In December of 1986, I married my gentle, witty, intellectual and talented husband, Kent. We had both just finished a year of Bible college in Minneapolis and had moved to a small cabin in the woods on a lake in Wisconsin. In order to be together and still make enough money to finish Bible college, we decided to drive trucks together. This was a good plan except for the fact that I was an elementary school teacher by profession. Being studious and somewhat mechanically minded, I passed the written test required in Wisconsin. The company for which Kent drove took his word for my driving ability, so off we drove into the honeymoon sunset. Since Kent was fairly new to the company we were presented with a different truck every two or three weeks with short two-day breaks in between. Along about the fifth different transmission, I got behind the wheel, shook my head and moaned, “I can’t do it.” I was overwhelmed.
“Yes, you can,” stated Kent calmly.
“I can’t,” I said, practically in tears.
“Yes, you can,” Kent repeated.
“I just can’t do it, Kent,” I whimpered.
Kent was adamant. “You can do it.”
I answered, “I’m not cut out to do this. This doesn’t even fit into my wildest dreams!”
With an encouraging but firm voice, Kent started talking me through it by getting me to turn the key and start the big 425 CAT with a 15-speed overdrive, which I quickly learned to appreciate. We were off to the West Coast again, scaling the Rockies, hoping to pass the inspections and weigh-ins, and periodically heading back to the woods for a bit of romance, rest and recreation.
“Information overload” is the phrase I use to describe that time in my life. Every truckstop looked the same to me, log books were a mathematical maze, and state lines were a blur. If you can believe this, one day I told Kent to follow the blue line on the map for the shortest route into Denver. He said, “Sounds good … you really think the truck will float?” That little episode, plus my complaints about how small “they” print maps, led to my new pair of burgundy reading glasses, which Kent said made me look like Poindexter. Of course, he looked like Jiminy Cricket so who was he to talk!
Shortly after we were married, I stayed behind in Wisconsin to get everything settled into our new home. After about nine days I could stand the separation no longer so we arranged to meet in Des Moines. As I was driving through central Iowa on I-35 southbound, I suddenly drove into the snowstorm Kent had been driving in for two days. The car I was driving did not handle well in the snow, so I slowed to 35 mph and promised myself to stop at the next exit, even though it meant not getting to Des Moines in time to meet Kent, who was already behind schedule because of the snow. Right out in the middle of the snow-laden cornfields, a car came up behind me, lost control and struck me twice. As my big old station wagon rolled to a dead stop, I mourned the fact that I would miss my connection with Kent, and I was frustrated that there was no way to reach him until morning when I would call dispatch. I was surprised at the intense feeling of separation I felt at that time. But you’ll never guess what dispatch did: They sent him all the way back after me! When we finally met, we went to the truck and just held each other tightly for a very long time without saying a word.
Once, when we had finished loading our truck the shipper wouldn’t let us use the scale by the exit, so we went down the road and found out that we were definitely illegal. Back we went to have some freight removed, but the guards wouldn’t let us drive back onto the property. To make a long story short, they tried intimidating us in several ways, eventually calling the police. I was horrified. Here I was, a respectable elementary school teacher who had never even thought of breaking any laws, and these official-looking men were threatening my beloved new husband. When the police came they sided with us, as it was an interstate matter, but we were later told that that company had a lot of clout in that particular county. Our boss told us that he had to promise to fire us or lose their business. Of course, he didn’t fire us, but he never sent us back there again.
Another time, we decided to take a shortcut from one interstate to another. We ended up on an extremely narrow mountain road with no way to turn around. Kent seemed to stay cool, but I, the realistic planner, was in a panic. About halfway up, we came upon some construction workers who told us there was a turnaround at the top. It was a relief, but we still had to go back down around those curves with some of our tires hanging over the edge. After that, we made a rule: “The shortest distance between two points is an interstate highway!”
Kent, a romantic, was very attentive. He checked showers for cleanliness before I went in, he stopped when I needed to stop, and he made sure he knew where I was at all times. When I cooed over an adorable little lifelike ceramic rabbit in one of those locked cases, he somehow bought it without my knowledge and surprised me with it when we got back to the truck. We still have that sweet little bunny and the memory that goes with it.
Right around the time a woman’s brutal murder was reported in the Minneapolis news, I “disappeared” while Kent was sleeping in the truck. When I got back to the truck he was in an anxious and angry state of mind as he told me what had been running through his mind while I was gone. He ended up telling me he was sorry for his reaction. I’ll never forget how he summed up his feelings with these endearing words: “I didn’t realize how much you mean to me.” Words like that touch a heart forever.
Not too long ago my husband said he didn’t think I was happy during those first few months of our marriage. I can understand why he might have gotten that idea, as it was a mind-expanding, exhausting and frustrating first few months of marriage. But it was wonderful to be with someone I loved, who made me laugh so hard that at times I couldn’t catch my breath. It was a unique prelude to a life in which we learned to weave our individual talents together to make the whole better than the parts. We have many things in common, and have learned to value our differences.
Due to some very difficult circumstances I couldn’t continue to drive with Kent. Many years have passed and Kent still hasn’t fulfilled his dream of finishing college, although he is quite close. Without my short career as a big-rig driver I never could have understood the fatigue, the delays, the loneliness and the hazards of the job. My experience has helped me to accept the uncertainties and disappointments. I bend a little more easily when the unexpected happens and I am more spontaneous when it comes, living life from moment to moment instead of planning every detail.
Our plan wasn’t to have Kent drive trucks over-the-road for this many years with me at home most of the time. It is challenging to have my favorite friend and companion away so much of the time, but I have never regretted being married to Kent. God put us together and together we’ll be. Perseverance builds character, so we must be two real characters by now!
Charlotte Beseke and her husband, Kent, moved to Sioux City, Iowa, so Charlotte could be near her children and grandchildren while Kent was on the road. When Charlotte’s not entertaining her grandchildren, she “putters in the yard and garden.” Charlotte uses her 16 years of teaching experience tutoring students of all ages. “Helping someone learn to read or get a general equivalency diploma is tremendously rewarding,” she says. From time to time, Charlotte writes inspirational poetry and daily devotional material that she shares with friends and relatives.
Affected tractors are equipped with an automated Eaton UltraShift Plus or Eaton Advantage Transmission with right hand stalk shifter. In the affected trucks, the display on the instrument panel can indicate “N” when the shifter is set into “D” or “R,” causing the truck not to move.