You can learn volumes about your father just by climbing into the seat of Old Dad’s pickup and conducting a thorough examination of the truck’s contents, if you are brave enough.
For example, there is this flat surface in my Dad’s truck that he calls a dashboard, but Momma refers to as an “abomination” that she is going to have a “field day” with the next time she is spring cleaning. I, however, am struck with envy, awe, fear and the utter realization that I may never be a true Southern man until I learn how to properly cover my dash with the assorted artifacts and trinkets of manhood and farm life that my father shamelessly rides around with every day.
Last time I checked, this assortment of dash junk included (but was not limited to, because I could not see the bottom of the pile): cans of nuts and jars of bolts, loose rifle cartridges and shotgun shells, an automatic animal waterer, a rusty pair of pliers, two pairs of reading glasses, two pairs of safety glasses, some sort of electric motor, four bottles of pills, a hydraulic tractor pump, a tape measure, several pairs of gloves, a three-foot length of PVC pipe for threatening grandkids, dozens of pipe fittings, three bottles of water and one of Momma’s flip flops.
Before I even attempt to list the remainder of this extensive inventory (wait, there’s more!), perhaps we should discuss at length the antique hand saw right on top. That’s correct, riding shotgun on the dash is a three-foot-long carpenter’s hand saw, the archetypical implement of old Southern manhood, a symbol perfectly fitting for this particular old man, a symbol that says “I’m not afraid of old-fashioned manual labor, I laugh in the face of technology, and with this one tool I can build anything!”
This hand saw sat on Pop’s truck dash for weeks until Momma sliced her foot on it. (Mom, you should know you can’t ride around with your bare feet propped up on your man’s dashboard like you used to back in the 60s when you were courting at the drive-in.) I should also mention that Dad keeps several spare Black & Decker circular saw blades under the seat. Forget about Momma losing a toe, I’m afraid that Pop is going to get into a wreck one day, one of those light fender benders you don’t normally read about in the newspaper, and a saw blade of death will go hurtling through the windshield and decapitate someone’s grandmother or Aunt Betty, and then the truck will catch on fire and all those loose rifle bullets and shotgun shells will start going off, and then Stephen King will write a novel about it - the “Black & Decker Widow Wrecker!” But perhaps I worry too much.
Maybe that’s why, amongst the many tools and piles of junk that hide the dash and smother the defrost vents, there also lies the Holy Bible, King James Version. It isn’t the good family Bible, which is four-inches thick, filled with precious photos and sits on Momma’s coffee table - no, this Bible has seen some action: it is well read, well torn and has a little grease and dirt on it. It seems out of place amid the tools and sun-faded hardware store receipts, but then again it doesn’t. This is also a comfort for me as a son, especially knowing the way the old man drives these days.
But driving safely wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for the fact that right beneath the Bible are several of those steamy, R-rated “books on tape” that Momma got Daddy hooked on. You can call it coincidence if you want, but Dad never had the first accident back when he was listening to Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour audio books. But ever since Momma replaced Daddy’s manly, action-packed western novels with those steamy, romantic teasers in the truck stereo and turned him loose behind the wheel, he keeps running off the road and getting speeding tickets. In fact, the South Carolina Highway Patrol has already warned Daddy if they catch him driving while under the influence of “50 Shades of Grey” one more time they’re going to suspend somebody’s library card.
No 70-year-old man’s dashboard would be complete without a few medieval instruments of torture, such as the burdizzos I found the last time I borrowed his truck. In the interest of modesty, I’ll pause here and allow you to Google “burdizzo.” Go ahead, I’ll wait. Done? Now, perhaps you’ll see why I was not amused when Pop threatened to use them on me as a budding teenager, and why I didn’t find the joke funny last week, either.
That should cover the primary contents of Dad’s dash, at least until Momma gets around to that spring cleaning and finds the second and third layers of that anthropological and archeological dig into seven decades of manhood. If you find this topic as fascinating and enlightening as I do, then I encourage you to swipe your father’s keys next time he takes a nap and go plundering around in his truck, if you dare. You might be surprised at what you find.
And join me next week when we approach an even more fascinating topic - Mom’s pocketbook.
Michael M. DeWitt Jr. is the managing editor of The Hampton County Guardian newspaper in South Carolina. He is an award-winning humorist, journalist and outdoor writer and the author of two books.