Sammy and Lem had lived next door to each other all their lives. Their mothers had gone into labor on the same day and they'd been born three hours apart. The doctor had spent the day of November first, nineteen forty-four, running back and forth between the Baker and Maclean houses waiting to see which baby would arrive first. The boys had heard the story of their births so many times that when anybody brought the subject up; they'd tune them right out. They were downright sick of hearin about it.
They were closer than brothers and they even began to look alike, as they grew older. They had the same hair color that they wore parted on the left side and when they'd finally gotten old enough to have facial hair, Lem showed up on Sammy's doorstep with the beginning of a beard and was surprised to find that Sammy was growing one too.
Some of the old folks around town said that they were joined at the hip and if you saw one coming down the street it was a pretty good guess that the other wasn't too far behind. If the truth be told, if you happened to view them from behind, it wasn't easy to tell just who was who. If it wasn't for the fact that both their mothers had unimpeachable reputations, some folks would have spread the rumor around that somebody had "jumped the fence."
When one of them took sick, the other one knew that he was going to catch something too. If one had a toothache, the other one would begin rubbing his jaw in the exact same spot. There was the day that Lem fell off a ladder and broke his leg. Before he'd even heard of Lem's unfortunate accident, Sammy took to his bed with a terrible pain in his leg. He lay there for three days just waiting for something awful to happen to him too.
As the boys grew older, they reached the age when most men take a wife and they did what everyone really didn't expect, they married sisters. Then, each family gave their son a plot of land right next to the other. When asked if they'd planned it that way, both men looked at each other and shook their heads. It wasn't too long before both men were mired in life in the way that only a wife and family bring.
The two families interacted every day in some shape or form. Sammy and Lem always planned it so that all their vacations were together. They went hunting and fishing every year in the spring and fall. The only real difference between the two men was that one was a lot more ambitious than the other.
Sammy longed and struggled for all the "finer" things in life while Lem was quite content to just be. Lem took a night job out to Pinkham's Mill and lived his life in the slow lane while Sammy was always rushing to and fro, hustling the almighty dollar. Sometimes he worked three jobs and weeks might go by without either one setting eyes on the other even though they lived right next door. Lem spent most of his off days in the company of his old dog Tippi, hunting of fishing or just laying around his house playing with the kids and the dog. He was content to live life just the way it was.
But Sammy was the exact opposite. He wanted things. He had dreams and he wasn't content in the slightest. Sammy laid awake nights, thinking and planning how he was going to get what he wanted in this world and he wasn't afraid to work for it either. Sammy pined and longed for a new truck. He wanted it the way a man sometimes wants a lover. It had to be candy apple red and it had to have four wheel drive too. He didn't believe in credit cards and wouldn't allow his wife to have any either. If she whined or begged to have just one, his standard reply was, "I'm not going to have one of those friggin jeezley things and that's that!" He didn't believe in having bills and he was going to pay cash for the truck come hell of high water!
Every time Sammy got close to realizing his dream of buying a new truck, one of the kids took sick or taxes went up or some other God-awful thing happened and he had to set his dream on the back burner once again.
Finally, after working overtime, holding down three jobs and saving for ten years, Sammy had saved enough money. He went over to the Presque Isle Savings Bank, got a cashier's check and with a determined look on his face, he marched himself into Jake's Auto Sales on Main Street. He walked up to Jake Stevens' desk and sat down. He looked Jake right in his clear, blue eyes and said, "I've got a cashier's check in my pocket that could have your name on it if the price is right!"
Jake, used to dealing with thrifty Mainers, used his tried and true, best deal-sealing tactic. He turned in his chair, wrenched open the door of the small refrigerator located on the floor behind him and reached inside. Withdrawing a couple of beers, he broke open an ice-cold Budweiser and handed it to Sammy. "Okay Sammy, what are you lookin for?" Sammy took a long swallow of the cold beer, burped and said, "I want an F100 Ford truck with cream-colored leather seats and all the trimmings. It has to be a four wheel drive and it has to be candy apple red!" Jake thought for a moment as Sammy rambled on. "It has to have "Ford" mud flaps and a vinyl bed liner and I want a wiper on the rear window too."
