Monday, September 8, 2008

Message driven home


Communication takes on many forms, of course, but my dad is never one to lecture. He usually doesn’t say much at all. It doesn’t mean he can’t drive a strong message home, loud and clear. I remember vividly one such message on a Sunday morning about 30 years ago.
He roused me early that morning by calling down the stairs to my room in the basement, “You need to help me go get a wreck,” was the explanation. Dad worked as an auto mechanic at local garages and supplemented that by driving a tow truck in the off hours.
Over the years, I had helped him on occasion so the request didn’t come out of the blue. Besides, as a teen waiting on being old enough to drive, I really didn’t have anything going on that morning.
He already had the truck out front because he had spent half the night working on this same wreck. He was just taking a break for breakfast and decided he could use my assistance. Or maybe he identified a teachable moment.
We jumped in the old GMC one-ton and it rattled its way the seven or eight miles upriver to where my dad had been able to drag what had been a 1957 Mercury off of a huge cottonwood tree. Near where the straightaway ends and the river elbow bends around Neilson’s hay barn, the crumpled steel lay on the edge of the highway, barely recognizable as once an automobile.
It was really two balls of sheet metal and iron. Soon as we got there, he lined me out by handing me a hack saw and telling me to cut two strips of metal that connected the two balls of wreckage. “We will cut them apart and haul it in pieces,” he explained.
It took less than 10 minutes to separate the two balls, so he had me gather the hundreds of cassette tapes and other miscellaneous debris strewn for nearly a quarter mile from the cottonwood tree that Mercury wrapped around.
“How fast was this going when it hit the tree?” I asked, amazed at the explosive force that apparently blasted everything in the car hundreds of yards in every direction.
“Too fast,” said my dad in his usually limited discourse, but added, “State patrol estimated more than 130 m.p.h.”
Having helped him before, I had seen my share of blood and gore at some of the wrecks he had gathered up but noticed nothing in that manner with this vehicle.
“What happened to the driver? He can’t have survived,” I asked.
“Nope,” answered my dad. “Found him up there against that other cottonwood,” he said pointing to distant tree down near the river. “Neck broke.”
I guess that why my dad never really had to give me the ‘Don’t drive so fast’ lecture.
I got the message anyway.
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