Visions of driving an old Jeep through the muddy trails of Western New York and being able to then wheel her back onto the road and drive home was the stuff that keeps a 12 year old country boy awake at night. And so to start making my dream a reality, I put a bug in the ear of Papa, my grandfather, to keep his eyes peeled for an old fixer-upper. Now Papa was a lifelong gear head who seemed to know every male within a 30 mile radius of his small town and what old iron might be laying around. Such being the case, it took only a moment of consulting his mental rolodex to tell me of a potential candidate located just up the road from him.
As Papa guided my dad to the right house, the seat belt was the only thing keeping me from bouncing up and down with anticipation. After stopping to state our business and getting the go ahead from the owner, we continued to drive, now on a private trail, until we found the ragged tarp-draped Willy’s Jeep sitting amidst stalks of golden rod. The rusting relic hadn’t moved or been tended to in the slightest for years, ever since its old Dauntless V6 puked water where the oil should have been.
Now, looking back lo these nine years since that day, I’m convinced that had Papa realized the shabby condition of this Jeep, he would have never led us to it. For, in spite of the fact that the floorboards had rusted out from not having a roof’s protection and even though the seats had rotted through to the springs, I was in love. The driver’s side front fender was more than half missing from rust deterioration, and we all watched the back bumper bend up and disappear beneath the body when the old owner’s tractor started to push the Jeep onto Papa’s trailer. Still, I was in love. And with a price of 150 dollars, it was a love I could buy.
After unloading the Jeep at my house, my dad quickly set about separating the body from the frame as preparation for the coming refurbishing. As for my own self-assigned duties, afraid of being sliced to ribbons by sharp rusty edges protruding from even the most unexpected locations, I was busy supervising my dad’s work, asking questions, and thumbing through off-roading magazines. I picked out what seats I wanted to use, which mud gripping tires would look best, and what color I liked the most–all the most important considerations.
However, for more reasons than just my naiveté at biting off more than I could chew, work soon halted; I was busy with school, low on funds, my dad started working on our house, et cetera. The moral is that life and maturity set in and despite the vigorous start out of the gate, interest and motivation quickly petered out and soon the chipped and rusted Jeep was put out to pasture in our own back yard.
The dream of so many Saturday mornings in my youth was to have this jeep to drive when I came of age. But I blew out my 16 candles and still it sat. Papa died, and still it sat. I turned 17, 18, 19, 20 and still it sat. It sat neglected until six months ago when I created a new vision that utilized the parts that were still salvageable. With the optimism of the 12 year old boy who had counted his money down to the penny now buttressed with the strength and level head of an adult, I cut apart the dilapidated rear half of my sleeping beauty and dragged the front half in to work on.
After plugging away at re-making a new rear half of the Jeep that met my new concept, I learned for the first time that in the periphery of my eagerness the day we brought her home, Papa smirked and shook his head looking at my mom in am I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this sort of way. Hearing this even though I now have the abilities to do the work I imagined doing back then, the story stung. Perhaps because I had come to that same belief all the years I passed by the tarped lump out behind our garage; perhaps because I was embarrassed at how much larger my heart was than my head all those years ago; perhaps because it seemed to go against his habitual inquiry of “do anything to that Jeep yet?” until the same, invariable answer became implied with everything else I was doing.
Regardless of why, the fact that Papa hadn’t completely believed in my vision lit a fire under me to keep working. See, Papa? I thought. I knew I’d work on it some day. I loved him deeply and still wished him here to offer advice, but I was also hurt. That is, until I looked around my workspace late one Saturday. I saw the stainless steel weld-
ing clamps I had been using and remembered that they had come from his garage. I looked over at the red Lincoln MIG welder in the corner and knew that it had been his too. Then I got up and saw an old radiator
he had given my dad to use for the project at its start, and at the motor mounts my dad had made with instructions from Papa. I sat down on the cement floor in the center of my still-floorless Jeep and looked around it. Yes, the metal for the body’s substructure had come from Papa’s as well. The hurt 12 year old child in me faded away when I realized that, although he may not have believed that I would ever finish the jeep, he knew that I believed it. And with his tools, parts, and materials, I am now constantly reminded of a love I can never buy. The love of a grandparent.