When Sammy finally wound to a stop, Jake looked at him and said, "Tell me Tib, what's the amount on your check?" Sammy squirmed in his chair for a moment and finally, he pulled the check out of his pocket and looked at it. "That's for me to know and you to find out," he said coyly. "Jaysus Tib, give me a break will you. I need to know what your bottom line is before I can show you anything," Jake replied.
Sammy shook his head. "No offense Jake, but you guys are all alike. Once you find out how much I'm plannin to spend, you'll try to foist all your old junkers off on me." Seein that Sammy wasn't going to budge, Jake said, "Let's go out on the lot and have a look around and see what I have." Sammy set his now empty bottle of beer on Jake's desk and headed for the door.
They walked round and round the lot and Sammy just couldn't seem to find the truck he wanted. Tired, Jake glanced at his watch and said, "Jaysus Tib, we've been around this friggin lot so many times that we're beginning to wear out the tar. Why don't you just tell me how much you're willin to spend and when I go down to Bangor to the auto auction on Friday, I'll look for a nice truck for you." Sammy looked at Jake for a couple of minutes and then he mumbled, "Not more-n twelve." Finally hearing the figure, Jake laughed and headed for the office because he now had a figure to work with.
Friday finally rolled around and Jake was jumpy all day with anticipation. Every time the phone rang, he'd run over every one else to get to answer it first. Long about five o'clock, when he'd just about given up on hearing from Jake, the phone rang. Sammy listened closely for a couple of minutes and then his face lit up. He dropped the phone on the desk, grabbed his jacket and headed for the door. Jake had found a truck!
It was a nineteen sixty-three red F150 and it was cherry! Sammy danced round and round the truck, never taking his eyes off it for a moment. He opened the door, stepped up on the running board and carefully slid into the soft, leather seat. He felt as though he'd died and gone to heaven! The "new" leather smell slid up his nostrils, around inside his head and was imprinted on his brain. He slid his hands over the steering wheel and across the dash. Yes sir! It was real leather! He slid his body down into the soft, upholstered seat and breathed in the leather smell. This was the truck all right! Jake turned on the overhead light and glanced at the dash. The odometer read 21,000 miles. "Shit, that ain't bad," Sammy thought to himself, only a year old, why it's barely broken in.
Sammy slid down out of the seat and dropped to the ground. He walked all around the truck and ran his hands over the bright, shiny red paint, examining every detail. Satisfied, he turned to Jake. "So," he asked nonchalantly, "What's the deal with this puppy?" "Well," Jake answered, "It's a great deal really. It belonged to an old guy who loved trucks just as much as you do and he'd only just bought it last year and then he dropped dead. Go Figure! I guess his bad luck is your good luck!" Sammy eyed Jake for a long moment. "I'll know just how much good luck she is when you tell me what you want for her and don't be tellin me that the old geezer died in the truck or anything horrible like that."
Jake started selling! He walked all around the truck with Sammy close behind. He discussed the tires, the springs, the engine, the exhaust system and the paint job. He could see that Sammy was a goner. Just to push the sale a little harder, Jake unlatched the hood of the truck and swung it upwards. "Have a look at this baby, Tib." Jake commanded "Have you ever seen a prettier sight in all your life?"
The huge engine was an engineer's dream. The monster took up every square inch of available space and wires ran every which way. To some men, the smell of gas and oil is the same as an elegant, expensive perfume is to a woman. The two men stood where they were, just tryin to take it all in. "I tell you Tib, with this engine and the four wheel drive, you ought to be able to climb Mt. Kathadin with no worries." Seeing the look on Sammy's face, upon hearing that oversell statement, Jake quickly amended his sales pitch. "Well." he said sheepishly, "Maybe Haystack."
"I'll tell you what I'm goin to do Tib," he said. "I'm goin to let you have this truck just as she stands for fifteen thousand! En, you can drive her home tonight, how's that?" Jake turned in time to see the light go out in Sammy's eyes.
