By Heather McLoud
I spotted the photograph even before I ordered my coffee. The framed print drew me to it, block-and-tackle fashion, straight to the wall. A faded-blue 1955 Chevy sank gently into weed-infested ground. Behind it, an old barn leaned to one side. Lively sunlight flooded the scene, contradicting the suggestion of decay.
The beloved, an unmoving truck body. The barn, once built in hope by work-rough hands.
Dad would have been swayed to action by the scene. His hands moving over the weathered paint covering the lush curves of the truck’s body—the sun-warmed fender radiating the memories of a loved vehicle, raising rooster tail plumes of dust on dirt roads.
Utility was combined with thoughtful, elegant styling in this series of Chevies. Dad would have loved it because he would have recognized echoes of himself in it—practical, tough, yet full of a sense of style.
I hear him talking to the truck.
“What a lovely old girl you are,” he says in a voice graveled by two packs a day. “We gotta fix you up.”
He walks a circuit through the dandelions and crabgrass and those weeds with the little green burrs which stick in clumps to his Wranglers.
Next he evaluates the barn, hands on hips, the back of his sunburned neck wrinkling as his head tilts up toward the peak. The red paint has mostly peeled off. Chips litter the ground, but only the bottom inch of the oak boards is starting to rot. The structure sags eastward, telling a tale of many years standing against the western wind.
“You’ve got some good wood in you,” he tells the barn. “Make many a fine piece of furniture.”
In his heart, this barn is his. He would fix it up—reinforce the bearing walls and beams and pull the whole structure straight again. Long ago, it would have been done with a team of Belgians. Now, he’d do it with his Ram.
So much lost over time.
Dad himself is lost with time. He lay in the front room with its tall, south-facing windows. After a while, he lost the strength to reach the curtains.
“Pull them open,” he croaked every morning, until they were left open day and night.
With the curtains open, the sun picked out every cruel line in his face, but he closed his eyes and turned toward the light, blissful in its warmth.
The timelessness of the moon and stars comforted him even as I raged at them. How could their cold light continue steadfast, their rotations marking days and months and seasons, while Dad receded? The hiss of the oxygen grew louder than the murmurings and shiftings of his soul.
“Salvage” is the title of the photograph. Salvage is what I need. I run my hands over my heart’s aged structure and feel its elegant lines, the almost imperceptible joints where it has been built by experience, the larger cracks where the pain has burst through. As I order my coffee I wish for a team of Belgians for my heart.