An old pickup truck can be a fixer-upper for marital stress.
Story: Tiffany Roach
I recently was on my back staring at the underbelly of a 1971 Chevy pickup truck searching for grease nipples because I’d needed an idea. My husband James and I have emerged from the parenting stage of the Tooth Fairy and hamster burials and entered into the “Survivor” stage of life that is middle school. This means things like haircuts, cellphones, shoe choices, and body odor have all been major household upheavals warranting national fake news headlines. In this new stage, our kids’ hair looks great and our hair looks tired and gray. And one thing I’ve learned along this parenting road so far is that with each new stage, an excessive amount of coffee and a darn good idea will be required.
I have a gauge that typically alerts me when an idea is needed. A little alarm starts flashing. In this case, our marriage tank was running low. The gauge indicated some distance and disconnect with James as we navigated middle school territory. It’s not like we were angry or adversarial, because, frankly, we’d spent all of our emotional energy setting limits on “Fortnite” and enforcing piano practice. The miles between us were caused by unspoken words, stress, and busy schedules. It was a more grown-up kind of distance, a more dangerous kind of distance. I needed an idea that would drive us back together.
The idea came to me in the form of James’ 1971 Chevy pickup truck. “Old Blue” was purchased by my father-in-law back in the day. James and his sister grew up toddling around Old Blue’s bed and then learned to drive on her three-speed “on the tree.” A few years ago, my father-in-law put Old Blue on a transport from Texas and gifted her to James. Over the years, our own kids have toddled in her bed, and she still works faithfully for us hauling in the hay and brush, and ferrying tools and cold drinks around our farm.
James’ affection for Old Blue is bathed in nostalgia as she transports him back to his childhood and his teenage years filled with music, dry Texas air, the smell of sweat, and fresh-cut grass. I’ve seen all of that and more in his easy boyish smile as he drives her around. She’s his therapy and his friend from long ago. And I’m OK with this other woman. I haven’t minded as he has obsessed over truck catalogues and YouTube videos, or when he spent the duration of my last pregnancy in his garage rewiring her.
Old Blue was the ticket. So, I pitched my idea casually one afternoon.
“What would you think about working on Old Blue together? I think it could be fun, right? It could be our project, you know…something other than the kids…and we could have dates working on her! We’d be like ‘Fixer Upper,’ but with trucks instead of houses!”
James had a strange look on his face as I said all of this and he wasn’t responding (which was very unusual for him).
“I mean, I realize I don’t actually know anything about trucks,” I continued, “and, um, you’re probably remembering that time…with the diesel?”
James didn’t say any words, but his face told me that’s exactly what he was remembering. In those next quiet breaths, we both mentally went back to that night when I had mistakenly filled our still-under-warranty, brand-new car with an entire tank of diesel gasoline; my tears, the tow truck, and the sketchy garage that took all of our savings to siphon out the gas. Fortunately, the car survived. And so did we.
James still was unusually quiet though, and I was beginning to sense that my great idea might have some serious holes in it, like the fact that I’ve never changed a tire. So, in a last-ditch effort to salvage things, I said:
“Obviously, I’d wear cut-off shorts.”
Finally. There it was.
His easy, boyish smile.
It ended up taking a few months to get our Old Blue date on the books. James told me the oil needed to be changed and that maybe he’d just take her someplace to have it done, because it didn’t look like we’d ever have the time to make it happen.
“No,” I said. “We’re going to do it.” Something in my gut told me this idea needed to be seen through.
Finally, one spring morning I pulled on my jean shorts and James pulled Old Blue out of the garage. He placed a pan under her to catch the old oil and told me he didn’t know how long it had been since the oil was changed. He twisted off the cap. And as the black oil began to stream into the pan, we realized it was more than dark, cruddy oil. What streamed into the pan was our regret, our stress, the mistakes, and words unspoken. We watched awkwardly at first, with little coughs, clearing our throats. Then came a quiet sigh as the last of it emptied. We collected it all in the pan. James explained that old oil is recycled. It’s purified. It’s refined. I exhaled as he poured in the new oil, like honey all clear and sweet and filled with possibilities; coated in forgiveness. I wiped my hands on my cut-off shorts. Old Blue would run better now. Smoother.
James put his arm around me and told me I’d done great. Next up was finding and lubing the grease points, he said.
“What do they look like?” I asked him.
Then he smiled his easy, boyish smile and told me they look like nipples. And I couldn’t help but wonder who’d come up with that idea.