Sammy reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the bank draft. He read across the row of figures printed on it and turned to walk away. Jake, seein a sale going up in smoke, hurried over to where Sammy stood. He deftly reached out and slid the bank draft out of Sammy's fingers, grabbed him by the arm and headed him towards the office. "Now, Tib, lets not be too hasty. I know that you love that truck and I'd sure as hell hate to see some little Christer, buy her and stove her all to hell! Let's go git us another cold brew and think about it."
About an hour and half and a six pack later, the deal was struck. Sammy was the owner of the cream puff Ford and he was also the owner of a Ford Motor payment contract to the tune of twenty-five hundred dollars. He was going to have one hell of a time explainin this one to his wife.
Sammy was in like, in love and loony when it came to that truck. He knew the inner workings of that machine better than he did his wife! He bought a diary and wrote down every time he changed the oil, filled her with gas, rotated the tires and how many miles he drove daily. He installed a heater plug in the block so that the engine and the oil would be nice and warm before he took her out in the cold Aroostook County mornings.
Worried about rust and corrosion, he took to stoppin at the Ashland Town Garage to hassle the sanding crew about how much salt they were mixing with the sand when they sanded the icy roads. He'd head for the car wash as soon as he noticed a fine film of dust on the paint. He jist loved that truck!
His wife, now royally pissed off that he paid more attention to the truck than he did her, told all the neighbors that she was going to extend their bedroom so that she and Jake and the truck could all sleep together in the same room. Maybe then she'd get to see him more often!
He had a cleaning routine that he practiced religiously. He waxed; he dusted and vacuumed on a weekly basis. His wife, seein him headin out the door with her new vacuum cleaner, remarked to her mother that she just might add a little chrome and red paint to her living room and kitchen and maybe he'd clean that up too!
He snuck a bottle of his wife's favorite perfume, Quadrille by Balenciaga, out of her bedroom and sprayed the cab and floor mats with it. His wife, when she discovered what he'd done with her expensive perfume, was furious and he placated her by saying that he'd sprayed the truck with her perfume because it reminded him of the way she smelled. After hearin the halfhearted compliment, she eyed him silently for a couple of seconds and let it slide. But later, when she was telling the story to her best friend she said, "I wanted to tell him that his cologne reminded me of a scent too, and the animal is black with a white stripe down its back!"
Every time he went for a drive and took anybody with him, to keep the floor mats pristine, he'd make them put plastic bags on their feet. If his wife and kids protested, he'd reach across them, open the door and point. They got the message real quick! No bags, no ride!
It had been one hell of a winter, the winter of nineteen sixty-four, especially for the county. The normal snowfall for that neck of the woods usually was about one hundred inches each year but the arctic winds had dipped down from Canada and brought the arctic cold and the swirling, heavy snows along with them. The county was inundated with one snowstorm after another. By April, winter still lay heavy across the greater part of Aroostook County and Sammy received a phone call that was to forever change his life.
Sammy hadn't seen much of Lem for about a month and when Lem called that Friday morning, Sammy was really glad to hear from him. "So you old bastid, what's new with you?" He asked. "Nothing much" Lem replied. "I was jist wondering if you might like to go ice fishing before the ice goes out on Squa Pan Lake?" "When were you thinking of going?" Sammy asked. "Well, how does tomorrow morning strike you?" Lem said. "The only problem is, my Christly old truck has shit-tha-bed and we'd have to take yours." Anxiety, about his truck, slid through Sammy like a bad case of the trots. His mind reeled and raced, trying to come up with an answer that wouldn't offend his oldest friend.
"I know what you're thinking, Tib" Lem hurried on, "But, I'll be real careful and try not to get your truck dirty. I talked to a couple of fellers out to tha mill yestiday. They said that the road into Squa Pan Lake is plowed out nice en smooth en they caught a whole mess of smelt there a few nights ago and they was real good!" Lem rambled on and on and Sammy, feeling his heart strings override his brain, caved. Just as he was about to hang up, he heard his old friend say, "Oh and by the way, I hope you don't mind but I've got to bring Tippi. The vet said the other day that he's getting too fat and he needs to run a little. See yah." And he hung up before Sammy could say no.
