*Last week, I told you about one of my favorite memories of my Dad: the day of my college graduation party when he gave me a car as a graduation gift. Check out Part 1 of More Than Four Wheels here before you read on!
When you’re fresh out of college and you’re driving around in a nearly-new car gifted to you by your parents, you drive with an extra sense of caution because of the sentimentality of the vehicle. When you park in a lot, you park a little bit further (and at least three miles away from the nearest cart corral at any Wal-Mart). You take a little extra time at a stop sign. You drive even slower on a snowy day. You drive with a purpose, because it was purpose that gave you the vehicle you drive.
But even the most careful driving style leaves a car vulnerable to the wear and tear of the open road. Math is math, and miles add up. Engine parts give out. And no matter where you park at Wal-Mart, a cart from a careless shopper is almost guaranteed to bang into your bumper causing a disproportionate amount of damage (just another reason not to shop at Wal-Mart, I guess…)
In the blink of an eye, and definitely before I was ready to let go, my precious Envoy started to see the effect of both age and my rather aggressive driving style. For those of you who knew my Dad, you knew he was a tried and true parishioner in the Church of Offensive Driving. He had passed on this impatience, frustration, and love of the accelerator to his son. God bless him.
Over the years I had toyed with the idea of selling my Envoy, but I learned to deal with the occasional vehicle repair or failure on the side of the road. I was willing to put up with a slightly dirty interior, the minor rip in the leather interior, or the all too frequent inability of the air conditioner to actually condition the air.
And then, in the summer of 2013, my Dad passed away.
In that moment, in spite of the Envoy’s miles, scratches, or lack of reliability, I knew that I never wanted to let that car go. Along with many of my other physical possessions that my Dad had given me throughout the years, the Envoy became a tangible and lasting testament of my Dad’s love. Every time I got into it, I would think of him. My mind would go back to the day when he gave me that car as a gift for my college graduation. All I had to do was look at the Envoy and I could see him standing in the driveway again equipped with a camera and a huge smile. I can remember the feel of the hug he gave me. I can picture him tossing me the keys, and I can relive that first drive as a proud new car owner. To let go of the Envoy would be like letting go of all those memories and special moments. I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
But at some point, you don’t have the choice to get a new car—you’re forced to, and I feared that day was approaching. Without my Dad to help me change the oil and take care of minor repairs, the Envoy started to become quite a financial burden. Every three months I seemed to be on the receiving end of a four-figure bill from the auto shop.
I slowly watched the odometer creep up and up the more I drove. 140,000. 150,000. 175,000. And I remembered taking a picture of the odometer when it hit 190,000 miles. I had made so many great memories putting those miles on the meter, but now when I thought about the impending problems that would be associated with increased mileage, I wished I would have taken my friends up on their offers to drive to dinner a few more times than I had.
I pledged that I was going to drive the Envoy until I couldn’t drive it anymore. It was a senseless decision fueled by love and memory, but it was something I felt that I needed to do to hold onto my Dad. I prayed that I could at least get the Envoy to 200,000 miles. I didn’t know what I would do with the Envoy once she sputtered across the finish line, but I would find a way to preserve her memory…and my Dad’s in turn.
But as soon as I started formulating this game plan, I heard a noise. No, not the voice of God or the trumpeting of an angelic chorus. It was a knocking from one of the rear wheels. This was a new one. I had heard many, many noises over the years from this particular vehicle. The squealing of brake pads. The hissing of parts unknown under the hood. And I swear, for all the great things my Envoy offered, I went through more squeaky serpentine belts than any care owner I knew. There are few things more embarrassing and annoying than puttering down the road as people turn their heads to look at your car because it sounds like a small woodlands creature is being tortured underneath your hood. If I ever did sell the car, the perfect customer would need to be an elderly person with severe hearing complications.
I pulled into my parking spot at work, worried and terrified that the knocking noise was something severe. Something I wouldn’t be able to repair. Something that my Dad would have been able to fix had he been here to help me. But he wasn’t.
