It was Saturday evening, the day before Mother’s Day. My family and I had driven up from Georgia to South Carolina to visit my mom and dad; a weight pressed on my chest, suffocating like no blanket of late spring humidity ever could. I pulled into a parking spot in front of my mom’s nursing facility; Strongland and his mama in the back, my dad sat in the passenger seat.
My dad opened his door to get out, took hold of grab bar, and then measured the long step down to the ground. “What made you buy a red truck?”
My eyes went to the rearview, found my wife’s; she gave me an easy and understanding smile.
Beside me my dad steadied himself, waiting for my answer.
I shut the truck off, a big red Chevy Silverado, and set my sunglasses on the dashboard and shook my head; how in the world are you asking me that? “I got a red one for mom…”
Later on in the evening, as we drove away, my wife shared that when I had walked out of my mom’s room, or rather, when Strongland had taken my hand and led me out into the hallway, maybe knowing I couldn’t take being in there, that my dad told my mom about that red truck. I wish I could have seen my mom’s reaction; after all, that red truck was parked out there just for her. Only, for her.
It’s not a long story, but the accounting of it cuts me apart into three parts, each heartbroken; one part of me feels real stupid for how it played out—part of me doesn’t even want to think about it at all because it brings my mom’s desperation to my mind—and then the last part of me is proud.
A few weeks back I bought a truck; a Chevrolet Silverado, a glimmering Northsky Blue Metallic stunner, part marlin, part Baja-runner beast. That thing just looked alive, or at the very least, like clouds skimming across mountains and oceans.
My last seven cars were Ford Mustangs, one gray one, and then three red ones, followed by three black ones. Now, I have shoulder problems, my right shoulder is busted and torn and ground to bits. Driving a manual just got to be a nightmare, but the worst part was getting Strongland into and out of the backseat of the Mustang.
So I got a truck. My wife always wanted one, and I can’t get my head around driving “just” a car. You might have thought that I was going to go for another black vehicle, keep that trend going. But no way. I've had enough of trying to keep their paintjobs in nice condition, let alone pristine.
However it came about, I happened to fall in love with that Northsky Blue Silverado and that's the one I bought. I drove it home at 8:30 at night and parked it in the driveway. I went inside, turned the porch light on, studied it for a minute, and then locked the door. Then I tried to sleep. Laying there in the dark they came at me hard, gnawing visions; my mom, laying alone in her hospital bed, clutching her giraffe, wondering if anyone remembers her, waiting for the night to pass and the loneliness to get pushed away by the light of the morning sun and my dad opening her doorway open to share breakfast with her. That and the visions of two red toy trucks...
As my mom is being pulled deeper into the tar of Alzheimer's, and her mind weakens and her memories disavow themselves of her recollection, one memory has remained very clear to her; one Christmas, when I was just a small boy my mom and dad gave me some presents. Among them was a red toy truck. My mom still loves to tell the story of how I latched onto that truck and disregarded all else in the solar system and went off by myself to play with that truck. I have no idea what became of it, but I truly wish I still had it.
After all these years, I believe that my mom wanted to reconnect with that story and bring a recollection to reality that she could participate in. This past Christmas my mom and dad bought Strongland a red toy truck, a bright red Chevrolet. And Strongland loves it! He adores it. Maybe not more so than the solar system, but I think it means something to him. It sure means something to me... And to his grandmother.
That night I could not sleep, overwhelmed with a sense of guilt and betrayal. That morning I drove that bad-ass Northsky Blue Chevy Silverado to work and took in the color as it shimmered and changed in the light like the skin of waves as I drove down the highway. I went to one meeting and then did what I had to do. I called the dealership and told them I couldn’t keep it; find me a red one I begged.
On my lunch break I returned the shimmering blue truck and drove off with a red truck. A red truck because that’s what my mom remembers. I drove it home. My wife was in the backyard with Strongland. My mother-in-law, who had in fact, never seen either the red or the blue truck, was on the front porch. When she saw me pull up she went inside, out the back door and I guess asked my wife if I had a red truck… I would have enjoyed seeing the look on my wife’s face too.
When I first explained the change to my wife I made up all kinds of excuses why I switched. Ironically all the things I made up about the decision were in fact some of my favorite things about the truck, I just twisted the truth… It wasn’t until later that I told her what really happened. You know your wife loves you when you can tell her a thing like that and not get laughed at. She understood.
On Mother’s Day I dropped Strongland and his mama at the front door of the nursing facility and drove around to the back of her building. There is a weeping willow there; it twitched and shifted in the wind, her long slim tendrils of branch reached towards the grass, still wet with from a just passed rain shower, viridian in a breaking sunlight. I pulled beside the weeping willow, parked and got out. I leaned against the truck and waved towards my mom’s window. I called my wife, she told me they could see me, and she took a picture for my mom to have; her son and his red truck, and the weeping willow.
Just the evening before, I asked my mom if she could see the tree out her only window. Yes she could she said. Do you know what kind of tree it is I asked her. She couldn’t identify it. It’s a weeping willow I told her.
My mom taught me most of what I know about trees. You don’t realize how important that is when you are a kid, or maybe that’s just me. It has taken me a long time to figure out what’s truly important. When my sister and I were growing up our mom transformed our empty and bare yard into a carefully planned and everlastingly beautiful tree-filled space. At one of the corners of our yard, on a property boundary stood a weeping willow. She hadn’t been the one to plant it, but it became part of the tapestry of greens that shielded our place from the street. She told me what that tree was those many years ago.
The rest of the visit was brutal. My mom wept and begged my dad to bring her home. My dad, as patient as any person I have ever seen took it all with grace and kindness and love that would stand forever as the perfect embodiment of compassion. Buying a red truck is nothing compared to this. But in one meaningful way I hope that it brings some lasting joy and comfort to my mother. If I could I would have wheeled her automated bed out to the truck, lifted her up and driven her home. My dad would have too. But sometimes, that blunt and cold truth is you can’t take remove a person from the place they most want to escape from. For my mom, it’s not the unadorned taupe walls that trap an underlying stench that no amount of chemicals can mask. It’s much worse than that, it’s my mom’s mind that she wants most desperate to escape from, where the willows weep and her yards and her streets and her strength melt and shear away like the edges of ice banks to drift apart in the oceans.
And then it was time to go. A world continues on. I kissed my mother’s forehead, “I love you mom,” I told her.
“I love you too,” she said.
And then, her son and his wife and her grandson were gone.
I pray that she looks at the picture of me and the red truck and the weeping willow from time to time. And when she does, I pray that the roots of her mind sway in the warmth of a breaking sunlight and she’ll remember, without any doubt, that she was the planter of many trees that have taken root and grown and still live; and I want her to remember, the red toy truck she bought me when I was a baby, and the red toy truck she bought her grandson when he was a baby, and the red truck I bought her as a grown man.
*The photograph of the red truck and the weeping willow can be found in the “IMAGES” section.