She was a truck. A large blue truck with a bench seat in front and two bucket seats facing each other in back, a truck whose two last letters had fallen off the Dodge (I think perhaps the "g" still hung there upside down). I won't lie - I hated Dod. Not because of the way she looked, not because of the work it entailed to get her. I hated her because I was the youngest kid in the family, and she didn't very well accomodate six people. Being the little one I had to sit on the floor at the back between the feet of my older brother and sister. Once in a while, feeling bad for my state, my parents would make one of my siblings trade with me, so that I could actually sit in a proper seat and see out the rear windshield.
Oh well, I bear no grudges. It was just the way it was, and my parents needed that truck for their work. And that's where Dod's story begins with our family - with how my parents made a living in Tennessee. It begins thus:
Once during a summer of my childhood, our family of six worked in the woods together digging up roots to buy a Dodge truck.
My parents spent their summers making a living that way, scanning Tennessee terrain for medicinal plants in order to harvest their roots to sell, roots like goldenseal and bloodroot and, in the fall, ginseng. My dad had a full beard and kept his hair long and pulled back in a ponytail during those times, as low maintenance as possible. My beautiful, graceful mother wore unstylish, practical clothes and tennis shoes in the humid weather. They spent most days trekking together through the county woods searching continuously for promising patches of plants. Sometimes they hit the mother lode and spent long whiles digging industriously in one area. With them they always had hand sewn jean sacks slung across their shoulders with water bottles and cold grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch.
The idea of us kids helping to earn extra money that summer was discussed. Our old clunker of a car gave our dad constant worry, and the truck was ideal for Mom and Dad's work, particularly in the winter when they rolled grapevine and briar wreaths to sell. Dad told us plainly that he wanted us kids to help make the money for the truck. He had already spoken with the gentleman who had it for sale and had bartered for a couple of weeks in which to earn the money. The man had agreed to hold it during that time, and Dad anxiously hoped he'd keep his word.
For us kids the idea of going to work with our parents in the woods held some excitement. We'd miss out on morning TV or afternoon swims in the creek, but we'd get to spend the day with Mom and Dad in new places and would hopefully be able to dodge some of the boredom that struck at home on those hot, humid days. So we went to the store and picked out our hand spades and Mom sewed each of us our own jean sack made from worn out jeans. For lunch, we had the same grilled cheese but added to that was a family sized can of pork n' beans to share.
I was excited when we headed out on the early drive that first day. I couldn't wait to see where we would be. Like my dad I was a lover of trees and woodlands. Throw in a creek (there always seemed to be one close in the Tennessee woods), and it was a luxury for the soul.
The work was soothing, repetitive but with the smell of soil and green, natural things greeting the eyes. I can imagine the breeze rustling the trees, the shafts of sunlight and shadow dancing across the metal of our spades. Once the roots were dug, we brushed the wet dirt off them quickly and dropped them in our jean sacks. I remember watching my sister Vinca, however, sitting back on her heels and vigorously working every speck of dirt off that she could. My dad gently admonished her for her zealous cleaning methods. He would need to wash the roots and dry them on our roof at home before he could sell them anyway.
At lunch our family would sit near a creek or on a fallen log or two in shade, and we'd pull out the grilled cheese and pass the pork n' beans around. Afterward, inevitably we kids would run off into the woods, mom and dad working in a new patch of roots, and we'd traverse fallen trees, swing on grapevines, climb and start games. Eventually we'd settle back into digging beside our parents, but we never did work as consistently as they did, and they never asked us to.
Days went on so. Early morning rides were taken in the car to a broad expanse of forest; mornings were employed digging bloodroot and feeling the rich southern earth break between our fingers; and afternoons were full of running, dashing beneath the whispering deciduous trees.
Eventually after pounds upon pounds of roots being washed, dried, weighed and sold, we had the $400 to buy the new truck. On that very first day we had her, Dad and Mom took us kids out for a celebratory lunch.
It's hard to appreciate nowadays; people eat out all the time even when they really shouldn't for health or finances sake. Back then, my family almost never ate out. We lived in the country, for one thing. For another, we did not have the money to indulge in it. So when my folks took us kids out that day to Captain D's for lunch, it was really special. I got the popcorn shrimp with hush puppies, I remember, and my dad smiled at me as I rambled on and on excitedly, enjoying my shrimp.
Some readers will wonder at the fact that we four children worked beside our parents to get Dod, our truck. But I'm proud of what I helped accomplish that summer, and the memory of those days in the woods and of our little celebration together at the end of them were almost enough to make up for all the cramped trips that would follow in the back of Dod.