Some years ago my brother called and, without so much as a hello, said, “Pick a number between 3 and 14.” He meant business, so I picked a number.
He said, “Congratulations, you just bought Dad’s SUV.”
My brother was closing out our dad’s estate. He added a thousand to the number I picked and declared me the owner of Dad’s Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer edition with suede seats, leather trim, 4-wheel drive, power-folding third-row seats, easy liftgate, and moonroof.
To say it was an upgrade would be the understatement of automotive history. Our minivan had a driver’s seat with broken springs, a sliding passenger door that no longer slid and chronic ailments.
“Eddie” was far more than an upgrade. I logged a lot of miles in that vehicle with my dad. Long drives were how he outdistanced grief after Mom died.
One spring we drove to see the migration of sandhill cranes in his home state of Nebraska. It is a wonder of nature, some half million cranes gathering along a thin ribbon of river en route to Canada, Alaska and Siberia.
Thousands of tall, gangly birds with long legs and long necks strutted about like they were high-fashion models of the bird world. They milled around in shallow gray water, stretching their enormous wings and shaking their big bustles of feathers.
Sometimes when I’m driving Eddie, I can still see those sandhill cranes silhouetted against a sinking sun.
Another time we drove to visit one of his brothers who had been sheriff in a small poke-n-plumb Midwest town. Poke your head out the window and you’re plumb out of town. Headed home, we took a short cut on a small highway. For miles and miles, it was a desolate stretch of two-lane bordered by nothing but fields of grain and endless blue skies.
“How fast you think we’re going?” he asked.
“Eighty,” he grinned. “Hard to gauge speed when you’re in the wide open.”
I still hear that exchange in my head sometimes. It was the voice of contentment.
After surgery for the pancreatic cancer that would eventually take his life, Dad announced he was ready to drive again.
“You’re positively certain you have the strength to slam on those brakes if you need to?” I demanded to know.
“I’ve already been driving,” he said. “You should see the long skid marks I left a couple days ago.”
Anything to spark a little outrage from overprotective kids.
Eddie has more than 200,000 miles under the hood now and has made more than a few trips to our mechanic’s garage. But that’s the only thing that’s changed. The Fix-a-Flat and jumper cables are still in the back like Dad had them. First aid supplies are still in the glove box and an enormous flashlight still sits in the storage cubby between the middle seats.
Most importantly, Eddie still slows down for every sunrise and sunset and pauses to watch deer at dusk.
It’s probably time to let go and I will. Just a few more miles down the road.