Sammy slid into bed and lay there but he never did close his eyes. His mind skipped from one horrible scenario involving his truck to another and each one was worse than the one before. He'd been up for hours by the time Lem ambled through the snow to his house. His truck was all warmed up and ready to go but Sammy refused to let Tippi into the truck until Lem had taken him into the garage and dried all the snow and water off his coat. Then Sammy made Lem put his jacket on the leather seat before he'd let the dog up onto the seat. Sammy started to hand Lem a couple of plastic bags for his feet but stopped when he saw the look in his best friend's eyes. "Jaysus Tib, are you nuts or what? It's only a truck for Christ's sake! The next thing I know, you'll be wantin to put sandwich bags on Tippi." Tib leaned forward a little and looked past the large dog. Lem, seeing the hope in Sammy's eyes, laughed and said, "Forgettaboutit, Tib."
It was a little after six when they finally made it to the turnoff at Squa Pan Lake. Sammy stopped and downshifted into four-wheel drive. The truck geared down and sailed up the roughly plowed road like a corncob through butter. It made Sammy proud to think his pride and joy handled so well but he just couldn't rid himself of that anxious feeling. Feeling the sweat on his hands, he reached into his pocket, pulled out an old rag, and carefully wiped the sweat off the leather steering wheel. Seeing this, Lem turned his face away and smirked to himself in the passenger side window. "If I ever get to be that friggin foolish about a truck, I hope to Christ somebody shoots me," he thought to himself.
Suddenly, the truck ground to a halt on the frozen road. "Lem!" Sammy looked over the dog and yelled in his best friend's direction. "Could you puleeze wipe the drool off Tippi's lip? I don't want his slobber all over my cab!" "Jeeze Tib, will yah cool it. It's just a little dog slobber for God's sake!" And he reached up and stroked the old dog's head. Sammy grimaced as he watched the dog lick Lem's face and lips. "Jayus, ain't I glad that I'm not your wife! I'd hate to have to kiss you!" "Kiss this!" Lem said and he lifted one buttock off the seat and patted it.
Sammy pulled into the turn around and carefully backed the truck out onto the frozen lake. He stopped when he was about thirty feet from shore and cut the engine. They sat there for a moment and all they could hear was the ticking of the engine as it cooled down. Then Lem opened the door and the dog took off in a frenzy of excitement and freedom. The excited dog slipped and slid as it tried to adjust its feet to the glassiness of the frozen lake. Lem took a small piece of wood out of his pocket and threw it across the ice to the dog. Tippi caught the wood in his mouth and quickly brought it back to him. "There ain't nothing like a small stick to make an old dog feel like a pup!" Lem laughed. When Tippi brought the stick back to him, he threw it again and started unloading the gear. "That foolish dog will keep that up all day if I keep throwing it to him," he said.
Sammy glanced at his watch and made a mental note to pry Lem off the lake by ten o'clock, fish or no fish! The sun had been up an hour before Sammy even noticed and there was no heat in it at all. Every once in a while its pale light slid through the heavy clouds and the strong winds sent the light snow skittering across the frozen lake. Lem put his frozen fingers to his lips and blew a shrill whistle and the dog came bounding back across the lake.
Lem reached into the back of the truck and drug out his auger. He set it on the ice and turned it on. The auger danced on the densely frozen ice and he had all he could do to hold it in place. After a couple of tries, he stopped, turned the machine off and said, "Jayus Tib, I never thought I‘d have such a hard time to dig a hole in this ice! It must be twenty inches thick!" "Well Lem," Sammy answered, "You wanted to fish, so let's get on with it. It's colder than zip's ass out here and getting colder too!" Lem repositioned the machine, turned it on and bore down on the ice again. The tip of the auger bit into the ice and suddenly, the machine died. Lem tried over and over again but it just wouldn't start.
"Did you think to bring an ax or a hammer?" Sammy asked him. "Jeeze no Tib, I didn't think I'd need one." "Well, we might as well pack it up and head for home then. We can't get to the fish and I'm about to freeze to death!" Lem looked at him for a moment and then a smile slid sideways across his face. "Not to worry, dear friend, not to worry" and he began rummaging around in his knapsack.