And neither was his truck. The truck that I should have bought but didn’t…
My Dad was a truck man. It’s as simple and plain as that.
In fact, for my entire life my Dad drove trucks. It all started with a blue pick-up that I remembered from my childhood. And then a 1992 gray GMC Sierra with a single bench seat, manual windows and locks, an air conditioner that wasn’t very reliable, and a built-to-last gray toolbox in the bed. That Sierra became my very first ride when I turned 16. I drove it for one year in high school, and I had more problems with it than I would have thought any single vehicle could have in its entire lifetime. But I drove it and envied my Dad as he cruised around in his new, sleek Silverado.
Yes, a Silverado. The envy of any Chevrolet man with a desire to own their own “most dependable, longest-lasting full-size pickups on the road” (Chevrolet’s words…and probably my Dad’s too). The dark grey Silverado he chose blew my mind on the day he brought it home. It was a four-door truck, which I had rarely seen. The leather interior was spotless. The truck ran smoother than any vehicle I had ever been in—especially at high speeds. And I knew that because my Dad loved high speeds. He would take me out on backroads near our home, and my Dad and I came from the same school of thought in regards to speed limits. (Sorry, Mom.) Speed limits are merely suggestions. This truck allowed us to test that out.
Dad drove that truck for a long time, putting many miles and many memories into it. Aside from a few minor problems, it was a great vehicle. But not as great as the one he would buy next.
In 2012, unbeknownst to my Mom and me, Dad started to shop around for a new ride—and boy did he find a good one. Dad always bought his trucks from Rose Chevrolet (now Rose Automotive), a local family-owned dealer with a tremendous reputation. He liked the dealership owner, Ed Larkin, and Dad always tried to buy things from people he liked.
Ed called my Dad in 2012 with a surprise. He had an almost new 2012 Chevy Silverado on the lot, and he knew my Dad would just love it. And he was right—Dad absolutely adored it, probably drooling a bit the first time he saw it. It was a lighter gray than his previous truck, but much, much newer. The previous driver had bought it, and after adding only about 1,000 miles to it, decided he wasn’t happy with it and wanted something else. His loss was my Dad’s gain, and Dad left Rose Automotive that day as a happy man in a new truck. He came home with a big smile on his face. I’m sure that smile faded a bit when he and my Mom had to have a “discussion” about his proclivity for expensive things, but Dad eventually charmed her into accepting the purchase. It only took one ride in the truck to realize why he bought it. It was spotless, beautiful, sleek, and perfect. And Dad was really happy.
I was sitting in the driver’s seat of that parked truck, alone and feeling very different from the first day I had sat in it.
My Dad wasn’t there to drive that truck anymore.
We had just had Dad’s funeral a few days earlier, and I was coming to terms with the face that he would never drive this truck again. His work-worn hands would never again feel that steering wheel. His heavy foot would never use that accelerator to defy another speed limit. His 20 ounce bottles of Mountain Dew would never rest in that cup holder ever again. His favorite country albums would never blare through the speakers with the windows down on a warm summer afternoon as he rode home from work.
He would never drive it again…but I could still feel him there.
When I sat in the seat of that truck, I could hear that familiar laugh of his. I could see that same familiar smile. I could feel his presence there with me.
I just sat in his truck in my parent’s driveway, slowly running my fingers over the same buttons and switches that he had once touched. I flipped through the loose items he had accumulated in the middle console: pens, scratchpads, hand sanitizer, the floss picks that he often drove my Mom and I crazy with as we drove home from dinner. I laughed at the memories, and I was upset that they were now only memories.
My Dad had worked so very, very hard to get that truck. Weekend shifts. Overtime calls. Side jobs. Whatever it was, my Dad had always taken extra opportunities to earn money to provide for our family. Thanks to the hard work of both of my parents, we had always led a comfortable life. Not extravagant, but comfortable.
