Born Too Late

The flat grave marker depicts a mountain scene with an 18-wheeler on it. The trucker loved the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. In fact, a haul to Oregon and Washington was his idea of a perfect run – plenty of wide-open spaces along the way and the mountains marking its end.
The trucker felt a special kinship with the less crowded areas of the West. There was a song by the late country singer Marty Robbins called “El Paso City.” It was about a man flying over the city thinking he had been there in another time. The reincarnation theme was a sequel to “El Paso.” It was one of his favorites.

You could tell when the road west was calling the trucker. He got depressed and was restless when too much time passed since the last trip. He loved his home and family, but the road had a hold on him. Ironically, he never wasted time on his runs. He made the most of every waking hour and, barring any trouble, completed the runs quicker than any of the other drivers he worked with.

The trucker was from the old school. He believed that a man’s word was his most valuable possession. If you told someone you were going to be somewhere at a certain time, you did just that. A week before his daughter graduated from high school, he set out for northern California. He promised her he would be there to see her receive her diploma. He had missed her birth because he was on the road trying to put food on the table.

He called home the day of graduation. He had to unload in North Carolina before heading home. He asked to speak to his daughter. She told him graduation was at 7 p.m. It was after 2 in the afternoon, and he was 300 miles away from home. “I’ll be there,” he said. By the time family was ready to go, her dad hadn’t showed.

The commencement exercises were held on the football field at her high school. About five minutes before “Pomp and Circumstance” blared through the loudspeakers, the trucker pulled his rig into the parking lot at the football field.

He was dressed in dirty jeans and an old western shirt that had long passed the faded stage. His scuffed cowboy boots had seen many better days. There had been no time to change clothes. He combed his hair as he crossed the parking lot. He found his wife and climbed through the sea of neatly dressed parents waiting to see their kids take the most important step in their young lives.

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There were whispers and stares as people slid farther away than necessary to allow him to sit down. He acted as though he didn’t notice. He was used to people treating him differently because he earned his living in a truck.

Climb out of a truck, and some mindless people will judge you to be illiterate and a troublemaker.

It probably bothered the trucker sometimes that the ignorant among him often looked down on him because of how he dressed when working. He wasn’t a dirty person. He took a bath as often as his job allowed him. But the reality is that sometimes the road is dirty. You get hot and sweaty securing your load, changing tires and just racking up the miles. The cleanliness of yesterday’s bath fades when you have to be somewhere, and you have to keep moving.

The trucker found out early in life how callous some people can be to those who make a living the hard way. He and his wife had only been married a few months. He was driving a dump truck in a small town. It was dirty work. One Wednesday night, he finished his last haul a little early and decided to join his wife where she attended church. He parked his truck in the gravel lot of the little white church. He walked in the back of the church and sat near the back with his wife.

He grew up picking cotton in a small town where people often left the field and went straight to church on Wednesday nights. He thought nothing of stopping off from work in his jeans and boots to join his wife. But when the service ended, a couple of the church elders met the trucker at the back of the church. They told him they didn’t think it was appropriate that he would come to church looking the way he did. He left the little church without arguing, but he rarely graced the doors of another church until he died more than two decades later.
He still believed in God, but his faith in people took a major blow that day. The open road became his church. Whenever he felt misunderstood, the road was his therapy. Inside the cab of his truck, he escaped the stares of people who judged him by appearance alone.

He yearned for a simpler time when a man’s worth was judged by his actions and not by what he wore or what he did for a living as long as it was honest work. He felt he was born too late – a cowboy from a long forgotten time. Before the trucker died, he made one request concerning his funeral. No one, not even the preacher, was to wear a suit to his funeral. His request was honored. Everyone wore a nice pair of jeans and a button-down shirt. No tie.
On that day, everyone looked the same. The trucker would have been pleased. It’s been 14 years since the trucker was laid to rest. I try to visit his grave at least twice a year – in December for his birthday and on Father’s Day.