Sammy, wondering what his friend was talking about, stepped back and waited to see what Lem was up to. "I always practice the Boy Scouts commandments religiously," he grinned at Sammy. Seeing the question on Sammy's face, he explained. "You remember, don't you Tib, the Boy Scouts Motto, anticipation, preparation and awareness, that's my motto too! And Sammy, boy am I ever prepared!" With that declaration, Lem whipped out a long, round red-wrapped cylinder. Sammy stepped a little closer and then he stepped back when he recognized what it was that his friend was waving around his head.
"If we can't drill down to them little fishes, we'll just blow them the hell up out of that frozen water! Hell Tib, we'll have more fish than we can eat in a matter of minutes with this ole boy!" "Wait a minute, Lem. You know it's against the law to use dynamite to catch fish." Lem looked his best friend in the face. "I won't tell if you don't." he giggled. "Besides, who's going to know? There's nobody around for miles. If anyone hears the boom, they'll just think it's a jet breaking the sound barrier over to Loring."
Lem dug in his pocket and finally found his lighter. He flipped it open and lit it and then he stuck the dynamite's fuse into the flame. Lem drew his arm back to throw the lit stick of dynamite and Tippi, thinking that he was throwing a stick for him to fetch, took off at the same time. The dynamite and dog flew across the ice in perfect synchronization. Tippi leapt into the air and caught the stick of dynamite in his mouth. He skidded to a halt and with ears up and tail just ah wagging, turned around and proudly headed back towards them with his trophy.
Disbelieving what they were seeing, Lem and Sammy screamed and danced in panic. Lem's eyes were bugging out and he was flapping his arms and screaming at the dog. "No, no, Tippi, drop the stick! Tippi my boy, drop the friggin stick!" "No! Tippi! That's a good dog! Drop the stick!" screamed Sammy. The more they yelled and screamed, the more confused the dog became. He looked from one screaming man to the other and mistaking their actions for anger, he took off on a dead run for the only protection afforded him, the truck! He scuttled under the truck with the lit dynamite stick clutched firmly in his mouth. He crawled underneath until just the tip of his nose stuck out at the very edge of the truck. The smoke from the burning dynamite stick curled up past his nose into the frigid air.
Sammy and Lem, seeing where the dog was lying, stopped dancing and yelling. They began backing up as fast as they could go. Lem stopped running long enough to check the time on his watch and it was all over in a huge bang! Immediately following the dynamite blast, the truck's fuel tank blew and Sammy and Lem were peppered with pieces of shrapnel from the truck and the truck or what was left of it, was consumed by roaring flames.
Sammy turned and watched as his beloved truck became a fireball. He wiped a hand across his face and sank to the frozen surface and sat there. Lem just stood where he'd stopped as though rooted to the spot. As the smoke cleared a little, they could easily see pieces of the truck strewn all over the frozen lake.
Lem could only look at the mangled truck in shock. "Tippi, poor old Tippi! He was my buddy, my best friend. I've had him since I was a kid. I'm sure gonna miss that old dog! Lem began to cry. Sammy could only sit where he was and then he was cryin too. But he was blubbering about his truck. Finally, Lem wiped his eyes and tried to comfort his friend. "Holy bloomin Jaysus Tib, did you see how high that sucker went? When that blew it musta lifted twenty feet off the ground! Who'da thought that one little measly stick of dynamite could do that much damage?"
Sammy looked at his friend for a long moment and when the anger and shock had dissipated a little, he said. "I just want you to know Lem, that I'll never be able to replace that truck!" Lem, feeling just a tad insulted, looked down at his friend. "I don't know what you're pissing and moaning about Tib. All you have to do is call Ford and they'll have you a new truck as soon as they receive the insurance check! But I'll never be able to replace old Tippi! And I've seen him a hell-of-ah lot more than I've seen you since you bought that friggin truck!" With that, oblivious to the frozen track of tears on his face, Lem set off across the lake towards the road. It was going to be a long, cold walk home.
Autobiography of a Simple Soul
Memories, Another Place - Another Time
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