I was mad and I felt robbed because this truck was, finally, my Dad’s opportunity to be extravagant. And he had only been able to enjoy it for a few months. I’m sure those few months were great for him, but Dad deserved years, maybe decades, of driving around in this truck. He would have taken care of it like it was his own child. He would have changed the oil before it needed it. He would have spent weekends performing routine and preventative maintenance to make sure that his truck would look newer and newer as it grew older and older. Dad deserved this truck. He deserved more than what he got. It was the first time I felt angry after Dad’s death. But I wasn’t angry at Dad. As much as I hate to admit it, I think I was angry at God for taking him away from all of us too soon. He had so much more life ahead of him, and so many more miles to drive.
I knew that I would only be able to sit in his truck and get angry for a little while longer, because my Mom had a tough but inevitable decision ahead of her. Dad had just purchased the truck a few months earlier, and we knew regardless of the emotional connection to it, there was no way we could keep it. The payments were just too high, and my Mom and I couldn’t let our hearts outweigh the reality of dollars and cents.
Although we had tried. Mom had asked me if I wanted to buy the truck, saying how much my Dad would have wanted me to have it. I knew she was right, but I also knew that even with a “family discount” there was no way I could afford it. Working in education is rewarding, but not so much on the “monetary reward” side of the scale. Working in an entry-level job and attending graduate school simultaneously while paying for my own house was too much some months. I couldn’t add a truck payment on top of that, even though my heart told me I should. My Mom knew the answer, but she needed to ask—for me and for her. My heart broke, but I knew what she would have to do.
We would have to sell my Dad’s truck. And I would always regret not buying it.
A few weeks later, my Mom called me in tears, which wasn’t unusual at this point in our lives. She would call me crying some days, and I would call her crying on others. But this one was different.
“Ty, I wanted to call you and let you know that Ed found someone to buy your Dad’s truck.”
It hit me like a ton of bricks, but I tried not to let it show because I didn’t want my Mom to be any more upset than she already was. I knew that I needed to be strong for her. I knew that this was just as difficult for her as it was for me. I knew that she was hurting, suffering, and having a hard time letting go of the pieces of my Dad’s life. Letting go of his truck made this all too real, all too final.
We talked for a little while through tears about how much Dad had loved that truck and how it wasn’t fair that he didn’t get to enjoy it more than he did. We talked about how much we missed him, and how we would give anything to see him pull into the driveway in that gray Silverado one last time.
Mom asked me if I wanted to see the truck again, one last time, before the new owner bought it from the dealership.
“I can’t. I just can’t.”
She understood. And just like that, my Dad’s truck was gone.
Two years down the road, I had put many, many more miles on the Envoy that my Dad had given me. With every thousand miles there came new, nerve-inducing noises. Knocks in the rear wheel wells. A haunting creak when you opened the door. Every day, I prayed that my plan to drive the Envoy “until the wheels fall off” wouldn’t involve them literally being blown off by an explosion.
I hated to admit it, but I didn’t know how much longer I would be able to hold onto the Envoy. I was starting to think I needed to cut my losses. I should get a couple thousand bucks out of it before I had to turn it in for scrap metal and parts. Each and every morning, I would say a quick prayer on my way out to the garage, and then I’d gamble. I’d turn the key in the ignition and pray that it started—and that there were no new noises. Some mornings I won, and other mornings I lost terribly. And, just like a casino, my wallet felt considerably lighter every time I lost.
But no matter how much it cost, how could I just let this car go? It was a gift from my Dad. It was a piece of him. And I had had to let so many pieces of him go over the past two years. Letting go of another one, especially one this significant, would hurt too much. I wasn’t prepared for the pain. I wasn’t prepared to say goodbye.
I prayed, a lot. I asked God for guidance. I told him that He knew the ins and outs better than anyone. I asked Him to give me the wisdom to make the right decision.
And one night, randomly, I was at the gym and I decided to send a text message that would change everything.
I was fortunate that a previous coworker happened to be a relative of Ed Larkin, the owner of Rose Automotive where my Dad had purchased all of his vehicles. Ed had been kind enough to sell the truck for my Mom after Dad had died, and he had also made sure that she received any of the profits that were made on the sale. He was one of a kind, and I knew that if I needed to buy a truck, Ed had earned my loyalty.
