On January 1, 2009, my dear father Luke Geraghty passed away. I loved him so very dearly. Since his passing I have come to realize how many of his mannerisms and personality traits are in me. I was fortunate to be so loved and connected to my father, a man whom I consider one of my greatest teachers. The one constant, the one symbol, in the story of our relationship has been his ownership of Ford trucks. Since my birth in 1973 until his death, I had always known him to have a Ford truck, first F100s and then F150s. It may seem strange to readers that I am placing such emphasis on a truck as a symbol of our relationship, as opposed to something related to his carpentry or children’s toy design. Family and friends perhaps may feel that I have done a disservice or even something blasphemous to consider a Ford as the enduring symbol of my profound love for Dad. But over these last few years, as I have reflected on my love for Dad, I have awakened to how emotionally connected I am to the truck as a particular symbol of our relationship.
As a young boy I remember playing for hours and hours alone, with friends, and with cousins in a then-defunct red 1968 F100 parked behind the barn. Although as a baby I no doubt had many drives in the 1968, my only memories of the 1968 are the hours of invented driving adventures. My friends and I would pretend to be on missions for the Secret Service, driving from the port of Halifax across Canada to the Rockies and down into Yosemite, USA, hauling the most secret of loads to defeat great USSR plots. We would even to go to the extent of loading and tarping the truck bed with “washer” parts from the neighbourhood dump. I vaguely remember Dad telling me one day that the brakes of the 1968 had worn out, which is why it found “retirement” behind the barn. Of course Dad often put over three hundred thousand miles on his trucks before “retiring” them. I remember how I filled the gas tank with nails and removed the sparkplugs in a vain attempt to stop the salvage company from taking it away after Dad decided to sell it. As a young child I had not realized that by then (about 1984) the 1968 could have never been driven away on its own power.
I remember Dad’s 1980 blue inline six, three on the column F150. This was the truck in which I learned to drive solo at the age of 13. In a family of carpenters, driving was a necessary skill, as it still is for all boys in farming communities. With the right to drive came the responsibilities of working alongside grown men. During these years I learned who my father was, by working side by side with him, by being given adult responsibility and the ability to achieve—I came to know his life. But I remember from even before this the smells of maple and oak from the wood shavings embedded in the cloth of the bench seat. I was a sickly youngster with very serious hay fever, and I would curl up on the seat for the 40-minute drive to the nearest hospital, Dad always intently—silently—focused on his driving. In the silence I was comforted; I trusted Dad’s driving and I trusted that he would get me to the hospital, that I would be okay. For years, during haying season my allergy would flare up in an instant and we would make the drive. As I outgrew the severity of my allergies I forgot the deep comfort I felt in that silent drive with Dad.
The very day Dad brought home our 1988 blue F150 inline six I took it for a test drive. I remember everything about that day; it had been raining but the sky cleared just in time for Dad to bring the truck home from the Ford dealer. The moment he got out of the truck, I got in, to make my run to the post office. I was so much more excited that he seemed—I was too excited. At the end of my test drive I sped into the driveway, with the thought of having the grassed barnyard to stop in. But wet grass can be as slippery as ice and I skidded into the centre of the barn, busting up the driver’s-side lights and bumper. Dad simply shed a few tears and then told me to get back in and go for a drive. He was concerned that if I didn’t drive right away I may lose my driving confidence. It took me months to save enough money for the repairs, during which time Dad never hid from anyone that I had done the damage, nor did he make fun of me or allow anyone else too. I was fifteen, and he was careful to protect my self-confidence and to use the opportunity to teach me about accountability for one’s actions.
In 2001, when my wife and I moved to Yellowknife (512 km south of the Arctic Circle), I bought my first F150. It was a blue 1980 inline six. Even at ?45 degrees Celsius the old beast would start. Looking back, perhaps this purchase was more about regaining the feeling of emotional closeness to my father than the functionality of a 21-year-old F150. This was the truck in which Dad had taught me to drive—a key in my understanding of the character and trade of my father. In 2003, just before the birth of my first daughter, I purchased a V8 1997 F150. My ’97 has moved my family around ever since; it has seen the birth of both my daughters, kept them safe and warm. I also own a Ford Escape now, but as a paid-on-call firefighter I exclusively use my ’97 to respond to pager callouts for fires. With temperatures as low as ?60 degrees Celsius (with wind chill) I know I can count on the ’97’s V8 to get me to the fire station when the alarms are going off.
When my family and I arrived home for Dad’s funeral in 2009, I noticed the last F150 my father had ever bought, a blue 1997, was still sitting by his wood shop. It was the first V8 Dad had ever owned. I have never felt so lonely. The first thing I did was sit in it. The smells of maple and oak from the wood shavings embedded in the seats was so comforting. Pencils seemed to cover every possible flat spot, there were no fewer than three tape measures mixed in the pile of tools on the passenger floor, and there were stacks of notebooks covering the passenger’s seat. What treasures I found in the notebooks: Dad’s next architectural masterpieces, toy schematics, and furniture templates.
Before leaving to return to Yellowknife, I went to move Dad’s ’97 into the barn for storage until the summer, but it was completely stuck in a winter’s worth of snow and ice. When I think of Dad’s ’97 sitting in the same place that all his F150s have sat, I realize how comforting it must be for Mom to look out the kitchen window and see it there. Now, when I sit in my ’97, I proudly realize how my two beautiful girls will remember the smells of smoke and piles of firefighter training books that fill the cab.
Ashley Geraghty MAL(H)