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Art Lander’s Outdoors: The good times are long over, but memories remain from beloved first pickup truck

When the good times were rolling. Our kids and dogs in the bed of my first pickup truck. (Photo from Art Lander Jr.)

Author’s Note: I recently found this column I wrote 23 years ago, dated Feb. 6, 1994. I hope readers can relate to this column because of the good times they had with their first pickup truck.

We were joined on a sunny April afternoon in 1983 — a free spirit and an eager help-mate.

We met on the asphalt, but we blazed a trail across dirt and gravel, from the farm fields of Central Kentucky to the sandy beaches of Florida’s east coast. It was a perfect marriage, entered into by willing participants on a collision course with outdoors fun. Hedonism meets raw power on the open road.

Now our life together is in the ditch.

We’ve been pulled from each other’s embrace by the reality of time and metal against metal, rubber on the road. The good times are over. The end is near. My pickup truck is dying. Sure, she cranks to life when I turn the key, as faithfully as ever. The spirit is willing, but the body just can’t get it done anymore.

All we have are memories now.

My pickup truck makes noises like a wounded animal. Colored fluids drip onto the snow. When I put her in gear the transmission sounds like it’s gargling marbles, and the rear brakes are gone. All four tires are nearly bald, and the struts don’t strut anymore.

For over a year the odometer has been stuck on 161,291, like some grotesque clock with a shattered face.

Our war stories don’t seem funny anymore. It’s too quiet inside the cab. I feel sad sitting in a parked truck that isn’t going anywhere. It’s a helpless feeling. I feel for her because to me she is the embodiment of the passion of youth.

Looking back, both our lives have changed in the last decade. We started fresh, turned our backs to the suburbs and moved to the old farmhouse down the long gravel lane. A front yard with a view of woods and fields stretching to the horizon.

Real land provides all we need. Silence in the grip of snow and cold. Coyotes howling at the Harvest Moon. Hawks soaring on updrafts.

Trees for shade in summer and wood for heat in winter. Clear well water. Fertile, warm soil in spring for a vegetable garden. There’s deer, wild turkeys and abundant small game.

We were young and slim as poplars. Her red paint was as smooth as water cascading over bedrock. Now we’re both worn, rough around the edges, like a deer’s coat in late winter.

At first we played all the time — camping, fishing and hunting — leaving town behind for as long as the money lasted. We motored to Beaver Creek Wilderness in March for long backpacking trips. My stomach growls at the thought of rainbow trout sizzling in the skillet.

In May we netted shrimp and caught coolers full of sea trout from the Indian River near Melbourne, Florida.

There’s nothing quite like a summer sunrise on White Rocks in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, followed by the long hike down the winding footpath to Ewing, Va. A cool pop on the steps of a country store.

October was special, bow hunting in the mornings, then fly fishing the afternoons away catching bass from the Kentucky River. We made so many trips together. Journeys of spirit.

For more outdoors news and information, see Art Lander’s Outdoors on KyForward.

Now we have a wife and a family. There are farm chores to be done and children to take to school. Now we stop for diapers or milk at the store on the way home from work, instead of driving backroads till dusk and sleeping under the stars.

There’s a story behind each dent on her body and scratch across her gentle curves.

The tail light was cracked the day we cut up the big ash tree felled by the tornado.

The tailgate is long gone, replaced by a cargo net.

We were rammed into as we sat at a stoplight. Cities always proved more dangerous than rural backroads.

Like a horse with colic, my truck is ailing. We both know how bad it is. The four-wheel-drive refuses to engage and the engine light blinks off and on, unsure of what’s happening.

The hardest part is what to do next. Should I put her up on blocks in the front yard like some trophy or sell her away to a man of the tools? Will her flame die when I turn my attention to another?

I know one thing. There will never be a better pickup truck in my life. Never.

1Art Lander Jr.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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