Sunday evening, 6 p.m. -- it’s still really hot, but at least the sun has changed its angle in the sky enough to offer some shade on Route 5. I’m heading north towards Ascutney, and will be going east to Claremont. The air is thick and the light is a rosy hue that alternates to a yellowish tinge depending on which part of the sky you are looking at. The windows are down in the old ‘82 Ford F-100 and I have the driver’s side vent window open wide enough to direct a blast of 88 degree air onto my midsection. The custom equal length headers are directing hot, spent gases downstream to the catalytic converters, through the Flowmaster mufflers and out the twin slash cut pipes underneath the center of the step bumper. The sound is sweet, and accelerating up small hills and out of corners is an aural delight. This is in addition to the Rockabilly from Dublin, Ireland based Imelda May feeding into the stereo from my iPod. Sitting on the black leather passenger seat is a bowl of freshly picked black berries. I’m off to visit my mother at the rehab center, where she is recovering from a broken hip.
My visit goes well, although my mom now has conjunctivitis. She is being treated, and she isn’t having any problems with it, and I’m really pleased with the care she has been receiving. The berries are a huge hit with her, and some of the other patients got a sample as well. I feel lucky that my mom is a mere 25
As I leave the parking lot, and for the second time this evening, there is an ominous slip of the transmission. Oh boy, I’ve only had the truck back from the shop for a week or so and here we go again. Couple that with the fact that the engine is running hot, and I know she needs a couple of things. Unlike my mom, you can replace these parts and everything is back to new. You can’t reverse the 90 years of effects that aging has had on her body and mind with replacement parts. As a distraction from the harsh realities of aging, I begin sourcing new truck parts in my head, calculating what I’ll need for money and how long shipping will take, and making the decision to go with a beefed up rebuilt performance transmission versus having it rebuilt as is. The dollar signs are racking up at the same time, but this truck is coming out so well, and it is so solid that I feel compelled to keep going.
I made it home, barely. By the time I got up our steep hill, the tranny was smelling hot and slipping like a partially reformed alcoholic in a distillery with free samples. I already knew that the fluid level was good, so the used transmission was now officially down for the count. Reverse seemed to work OK, and now I’m thinking about how I can back the truck down the hill, around the corner, and along the dirt road to my closest mechanic’s shop. Should be OK, I figure.
After parking the truck I get online and order a Ford automatic transmission rated to be able to handle about 400 horsepower. I know the small block five liter V-8 isn’t putting out that much, but hauling a trailer occasionally will certainly make up for it, so I need all that and more. While I was at it, I also ordered a bigger and better radiator and I added a Lokar nostalgic 23-inch tall shifter with a black knob. It’s a work of art, and just screams "Hot Rod." My wallet is screaming too, but for different reasons. Over the past 10 months I’ve put a lot into this old truck, from the drivetrain, steering wheel, instruments and seats out of a souped up Mustang, to fresh spray-in bed liner, new grille, carpeting, sound insulation, tail lights, radio, even a homemade headliner. I’ve painted the truck while retaining it’s California surface rust patina, changed the interior color to all black, gave her new tires, even added an original issue hub cap. When you’ve gone this far, you simply can’t stop.
My mom has just moved to a more permanent care facility up in Fairlee. She is doing well, and probably well enough so that in a couple of weeks I can take her for a ride around the lake in the old Ford Hot Rod truck. It will be a much longer ride up there, but at least it is interstate most of the way. The energy, time, and money I am putting into the truck is a perfect foil for the process going on with my mother. It’s hard to deal with, but just as inevitable as a worn out transmission.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for 20 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM every weekday morning at 8 a.m.