“Grandpa Virgil’s Pickup,” Friend, July 1995, 8
The old pickup truck sat hunched like a tired soldier in the tall yellow weeds by the side of the house as if waiting dutifully for its next order to spring into action. It had seen a lot of service in its long association with Grandpa Virgil. As he gazed out at the old vehicle from his bedroom window, Nathan Daniels was remembering Grandpa Virgil. In fact, Nathan rarely thought of his grandfather without thinking of the battered green pickup. Why, it was as much a part of Grandpa Virgil as his worn, weathered smile.
Nathan rubbed the sleep from his eyes and gazed harder out his window at the truck that sparked so many joyous memories of his grandfather, who had died in his sleep the week before. He had been eighty-seven years old.
To Nathan, the old pickup was like a part of his grandpa’s journal—filled with stories, happy times, sad times. All those times that come out of being alive.
The night before, Nathan had overheard his father talking about selling the truck to Thomas Finch up the road. Mr. Finch had long expressed an interest in it. Nathan’s father already had a big, new ’57 pickup—and a dependable family car. The money Mr. Finch offered father for Grandpa Virgil’s pickup would buy two more milk cows to add to the eight that Nathan’s family already had.
He pulled on his trousers, tucked his nightshirt into his pants, and went outside and climbed into Grandpa Virgil’s truck. The old seat springs squeaked beneath his slight weight. The door closed him inside with a whine and a bang—it hadn’t shut quite right ever since Thaddeus, the farm bull, had plowed into it at an angry run.
Grandpa Virgil had helped to deliver a calf in the fields that day, and the ornery bull took a disliking for the intrusion of man and machine. Grandpa Virgil had grabbed Nathan and stuffed him through the window of the truck, then leaped into the back of it. Grandpa saved my life that day, he recalled, reaching outside the open truck window beside him and running his hand along the rusted tear in the door made by one of Thaddeus’s slashing horns.
Nathan sniffed the musty insides of the truck. It smelled warm and wonderful and alive, somehow. He looked at the worn seat where he always sat beside his grandfather whenever he went on his local errands.
Nathan couldn’t remember a time when Grandpa Virgil went anywhere for his own sake. It always seemed to be to help someone else—like the countless times the elderly man took groceries to Widow Farley, whose health was failing. Or the winter he helped Bishop Kelsay repair his barn roof after the big wind. Or the time Nathan rode with him to Grandma’s funeral at Potter’s Crossing. Instead of being concerned with his own grief, Grandpa Virgil had placed his free hand around his grandson’s shoulder and explained to him about the Savior’s Atonement and overcoming of death for all.
“Because of him, we will not only live again but can gain eternal life if we do all he asks of us,” Grandpa Virgil explained, his eyes bright with insight and tears.
Nathan’s eyes shifted now to the rearview mirror. The reflection in it of the back of the truck prompted his memory of the time he rode in it the day of his baptism. His father’s car had broken down, so the family piled into the old truck. Nathan sat in the open bed with his brother, Frank, and his little sister, Ashley. His father and mother rode up in the cab with Grandpa Virgil.
Nathan liked the feel of the breeze on his face. Grandpa had said that maybe it was the same easy wind that had cooled the brows of the early handcarters as, seeking peace, they trudged across the plains with their families to their new beginnings in these very valleys.
Peace! Nathan thought, his eyes filling with hot, stinging tears at the reality of his grandfather’s absence. Peace is what I need now to help me deal with Grandpa Virgil’s being gone. He pushed his face out the open window into a breeze that had arisen with the dawn. Maybe it was the same wind, he speculated, that cooled the tears of the handcart pioneers who had to bury their dead in shallow graves and continue on their way. That’s what Grandpa would want of me now—to continue on my way and be the best I can be. “I will, Grandpa,” he whispered out loud. “I will.”
Later that morning as everyone gathered around the breakfast table, Nathan’s father asked Frank, Nathan, and Ashley what one thing they would each like to have that had belonged to Grandpa Virgil, as a remembrance of him. Frank chose Grandpa’s fishing pole. “It’s yours,” Father agreed with a kindly smile. “And all his tackle. I know how you cherished your time with him under that old willow by the fishing hole.” He turned his smile toward Nathan’s sister. “What about you, Ash?”
“Grandpa’s scriptures,” she said after a moment’s thought, “the ones he always took to church.”
Father patted the small girl’s hand and nodded. “I think Grandpa especially wanted you to have them because he knew you’d really study them like he did.” He then turned toward his firstborn. “And you, Nathan? What would you like, son?”
Nathan hesitated, knowing how much his father needed the extra milk cows. His eyes fell, and he poked at his food. Then, mustering a smile, he looked up and said, “I really can’t think of anything, Dad.”
Father and Mother exchanged glances. They knew different. “It’s Grandpa Virgil’s old pickup, isn’t it, Nathan?”
He nodded. “But the extra milk cows—you need the money you’ll get from Mr. Finch for Grandpa’s truck to buy them.”
“I made all of you kids an offer, Nathan,” Father reminded him. “You’d like to have his old pickup, and we want you to have it. Besides—” he glanced away quickly to blink back a tear— “I saw you outside, sitting in Grandpa’s truck, and I could tell that to you that old pickup is as priceless an earthly treasure as a boy or man could ever hope for.” He leaned forward and spoke with warm finality: “The old pickup is yours.”
Before Nathan could protest, Father added, “The extra cows can wait, Nathan. We have managed without them this long, haven’t we? And if this year’s harvest is good, I just might be able to buy them then—OK?”
That night Nathan sat by his bedroom window, staring out at the green pickup in the tall weeds. It was as alive in his mind as it was in the yard—as alive as Grandpa Virgil would always be, for memories were eternal, his grandfather once said, “and things eternal never die.” Nathan had been wrestling in his mind with something ever since supper. Now a look of peace and contentment washed over him. He regarded the battered machine in the soft glow of moonlight a final moment, then went to bed.
Early the next morning, he approached his father with a determined look on his face. “I have something to say, Dad.”
“Sure,” his father answered. “What is it, son?”
“It’s something I want to do. I just feel it. It’s what Grandpa would do if he were here.”
“OK,” Father said slowly, waiting to hear his son out.
“I called Mr. Finch about the pickup—I’m selling it to him.”
“I want to be like Grandpa, Dad. I want to help.”
“I told you, Nathan, you don’t have to—”
“I want to, Dad,” Nathan interrupted. “I really want to.”
Nathan went with his father for the last ride in the pickup. Mother drove the other family truck, Frank and Ashley riding with her. After they dropped off Grandpa Virgil’s pickup at Mr. Finch’s, they would head for Mr. Anderson’s farm to purchase two more milk cows. It was hot enough that Nathan could roll down the truck window and let the wind rush across his face. He seemed to hear in his mind Grandpa Virgil saying that maybe it was the same easy wind that had cooled the brows of the early handcart pioneers as they trudged across the plains.
Nathan smiled and gazed affectionately around the old truck, which was still alive with memories—the kind of memories that go on forever. Just like Grandpa Virgil.