1969 Blue Chevy Stake Truck
Red Farm Tractor with Plow Attachment
Orange Denmark Riding Mower
My father began to purchase things after my mother died. Large, rusting things. My mother passed away in August, and Dad parked the stake truck in our Silver Creek, NY driveway by April. We were horrified, my many siblings and I, at its crumbling frame, lack of a left-side door handle, loud engine, and the removable blue fencing that surrounded the flat bed on the back.
“Got a good price on it!” he told us as he hopped out of the cab. It was the happiest he’d looked in months.
“Dad, what is that?”
“It’s my new truck! Got it from a guy over in Angola. Great, huh?”
Already labeled weird kids, the word “those” was attached to our last name the moment news of our mother’s death spread. The six of us became “Those Schwabs.” We didn’t need this. It wasn’t so bad for my two oldest brothers, Larry and Dan, who were already out of high school. But for Jeff, Kristin, Eric and I, that stake truck served as a parade float to announce our otherness every time my dad picked us up or dropped us off.
Of course, to my dad, the stake truck epitomized practicality. It ran, for one thing, and the fact that the fencing was removable made it so versatile.
“What will you ever need this for?” I asked him, angry and embarrassed.
“All kinds of things!” he answered, and huffed away—a move he would perfect in the years that followed.
When Dad bought the stake truck, we thought he only did it because he could, though a widower’s freedom and a bachelor’s freedom are very different things. My mother would never have let him bring home a vehicle that ugly; wood-paneled station wagons (“grocery-getters”) were her limit.
Between the noises it made and the things that often fell from its underside, we crossed our fingers that the stake truck would die a quick death, and we would be back to riding around town in the only moderately ugly brown Malibu with missing hubcaps. We would just have to suffer until then, get rides from friends’ parents, ask Dad to pick us up ten minutes after the rest of the kids left. Maybe Dad would buy a decent car next time, we hoped, something less embarrassing, something less bizarre.
But year by year, the collection, the collections, kept growing. The stake truck was just the beginning. Next came the tractor, once red, “for mowing the backyard!” The backyard is actually a field, and has been allowed to grow wild for years.
He picked up the refrigerator from the side of the road, “to put in the basement for extra food storage.” That actually made sense: six kids eat a lot. But the refrigerator never left the driveway, and has been inhabited for years by generations of wasps.
He bought a lawn mower or two each spring, most of them broken but “easily fixable”; a parade of trucks, each uglier than the one before, all rusting, but “almost ready to go”; heavy equipment that he “might need” for home improvements he would never take on; and enough tires to outfit at least ten vehicles, except that there were never four that matched.
Novelty Coffee Mugs
Once our long driveway had filled up and resembled a salvage yard, my father’s various collections moved inside the house, as well. This started innocently. He liked coffee, coffee was sipped from coffee mugs, coffee mugs were often unique or funny, and his mother’s carved cherrywood china cabinet stood in the dining room with two shelves empty. So he started collecting coffee mugs. “Those Schwabs” even contributed, since coffee mugs were cheap, accessible presents for Father’s Day and his birthday. I bought him one that listed to the side. If he held it with his right hand, it said “This mug looks like my hook!” If he held with his left, it said “This mug looks like my slice!” My dad isn’t a golfer, but the mug made him laugh.
When Dad thinks something is hilarious, when he’s really cracking up, he doesn’t just laugh. He guffaws. He holds his stomach and leans over, and the sound forces all the air out of him, and his blue-gray eyes tear up.