The Old Man

The Old Man warmed the truck early. He told me, “Dress warm, kid,” and then he ran outside to start his Ford Bronco.
As he turned the key in the ignition, the quiet morning shook with the deep rumbling sound of a truck’s engine.

It was wintertime and Merrick Avenue was quiet. The sun began its rise and the sky began to lighten. The traffic on my street was nothing more than an occasional car and I was a son on his way to work with his father.
After I dressed myself, I put on my winter coat and hat.
The Old Man asked, “Are you ready?”  and without speaking, I waited for him by the front steps.

I recall my father opening the passenger side door for me. I was very small then and had it not been for the running boards, I would have had nothing to step on, and The Old Man would have had to lift me up.
“Can you get in,” he asked.
“I can do it,” I said, and I climbed onto the bench seat.
The seat itself was still cold to the touch. The heat was on and the car was running, but the cold morning did its trick, and the car had yet to fight back.

“It should warm up soon.” He promised.
The Old Man closed my door and walked around to the driver’s side. I looked at the manual stick shift, which was complete with a white ball at the top. There were numbers on the ball with black lines that directed which way to shift gears.
I was young then but I remember this very clearly. I could barely see out of the passenger window. Of course, this was before the child safety laws and mandatory seatbelts. But I wasn’t worried.

Pulling out from the driveway, The Old Man said, “Let’s stop and get something to eat first.”
I was a terrible eater when I was young. I never finished anything on my plate. I did not enjoy eating, and I was extremely picky.
However, there was pride in The Old Man’s voice. There was a connection in the way he spoke.
“A man’s got to eat,” he said.

We stopped at the bagel place on Merrick Avenue, which was south of Front Street. The Old Man explained, “We’ll leave the car running, this way it will be nice and warm when we get back.”
He pulled up to the store, parked, and then The Old Man walked around to open the passenger side door for me.

I ate what he ate. “Give me two eggs on a roll with bacon and cheese,” he said to the girl behind the counter.
He added, “Give me two small coffees too. One black,” then The Old Man looked down at me, “How do you like it, milk with sugar, right?”

At that moment, I would have eaten anything. I would have drank anything and done whatever he asked to make him proud.
To a young boy, there are no words better than this; “That’s for my son.”

Perhaps there was never a better sandwich made than the sandwich made for me that morning. The cheese melted perfectly with the eggs, smothering the bacon, and when I pressed the sandwich down, and took my first bite, I was as happy as any boy could ever be….

After we finished our morning meal, The Old Man asked, “Are you ready?”
I answered him by standing up and putting on my jacket.
“The truck should be nice and warm,” he promised. Then The Old Man put his hand on my shoulder. He held the door open, and as we left the bagel shop, we learned the truck had stalled.
“Damn,” swore The Old Man. “It would have been warm inside too.”

Little did he know; I was just fine.

We’re coming up on the anniversary of The Old Man’s death.  I still wonder what he thinks.
I wonder if he’s proud or if he understands the things I could never say.
I wonder if he knows how much I always wanted to please him, or if he knew how important he was to me.
Though the eyes of Heaven never blink, I wish The Old Man would send me a sign. I wish he would send me something.
Something to say, “I’m right here.”
Or better, something to say, “I’m proud of you.”

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