So, I sent the text to my old coworker, Karen, and explained the situation. “Karen, I think it might be time to sell my vehicle, and I’m hoping you can get Ed to help me. I’m having a really hard time thinking about selling my Envoy because it was a gift from my Dad, but I know that it’s time to start looking. I would love to get a truck, but I’ve never bought a car before and I don’t really know what I’m doing. My Dad always used to help me with this kind of stuff. Can you have Ed get in touch with me?”
Karen, always helpful, certainly agreed and said she would send Ed a text message and let him know all about the situation. I was shocked when I looked down at my phone about fifteen minutes later and saw her name on an inbound call.
Karen and I quickly exchanged hellos, and then we exchanged one of the most heartfelt conversations I’ve ever had in my entire life.
“Tyler, I really can’t believe this, but the person who bought your Dad’s truck returned it to the lot today,” she said. “He traded it in because he just wanted something new and it’s in spectacular shape. I talked to Ed, and he said the truck is yours if you want to buy it.”
Right there, in the middle of the gym, I fell onto my knees and started to cry. I couldn’t believe it. My Dad’s truck. It was coming home.
Karen was still on the phone, and said “Ed didn’t know how you would feel about it, and he completely understands if it’s too emotional for you…”
“I want it,” I interjected. “I’ll be at the lot tomorrow morning.”
“Mom,” I said, sitting on a bench at LA Fitness a few moments later, “You’re not going to believe this.”
“What’s going on?” she said nervously through the phone.
“I don’t even know how to tell you this, but the person who bought Dad’s truck traded it in today. Ed wants to know if I want to buy it.”
My Mom’s voice broke. “What?” and she started to cry. We couldn’t even talk to one another. We just sat on the phone, tears falling on both ends of the line.
“Ty, your Dad wants you to have this truck,” she said.
We just sat on the phone and cried together for a long while before she could ask me questions. And before I knew it, our conversation had steered from the truck to the reason that it had such sentimental value for us.
“I miss him so much, Ty,” my Mom said, a heartbroken wife opening up to her son.
“I do too, Mom.” And with that, I knew I had to buy the truck and bring it home.
I pulled into the lot at Rose Automotive the next morning, and although it was a gloomy day outside, my heart was full and bright. I was excited, but I was also nervous. I didn’t know how I would react. Would I be excited to see the truck again? Would it have changed too drastically to remind me of my Dad? Would it be too emotional for me to even drive it?
I didn’t have much time to collect my thoughts, because when I pulled in I saw it right away. And the tears immediately began to fall.
There it was. My Dad’s truck. Just as I had remembered it, but absent its familiar driver. I tried to contain both my excitement and my raw emotion, but was unsuccessful holding in either one.
Ed Larkin, the owner of Rose Automotive, was there to meet me with a smile and a handshake. “Ed, I just can’t believe this,” I said to him through budding tears.
“Tyler, I’m the one who can’t believe it,” Ed responded, as shell shocked as I was to be standing in front of the truck again. “The last person who owned it took tremendous care of it, and it looks just as good as the day we sold it to him. I was contemplating whether or not to call you and tell you that your Dad’s truck was back if you wanted it, and that’s the exact moment that Karen called me and told me you were looking for a car.
“I’m not just saying this as a car dealer trying to sell a vehicle, but Tyler there’s someone bigger at work here in this,” Ed said.
“I couldn’t agree more,” I responded.
And just as my Dad had done many times before, Ed tossed me the keys to the Silverado and told me to take it for a spin. I hopped in, drove away, and although he wasn’t there, I could feel Dad in the passenger seat with me.
It’s been a little over a year since that day, and I’m fortunate that my test drive didn’t end on that day. I’ve been driving my Dad’s truck since December 2015, and owning his truck is one of the greatest honors of my life.
