullet hole in her back windshield, among other less obvious things. Loving the challenge of whatever rush it is that the male gender gets from an auction, Dad joyed in giving her all of the invisible bells and whistles that men tend to like in their vehicles.

Years ago Dad was caught out of town and asked me to climb through it’s back sliding window to retrieve a house key so I could tend to their dog. I wiggled my then-expanding behind through that tiny tight space to reach its front dash. Dad always kept himself clandestinely prepared for the unexpected. “Sam,” the puggle who never left Dad’s side, was immensely grateful – when I took him out he must’ve peed for a solid two minutes.

To say Dad was committed to his values is an understatement and though he’d gotten too old (or learned better) than to enter political debates, he had no qualms about putting them on display. If you look closely you can still see the “Palin” front bumper sticker. The Red Dudette’s windows and back bumper are somewhat tastefully plastered with what one might expect from a World War II veteran who loved America and respected its troops and law enforcement.

Since gifting The Red Dudette to me, she & I lived in an area where putting such strong conservative beliefs on display could’ve easily incited vandalism. Thank God that never happened but it was a concern. A couple of the stickers fell-away, but those were as much a part of Dad as the truck itself, so I made no conscious effort to remove them. They were an integral part of her, of him, of his love for me.

The Red Dudette has taken on a whole new distinction. She’s not just an old truck anymore … She’s tattered and worn, her windshield washer and a/c don’t work and one headlight is barely tethered in place … but her spirit still comes alive when you step on the gas.

I packed and carted luggage to my old Red Dudette and drove it to dad’s funeral a couple of states away … Thank you, dad, for the strength of character to be with you one last time, for The Red Dudette to get me there … .

The Red Dudette has no electronic features, no luxuries, even her door locks are manual. She is transportation. Albeit well running, transportation is what you get. She is the most reliable vehicle I’ve ever owned and praise God for that. I’m sure Dad knew that in gifting her to me. He being old school, the trivialities of comfort were not a consideration and shouldn’t be for me. If he drove her hacking around to lumber yards & DIY stores, she was good enough to fill my essential needs, which became another integral part of The Red Dudette’s loving personality.

Living in a warm climate during divorce, the intense heat of its summer was next to unbearable for driving The Red Dudette with no a/c. Trying to go anywhere in full make-up & dress or just running simple errands was truly miserable. Rainy conditions made her impossible to drive because the defrost was clogged and in that heat her windshield steamed beyond reasonable vision.

Her tailgate handle stopped working so what little convenience she did offer quickly fell by the wayside. Cold climate winters were just as difficult, pounding away ice from her door in hopes I could get it open; scraping snow & ice from the windows as her inadequate defroster struggled to help clear them; worrying about her rear end being too light to hold the road for my limited truck-driving experience.

I carried a spray bottle because, with no window-washer reservoir, if her windshield was muddied or sloshed by traffic I had to pull over and clean it by hand. I made two long-distance moves relying on that indispensable spray bottle. She was licensed and relicensed in four states in the last two years alone. To her credit, she still only has 114,000 miles, fantastic for a truck her age. Aside from the necessities of leaving a marriage, grandmas like me don’t get around much, well, not driving her they don’t (ha).

Dear God, how I love The Red Dudette. How many vehicles possess such a love, such a history, such a uniquely indelible personality all its own?

Early on I spoke to Dad of trading her for a more suitable vehicle and he was not a happy camper. He scolded me as only a father can. ‘If she’s good enough for me she’s good enough for you – get over it.’ In truth, he was right, it was too soon. That was not a wise use of limited resources then, so his reprimanding discouragements were excellent advice.

The last time I saw Dad, only weeks before he passed, I’d washed and swept and spit-polished The Red Dudette just for him. In cleaning her out I came across his marble-bone handled, double-edged hunting knife in its leather sheath, which I recalled from childhood in watching him clean squirrels and rabbits. It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s blade is deemed untoward today. I keep it in The Red Dudette, God forbid I ever need the protection. During that visit he took me out for breakfast but by then he couldn’t drive, a final hoorah he’d clung to as much as life itself, so I drove us there in The Red Dudette.

After returning he struggled with the unfamiliarity of using a walker, going back & forth from his garage filling her with fluids, showing me where things like her hidden oil measuring rod were, lecturing about what to do when, as if he’d found renewed manhood in mastering his new limitations. That was good for him, he felt useful and he was; he was comfortable working on the old Red Dudette again. It was good for me just because it was good to be with him. That was the first time he’d been in The Red Dudette since gifting her to me and it was his last.

Dad has passed and it being well after divorce now, I can easily afford a car that is better suited to my needs. I’ve kept The Red Dudette because she is what I wanted, not because I had to. Out of the blue just after Dad’s death a neighbor offered a good cash price for her, but I could not bring my heart to even consider it.

DadMe14.jpgEvery time I get in her it is like being close to Dad again, as close as I get to having him with me. She’s a reminder of his generous love, a living reminder of his life and who he was, how strong he was, of his unwavering determination. She keeps him alive in me and, in a way with all of her bumper stickers, keeps him alive to the rest of the world, too. She still runs without flinching.

The time is nigh to consider more practical transportation, given the stage of my life and The Red Dudette’s age & wear. She won’t stay healthy forever, as neither do I. I either need to invest in her repairs or put that money in a more suitable vehicle. I’ve given it tremendous contemplation. At this juncture even Dad would agree. I think he would be comforted knowing I am more safely road-worthy. Like every veteran of WWII, every soldier of “The Greatest Generation,” The Red Dudette has served her time commendably.

I’m finding it really difficult to think about parting with her. When that day does soon come I will most likely cry. She represents the passing of a phase of my life & of a father’s lifetime that are no more. Times of laughable reflection, of practicing what you preach, and, for me personally, times that were so painful she was the only love & hope in them. She represents what is left, for me, of a most loving & resilient man, a graciously generous father, a wise and caring protector who, in my 65-years, never gave up on me. Just like The Red Dudette hasn’t flinched, she is Dad & me.

Then I had a brainstorm. I’ve a grandson who might benefit from The Red Dudette and, of course, she’d revert back to her maiden name. They are a typically struggling young family DadAnthony_Nov2012who need to be sure they can afford her. How wonderful it would be to hand The Red Dude down to Dad’s great-grandson, who he knew and loved and who gave him his first great-great grandson (pictured with Dad at right). Dad would especially like that. I would especially like that.

The Red Dude and Dad may appropriately live on through yet another generation of reflections … I hope so.

Regardless who ends up with her, she will serve them well. They may not know her story with Dad & me but they’ll care for her in making their own because she’s just that kind of lady – one you never forget and for reasons she gives you, you want her with you forever.

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