He bought his son a new truck for a graduation gift. Well, actually, the truck isn’t new, it’s a 2008 Silverado 1500, lightly used, with only 72,000 miles. Not a bad deal.
As soon as they bought the vehicle the first thing they did was take it for a long ride along the smooth, scenic rural highways of Alabama. Disney World for Chevy and Ford owners.
The graduate and his dad piled into the front cab and tore out for the hinterlands. Graduate at the wheel; Dad in the passenger seat, gripping the chicken handle. University of Alabama sticker on the bumper.
The graduate did all the things guys are supposed to do when they purchase a truck. He lightly let go of the wheel at medium speed to make sure the steering didn’t pull. He gave the gas pedal a workout.
He made sure the radio was working, although they couldn’t find any theme music. American radio went downhill a long time ago. There was a time when you could hear Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, or Spade Cooley on the airwaves. Today, nobody even knows who those guys are.
The graduate kept his window down. The fields of peanuts and cotton whipped by at fifty-five. The kid draped his hand out the window and made an airplane with his flat palm.
They stopped at a gas station. His dad got pork rinds and coffee. The graduate got spicy ghost-pepper beef jerky, the kind that will wreck a man’s bowels for the next nineteen years. Young man’s food.
“Can I drive?” said Dad, sounding like a young man himself.
So they switched places. Dad took the wheel and draped his flat palm out the window and made an airplane too.
And he thought about the graduate beside him. A boy who is older than the others in his graduating class. A kid who finished school much later than scheduled because of a traumatic brain injury during his freshman year, from an accident
The doc said the boy would probably never complete an education. The boy had to relearn to walk, to eat, and to use the bathroom. He relearned how to speak, too. And it was Dad who retaught him.
“After a TBI, it’s not just the big things that change,” Dad told me. “It’s little things.”
The graduate’s brain was suddenly overwhelmed by the smallest stimulation. Ceiling fans, fluorescent lighting, and distant sounds could cause near panic attacks. Sleep terrors became a thing. Many nights the kid woke up screaming for his father.
But enough about that. Because that’s over now, and everyone is feeling good.
All the physical therapy, all the rehab, all the emotional rises and dips. Now he’s in the saddle of a Silverado. A graduate. Unbelievable.
The sun blared through the windshield. The view was perfect. The backwoods of the Yellowhammer State are among the best kept secrets in the U.S.
Dad didn’t want the ride to end, so he took a few backroads to prolong it. He doubled back. Tripled back. He cut through hayfields, carved through forests, and zipped past cattle pastures where several pretty gals were standing on a hillside, chewing cud.
Eventually Dad pulled over at a familiar spot. Father and son leapt out of the truck, removed fishing rods from the truck bed, and they were doing the Andy-and-Opie stroll.
The kid jogged up the hill to the bass pond while Dad trailed behind. Three years ago, this kid was still using an aluminum roller walker. But now he’s jogging.
When Dad reached the pond, his son was there waiting, cheeks red from exertion, a little out of breath. The glory of youth shone about him, with hardly any evidence of trauma. They hugged. Not dramatically. These are guys we’re talking about.
But the point is they can hug. Not long ago, they couldn’t. It was too uncomfortable for the boy. Dad pressed his nose into the boy’s hair and kissed his head.
Dad knows that one day his graduate will be forced to navigate backroads by himself. Someday, this boy will have his own graduate to care for. And by then Dad will probably be playing the harp with Moses, Elvis, and Paul Bryant.
But that day is not today. Today they fish. Today they drive. Today they work on developing beautiful sunburns.
“Thanks, Dad,” the graduate says, mid-hug, his young voice muffled against his dad’s T-shirt. “I love my truck.”
Only 72,000 miles. Not a bad deal.