When I first moved to the Midwest, I was terrified. I’d never traveled west of Sandusky, Ohio at that time, and could not have found Nebraska or Missouri on a U.S. map. Geography seemed to be missing from my public school education. As is true of a lot of people in New Jersey, I would be hard-pressed to locate most states in the rest of the country!
Looking back, one of the best things about moving west was getting away from home. I didn’t hate New Jersey, but I never truly felt like I belonged there. Additionally, my father had a way of messing with my head, causing me to have very little faith in my own ability to function as an adult. By the age of 25, I felt completely inept at basic life skills. Despite the very real sense of the Spirit turning my life upside down, deep down was that nagging doubt that I could succeed at anything.
But in 1991, I transferred to St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri, which was still 6 hours away from my beloved Larry, who was then living in Osmond, NE. At the end of my first semester at SPST, the used Dodge Colt that my father insisted on buying me for my trip– quit. It needed a new transmission. It was time to purchase my first vehicle that would be in my name. My first two cars had been hand-me-downs from my father and the third, as I said, was purchased by him. The move west was in every way my jump off the proverbial cliff– into independence from my father.
So I wanted to go big.
I was going to marry Larry that summer and move to Nebraska when I wasn’t in KC for classes, so I thought, why not? I’d get a pick-up truck. It seemed like the thing to do when moving to farm country. It was also the last kind of vehicle my father would ever buy.
When Larry and I went to go look for trucks at a place owned by one of his parishioners, the only used truck they had was a 1988 Ford F150. It had a fifth-gear with a stick on the floor; black with a thin red stripe down the sides. It felt HUGE. I’d only driven little Toyota sedans and an even smaller Dodge Colt. When I got behind the wheel of that truck, I nearly cried out of joy. I felt… invincible!
I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar!
I was in love. I served as an intern that summer at four churches in Nebraska, and traveled many miles on gravel roads, dodging snakes and turtles. I drove it up and down Route 29 between Nebraska and Kansas City for two more years– to and from seminary. There were a lot of news stories about young women travelling alone and then missing, so I was leery of where I stopped for breaks. I was white-knuckled on Route 70 in Kansas City. But I had something to prove. I’d started this journey despite so many people back East telling me I was crazy, including my father. I was not going to stop just because I was scared.
I was nervous a lot those last two years of seminary, finding my way, wondering what the future looked like with me as a pastor, trying to impress my favorite professors in school, trying to make friends, etc. But I felt like Somethin’ Else driving my truck.
I thoroughly enjoyed it when parishioners remarked to me over the years, “So, you have a mighty nice husband letting you drive his truck, huh?” I’d just grin and say,
“This is my truck.”
During my first appointment after seminary, my third church on the circuit was a tiny white clapboard church out in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a dirt road. It was not a gravel road, it was dirt. On my first Sunday, there’d been two inches of rain, which made the dirt road into muddy soup. For 9 miles, with my 12 year-old stepson in the truck with me, I fishtailed through that mud, gripping the wheel and trying to keep my language under control. When I pulled up to the little white church, the old men were all on the porch, slapping their thighs. My arm pits were wet.
“Normally we’d cancel church when we get that much rain,” they confessed with amusement, “but we were all curious to see how a woman from New Jersey would handle it in a pick-up!” They laughed. I think I was still grinding my teeth.
“Oh, Peggy is happy to come out here in all kinds of weather,” my stepson Michael piped up. He grinned up at me.
Since I spent three and sometimes four days a week in Kansas City during the first two years of our marriage, Larry would sometimes take a class once a week so he could come see me. We developed a habit of buying Kentucky Fried Chicken and eating it in the bed of the truck in the school parking lot. Professors and students walked by and smiled at us, a bit perplexed by our urban picnic.
When Sarah was first born, I buckled her in in her car seat on the bench seat of the pickup and took her to church with me. People in the congregations happily took turns holding her during the service while I preached. They bundled her up in the carrier and had her ready to go by the benediction. I carried her back out to the truck to go to the next church to preach.
As she grew up, she enjoyed riding in the pick-up with Mom and listening to country music. Now, at almost 24 years of age, she has a playlist on her iPod called “pick-up songs.” They’re not songs to pick up men, as her father strangely assumed, but are songs she remembers hearing on the radio while riding with me in the pick-up truck. Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, Alan Jackson, Diamond Rio, Clint Black, etc. Good ’90s Country.
One summer we drove the pick-up back East with my two stepchildren and Sarah; all four of us nicely packed in on that bench seat. Jennifer was a Chicago sports fan, so we nervously sought out the basketball stadium where the Bulls played– a very seedy side of the city. We didn’t get out, but Jennifer took pictures from through the windshield. We got out at the Bears stadium and even got to go down and see where the team sat.
Back in Nebraska, when it was only Michael who came out, he and his Dad and I would drive out of our little town and lay in the bed of the truck and look up at the stars. We continued that tradition when Sarah came along. When Mike was old enough to get a summer job, I lent him my truck to get to his job. That summer he started thinking of it as his own. He washed and waxed it faithfully. He was proud to show up at work in it.
My parents were confused at my purchase, of course, but got used to it. At our wedding reception, my mother had a toy pick-up truck in the entrance, that she painted black with a red stripe, and put a bride and groom teddy bear in the back of it. My Jersey friends tried to assimilate this new me; a bit bolder, taking risks, and fitting in so well in what they thought of as “country” culture.
I even bought cowboy boots.
When we moved back to Pennsylvania in 1999 for 6 years, we lived in a small village on the side of a mountain. The roads were narrow and curvy, and it soon proved very impractical to have a rear-wheel drive pick-up in that area, especially in the winter time. After ten years, we decided to give up the truck. It broke my heart.
In keeping with the tradition of Larry and I eating KFC in the bed of it back in Kansas City, we decided to drive to the nearby lake and say farewell with a KFC meal. In the bed. Sarah was about 8 at the time and was excited about our pick-up truck picnic. I had a hard time letting it go. So we had another chicken dinner in the bed of the truck before I could let it go.
That old truck meant to me what the city of Kansas City also means to me. They are both significant parts of my getting away, growing up, learning to trust my own gut and faith, having the courage to set boundaries with my father so I could heal. It was something I chose for myself. It didn’t surprise me when I first got to Saint Paul and Gene Lowry showed me a picture of his own beloved truck that he’d given up many years before. It was an older Ford. It was black. With a red stripe.
In the years since, we’ve driven many different kinds of cars, mostly Fords. I’d dreamed of getting another pick-up someday, but new ones are so expensive it didn’t seem possible. Since we got a camper we had an Explorer. The Explorer’s engine blew, and the cost of replacing it would be more than the stupid thing was worth.
We hadn’t planned on getting a new vehicle anytime soon, but the Explorer’s demise made that necessary. We still needed something to haul our camper.
We got a pick-up.
It’s used, and sadly, it’s automatic as most of them are now, but it’s an F150. I nearly cried the first time I drove it. I’m out of practice driving something so big, but it feels right. And good. I find myself grinning as I’m driving down the road. It’s been 17 years since I had to trade my first old pick-up. It was like giving up a beloved pet. But just like Nebraska felt right when I first moved out here into Big Sky country, so it feels right to be back behind the wheel of a truck.
I am Woman, hear me roar!
Who knows what’s next?