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For the love of trucks

By definition, a pickup truck is simply a vehicle with an open rear cargo enclosure. But to those of us in the South, it’s so much more.

Save for maybe Texas, pickup trucks are loved nowhere else like they are in Mississippi. When I reached legal driving age, a truck is all I wanted. I never even considered a car.

That first truck was a 1987 Nissan pickup that looked like it had been dragged down a gravel road on its side. I never figured out how it got so many scratches, but those eyesores were a kind of freedom of sorts.

I didn’t have to worry when navigating a narrow trail in the woods. I couldn’t scratch it any worse than it already was.

I didn’t have to worry about washing it. A nice patina of red dust actually hid its blemishes.

I also didn’t have to pretend it was nice. Because it wasn’t. I took pride in its down-and-out appearance. Those forced to ride with me likely had other impressions of that truck.

The biggest complaint I got from passengers was that the seat got hot in the summer. The black, vinyl bench seat would leave red marks on your legs if you wore shorts. I had to keep a towel on the seat to protect the backs of my thighs from bench blisters. I miss that truck.

Growing up, dad always had trucks. There was always a tailgate if you needed a seat, always a place to keep your junk, always a place to clean a fish (on the tailgate) or toss your muddy boots.

Though it was probably dangerous, trucks also provided extra seating capacity when necessary back then. I can’t count the number of times I rode with the wind in my hair and bugs in my teeth in the back of a truck. In high school, it wasn’t unusual to spot lawn chairs being used as seats in the bed of a truck.

I first learned to drive in my dad’s early 80s Dodge truck. It had a slant six engine you couldn’t kill if you wanted to. It was blessed with a standard transmission and no power steering. If you were man enough to turn the steering wheel, you were man enough to drive, regardless of your age. At least that was my dad’s theory.

After a few turns in the hay field I struck out on the road for the first time. I must have been 13 or so. Though we lived in town, we kept horses and other assorted livestock on the family farm a few miles away. The highlight of my day was driving home from the farm in the truck. I shudder at the thought of letting my son behind the wheel so young. But times were different then.

Sadly, I no longer own a truck. Though my old Toyota 4-Runner is versatile, it’s no truck. I can’t sleep under the stars in its bed. I can’t back up to a favorite pond and use the tailgate as a fishing pier. I can’t haul a muddy dog without regretting it.

But the thing that bothers me most about not having a truck is that, well, I don’t have a truck. As my wife has reminded me, I don’t need a truck. It’s not practical when you have five children. But that does little to quench my thirst for a pickup.

My dad has a rusted-out ‘85 Chevy with a 350 engine in it. It needs tires, brakes and just about anything else required to make it down the road. But it cranks and is a truck.  So I want it.

It’s technically his farm truck, but he hasn’t used it as such in years. It just sits near the barn, rusting away and providing a place for wasps and rats to build nests. The bed has become a trash dump. There are old mason jars back there, a 50s-model outboard motor, enough rusty barb wire to give my entire family tetanus, a couple hundred empty horse feed sacks and a few thousand nails. It’s perfect.

Though I’ve yet to share this with him, I’m hoping he’ll donate the truck to me before it’s too broke-down to restore. I have no clue what I would do with it. I don’t have the time or patience to fix it. My wife would argue we don’t have the money, either.

But owning a truck would help keep me rooted to a time and place that only exists in my mind. A place where dads teach children to drive in hay fields. A place where a favorite fishing hole is the only thing worth getting in a hurry for. A place where trucks are a necessity.

And just maybe, I could teach my children to drive in a rusty, beat-up, old truck. Nothing would make me happier.

Luke Horton is publisher of The Daily Leader. Contact him at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.