In this article, Isabel begins to deal with the fact that Ray Whitlow is really gone.
Here in the mountains there is an unexplainable facet to the male persona. Men, of course, love their wives and families, their dogs, and then their pickup trucks. Sometimes those priorities actually get reversed, but that’s another story for another time.
There is a strange and eerie bond between many men and those inanimate objects called pickup trucks. I have overheard Isabel and Ray tell stories about how the ‘family pickup’ truck has become a real ‘sticking point’ in a divorce settlement. Priceless family heirlooms seem to fall way back in the ‘pecking order’ of priorities when compared with the family pickup.
Isabel has always used her dove gray Ford Taurus as pure and simple transportation – a method for traveling from point A to point B. But Ray, on the other hand always loved his faded red 1967 Chevrolet C10 stepside pickup. It had cream-colored painted bumpers and rims, a bench seat, and standard cream-colored enameled Chevy hubcaps; drop-dead stock.
He didn’t polish it regularly, but he jealously guarded it from dents and scratches when choosing a place to park at the post office and Piggly Wiggly. To Ray, it was priceless, and no amount of money could part him from it.
Rain or shine, I traditionally rode in the bed of Ray’s pickup, always having to dodge the jack and spare tire which would slide back and forth when Ray would accelerate, take a curve, or just put on the brakes.
Ray kept the cab of his C10 spotless. He has a plastic cupholder mounted on the window ledge of the driver’s side door where he frequently parked a steaming cup of Isabel’s coffee. It doesn’t have an 8- track or an FM radio; just a standard Delco AM radio that has always been set to our local radio station.
Ray usually wanted to drive his truck to church, but Isabel always insisted that they ride in her newer, more refined Ford Taurus sedan. You and I both know who always won that argument. Isabel always regretted not having a Lincoln.
Ray’s Chevy C10 is still parked out under the shed roof, right where he left it the day before he died. Isabel doesn’t let Hank Beavers drive it when he comes to bushhog, and she has politely turned down repeated offers to buy it. Although he doesn’t drive, Micah Davenport says it would do it good to start it up and drive it to town every so often, but that never happens either. Shame to let it rot in that shed, but that’s typical Isabel.
Hank Beavers, one of Faded Glory’s part-time people, drives his 1958 International Harvester pickup in and out of Suches every day, and he says he wouldn’t take a hundred thousand dollars for it. Because it is mostly coated with gray primer and has no readily identifiable color, I don’t think he will ever have to turn down such an offer. Isabel often jokes that she has seen vultures circling over Hank’s truck for hours on end, and Micah laughs every time he hears her say it. Hank and his International Harvester seem to have the market cornered on rust, but he sure does love that truck. Just count the empty oil cans rolling around in his truck bed, and I would guess Hank is spending his money on oil at a pretty steady clip.
Two weeks ago when Isabel had gone out to the side yard to cut back her butterfly bushes, I saw her quietly gazing at Ray’s pickup which was parked under the shed roof. Even though Ray’s Chevy is under cover, it hasn’t been washed since he died, and most birds for miles around seem to have left their calling card on it. A few moments later I saw Isabel shrug and turn back to her work. Somehow it was no surprise to me when, later in the day, Isabel told Micah that she had finally decided to sell Ray’s truck when the next opportunity comes along.
Knowing how much Ray had cherished that truck, the decision to sell it must have been a big decision for Isabel to make. I sincerely doubted that she would ever act on it. But, later in the week, I overheard Isabel telling Louella Hess that keeping the truck as a “living memorial” to Ray “just doesn’t make sense any more.” It was then that I began to realize that Isabel had finally come to grips with her loss of Ray. I don’t think I have gotten to that point yet. Oh, what I would give for one more ride in the bed of Ray’s red Chevy pickup!
In our part of the country, pickup trucks do play a big role in our lives. They embody many happy memories and represent a ‘snapshot’ of a kinder and gentler way of life.