I was fortunate that in my Dad’s absence, God positioned so many people in my life to help make this dream come true. He put Karen there to help connect me with Ed. He put Ed there, an honest and caring individual, to think more about the emotional value of the truck than its monetary worth. He put my Mom there to encourage me to buy it and help me with the down-payment. He put her there to encourage me and love me, and although it always feels a little emptier than either one of us would like, we ride together in that truck frequently and remember the happy days we shared with Dad in it. I was thankful to have my friend, Chris, to consult with when I thought the truck might be out of my price range. I remember Chris telling me “Don’t let a little extra money on the payment steal this away. This is your Dad’s truck, and you’ll find a way to make it happen.” God put all these wonderful people in my life to make sure that my Dad’s truck came home with me. And it’s been bringing me home every day ever since.
I know that God doesn’t always concern Himself with material things, but I know that He concerns Himself with things of the heart. God was able to use this material thing, a truck, to provide me with another connection to and memory of my Dad. He was able to use a truck as more than just four wheels. He was able to use that truck to help me grieve—and ultimately draw closer to Him.
I feel like I was able to hold on to a very important piece of my Dad by buying his truck—and not just any piece, but one of the most valuable and most memorable. My Dad loved his truck. He loved all the trucks he drove over the years. He took care of them and maintained them. He kept them clean and often criticized me when I hadn’t been to the car wash in weeks (or likely months). To my Dad, the truck was a symbol of pride. It said something about his character.
Anyone who drives a truck knows that you instantly become very popular with any of your friends who are moving or who need to haul heavy items or landscaping supplies. It’s fitting that my Dad drove a truck because he was always, always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone who needed it. My Dad would frequently sacrifice his personal time to help other people, from hauling items around town in his truck to extensive home repairs. It makes so much sense that my Dad always drove vehicles that would allow him to help other people, because my Dad truly had a servant’s heart.
When I sit behind the wheel of that truck, I can feel my Dad there with me. My mind flashes back to a happier day—the day my Dad brought that truck home and the first time he let me drive it. I remember that he let me drive as he sat in the passenger seat, probably anxious that his son was behind the wheel of a very new (and very expensive Silverado). Always trusting, however, Dad and I rode around in the truck for a few minutes, rolling down the windows on a cool Fall day, letting the sunshine and the open road renew our spirits.
Although he isn’t here anymore, I still see him in that passenger seat every time I look over. I can picture it as clear as any real passenger that’s ever been in that seat. I can envision him with his harm hanging out the window. I can see him bobbing his head and thumping his thumb against the door to his favorite country song as it plays through the speakers. I can see him running his hand over his bald head after a hard day at work. I can see him leaning the seat back to relax his work-worn muscles. I can see him grabbing a bottle of Mountain Dew from the cup holder and taking a big swig on a hot summer day.
But more than anything, I see that smile of his. I see him smiling at the fact that his boy is driving his truck again, the way it should be. I see him proud that the truck found its way home.
And occasionally, I’ll see him in that passenger seat when he turns his head towards me and says, “Nice ride, huh Bub?”
“The greatest, Dad,” I’ll respond with love. “The absolute best.”
Dad, I don’t think I could ever accurately describe the joy I felt in my heart when I heard that your truck was back at the car lot and for sale. I had been so anxious about getting rid of my Envoy, and I couldn’t have dreamed for a blessing as miraculous and perfect as the one God provided. I try to make you proud and honor your memory each and every day, but I think your truck is a daily reminder of that call. You’ll be happy to know that the interior is still spotless, and I wash the truck weekly—just like you taught me. I take care of that truck because, although the title might have my name on it, I know that it’s really still yours. You gave it to me, Dad. Just like you and Mom gave me the Envoy at graduation, you gifted me another car—but this time you did it from Heaven. I can’t wait for the day when I can hug you and thank you in person. Every mile I add on that truck is one mile that I’m closer to seeing you again. But until that day, I’ll take good care of the Silverado. And until that day, seeya Bub.
P.S. You’ll be happy to know the Silverado is still out there breaking speed limits, in your honor…
“So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” John 16:22 (NIV)