In the years I was growing up we almost always had a pickup truck. Other than the time I ran out of gas in one, with a date, on a back road – and had to call my dad to the rescue – I do not have many memorable tales about those trucks. Except one.
We needed a truck back in those days. My dad had an insulation business he ran to make extra money and a truck was required to haul all the equipment and insulation bags around.
Over the years my mother and all my siblings helped with the insulation business, but I was dad’s primary assistant. The majority of my Saturdays from the time I was 13 or 14 until I was 20 or so, and sometimes in the years beyond, were spent insulating some house somewhere.
Two of the early trucks we had were old red ones my dad purchased for a little bit of nothing after the Clinton Asphalt and Paving Company, where my paternal grandfather worked, decided it no longer needed them.
We must have had the last of those two around the time I first obtained a driver’s license.
A year or two before that, my youngest brother received a puppy as a surprise Christmas gift from my parents, and we all played a part in the surprise.
Our family Christmases were celebrated on Christmas Eve. This particular Christmas Eve, the little puppy arrived at our house sometime before the dinner that preceded our opening of gifts. So my parents placed him in a box, took the dog and box down to our little basement, and hoped for the best until the appropriate time came to present the special present.
My parents, grandparents and siblings – except for the youngest one – all knew he was getting a puppy, but my little brother had no clue. And we all did our part in keeping the secret to ourselves.
But shortly after we sat down for Christmas dinner, the puppy started whining. It was kind of a soft whimper at first, but as dinner progressed it got louder and louder. We were all trying to talk over the noise and such, but it got to the point that if something wasn’t done quick, the surprise was going to be ruined. I do not remember exactly how things unfolded, but I do remember that eventually – I think it was about as soon as we got done eating and before the ladies cleaned the dishes – my dad decided to go get the puppy.
Dad appeared in the kitchen with a towel covering something that was squirming inside it. I don’t think my brother knew exactly what to think as dad handed him the bundle, but it was pretty obvious that he was completely surprised. It remains one of my favorite Christmas memories.
My brother named the dog Champ, and he became a family favorite. He was a good dog, well-behaved and friendly, except for his penchant for digging in flower beds, around bushes and anywhere there was mulch. My dad was still filling in the holes that dog dug after all four of his children had left home.
For some reason, and I don’t think anyone has ever figured out exactly why, Champ took a particular liking to that last red pickup truck. If someone got in it, he thought he should be in it, too, and he did not like it when he could not go.
One day I was driving the red pickup truck in the 100 block of South High Street in Hillsboro, heading toward the center of town, when I heard an odd sound nearby. In retrospect, it sounded just like a dog a running on pavement, but I was still more than a little surprised when I looked in my side view mirror and saw Champ running right in time with the truck – straight through the middle of Hillsboro. I pulled over somewhere, Champ jumped in the truck, and I took him home.
Eventually, dad sold the old red pickup truck to some guy on the other side of town and bought a better one. For whatever reason, Champ never seemed too interested in the new truck.
But one day we got a call from the guy who had purchased the old red pickup truck. He said there was a black dog in it and that it did not want to get out of the truck. We drove across town to where the guy lived, and sure enough, there was Champ sitting inside his old red buddy again.
Another time, when I was a young reporter for this paper, I was making my daily morning rounds and had stopped at the sheriff’s office uptown. I did not live with my parents then or the dog, but when I opened the door and walked outside, there sat Champ, looking at me and wagging his tail. I can only assume he must have been somewhere and recognized me or my car, saw me walk inside the sheriff’s office, then patiently waited for me to come back out.
But I will always wonder how in the world he found that old red pickup truck on the other side of town.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.