By C.S. Humble
When I was a child, it was easy to convince me of grand ideas.
My father, during the time was a cotton-hauling truck driver, once told me that he and I were loading up in his eighteen-wheeler to go to California. And for a long, long time in my memory, I remembered that trip taking days. Days on the road together, stopping at truck stops to get egg, bacon, and cheese burritos, laughing at my father playing verbal tag with other truck drivers on his CB radio. Listening to 1970s rock & roll anthems. Hours on the road, together.
I remember us unloading the cotton and the long, long journey of heading home.
It wasn’t until I was 17 years-old that after I recalled that trip to a family member that my sister Kallie said, “You didn’t go to California with Dad. You went to Lubbock. Y’all were gone for, like, three hours.”
I twisted a contemptuous look at her.
She was wrong. She had to be wrong.
I went to my dad, very upset.
I told him what Kallie had said.
“We went to Lubbock, son,” he said. “I said we were going to California as a joke.”
Sometimes, my siblings will prod me with this story. It’s funny, I admit.
Sometime before or after the California-trip-that-was-actually-to-Lubbock events happened, I was riding in my grandparent’s station wagon with my father’s father.
Pa, we called him. Pa Max.
My grandfather was, among other jobs, a heavy-haul, oil field truck driver for many years of his life and as we were driving past the world famous White Buffalo statue near the Snyder Court House a song came on the radio. The song was “Roll On Eighteen Wheeler” by Alabama. The song begins with a prelude of a truck driver coming in loud and clear over a CB radio, saying, “Hey, howboutcha, Alabama. Roll on!”
We listened to the song. It was about a truck driver leaving his home to do his job, only to triumphantly return by the end.
It’s a strange thing being the child of a truck driver. A certain kind of anticipation gets worn into you, an anxiety. It is a childhood lived in a kind of perpetual advent. You wait for days and days, asking, “When is Dad going to be home?” Only to have all your waiting rewarded with your father coming through the door always tired, sometimes smiling. You associate his truck with him-all the chrome knobs of the cab, the rumble and blow of the exhaust stacks, and the distinct smell of the pine tree air-freshener mixed with diesel and rubber and engine oil.
I connected with the song. How could I not?
“You know,” Pa Max said, nodding his head with a smile as the song faded out. “That’s me in that song, on the CB Radio.”
“Yep. That’s your Pa.”
Like I said, childhood: easy to convince me of grand ideas.
Obviously, I was immediately convinced. I stamped that statement into my mind, an indelible truth.
Obviously, he was joking.
He might even have told me he was joking, but like the Lubbock trip that my imagination stretched all the way to California, all I heard was that my
Pa had just been on the radio, featured in a song. That made him famous. Important to everyone else as important as he was to me.
Every time I listen to the song, even though I know it’s not my grandfather coming in loud and clear over the CB, I still hear his voice in the music. I remember the road. His big, weathered hands on the steering-wheel. Both of us just smiling against the West Texas sunset, a boy and his grandfather.
As of this morning, he’s gone. I’ll never hear his voice or his laughter ever again. A laughter that was wild and unashamed and loud. Penetrating. A sound, that when he gave it, could be heard all throughout the house. All throughout your heart.
My grandfather was big and broad, rolling through life doing what he had to do. And though he was not a perfect man, those who love him do not require him to be so in life or in memory. He was a storyteller, and that portion of him lives on in me, for much of my storytelling style is riddled with his tall-tale-telling ability. He loved Westerns. And he loved his grandchildren.
He loved his wife, my grandmother.
He loved his daughter, my aunt.
He loved his son, my father.
For this man, who was once a boy, Pa Max becomes a grand idea. A memory of which I am fully convinced will roll on.