Life on a farm in Arkansas in the 1950s offered a wonderful childhood for me, but I knew it was a hard life for my parents. Any new expense meant difficult decisions about how the minimal cash was to be spent, and even though I never felt deprived, I knew that I just didn't ask for things that cost money. It was also understood that when something broke, if Daddy couldn't fix it himself and it wasn't absolutely essential to us, it very likely would stay broken.
I knew that one of our most important possessions was an old red Ford pickup. It was our connection to the rest of the world, as well as the vehicle that my father used to do the dawn-to-dusk work on the farm. I had an older brother and sister and a baby brother, and every Sunday morning we would dress for church, then crowd into the cab of the truck for the trip to town. I was the smallest besides the baby, so I sat next to my dad because I caused the least interference with shifting.
I was a shy, skinny, bookish sort of child, and while I often played with my brothers and my sister, I learned that solitude could be a delightful time when my imagination was totally free. One of my favorite places to take a book and be alone was the seat of the old red pickup. One warm afternoon I was enjoying this favorite spot, reading a little, but mostly daydreaming. My finger was absently tracing the knobs and lines on the dashboard, and finally wound around to the speedometer.
The glass on the speedometer had long since been broken out, maybe even before the pickup joined our family. I often watched the red needle as we drove down the highway. It was fascinating to watch it climb the circle of numbers, sometimes getting as high as the 50 at the top. It never approached the numbers going down the other side to 90. I wasn't sure why, but I knew that this was all somehow an important part of Daddy's truck.1