TITLE: The Road
By Chris Janzen
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Tommy was a little boy who was fascinated with the road. He lived out in the country on a Farm to Market road, so there wasn't a whole lot of traffic, but when something on wheels went by he ran to get a closer look. He never knew what he might see out there; sometimes a big dually pickup hauling a horse trailer, a kid in a sports car driving really fast, a huge green tractor or combine, or maybe even his favorite thing of all, a motorcycle! At three years old, Tommy was already enamored with everything that had wheels.
Tommy's dad loved his little man, and was also a big admirer of cars and trucks. He had an old classic GTO in the barn he had been slowly restoring as he got the money for the parts and pieces he needed. Tommy loved to watch his daddy as he worked under the hood and tightened the lug nuts on the wheels, and he loved to crawl under the car and see what his dad was looking at down there.
One day Tommy heard something really loud coming down his road and he ran out to see what it was. He got a little too close for his father's comfort and his dad ran after him and promptly yanked him up by the straps of his faded denim overalls. Had he not grabbed him in time Tommy might have been run over by the loud machine, a Semi tractor trailer hauling cattle.
“Tommy! You coulda got yourself killed! I don't EVER want to see you get that close to the road again! Do you understand me?” Tommy was surprised to hear his beloved dad yelling at him and he could feel the tears starting to sting his little eyes. His father wrapped him in a big bear hug and said, “Listen Tom, I love you too much to let you get hurt. You are so important to your mom and me. We just want you to be careful, okay?” Tommy wiped his nose on his sleeve and softly said, “Okay daddy.”
Day after day Tom played outside and followed his dad around the farm, sometimes riding on the big tractor with him or helping to feed the horses. He loved running through the pastures and canyons with his faithful dog, Bandit. What fun the two friends had together, enjoying the magic of growing up out in the country. One day Tommy noticed Bandit was out in the road pawing at some poor animal that was now road kill. “Hey boy! Come on! You need to get outa the road!”
The dog, usually very obedient, didn't respond but kept picking at whatever it was he'd found in the road. Tommy ran towards him to get him out of the road and out of danger. As he got to the edge of the road he saw the unthinkable. A huge Semi was speeding right toward his beloved dog. “BANDIT! Get out of the road!” The dog was too engrossed in what he had found to notice. Tommy wanted to help his friend, but he wouldn't listen. “BANDIT!”
It was too late. The truck was gone in a huge cloud of dust and now his dog was gone too. For the first time, he disobeyed his father and ran out into the road to help his dog. “Bandit! Oh no! Bandit!” The dog laid there lifeless. With all the courage a 7-year-old could muster up, Tom swallowed hard and ran into the house.
“Bandit got hit! He's won't get up!” His mother and father both wrapped their arms around their boy trying to console him. He couldn't be consoled. His dearest friend was gone...forever. His dad took care of burying Bandit near the sunflowers, where he always liked to stretch out in the shade and nap. Tommy made a cross out of sticks and put it on his old pal's grave. It seemed the hurt never would go away.
As the cars and the years went by, Tommy did eventually get past losing his dog, but he never wanted another one. Even though he had lost Bandit there, his love for the road never faded. His interest in cars and motorcycles increased with each passing year.
For his 12th birthday, his dad got him a dirt bike that was just his size. He was so excited! He had the time of his life riding the bike all over the farm country where they lived. His father warned him, “Now, this is an OFF road bike, Tom, I don't ever want to see you riding it on that road...just stick to the pastures and trails and you'll be fine.”
“Okay dad,” Tommy said once again, and he was off and having the time of his life on the greatest birthday gift ever. His dad coughed and smiled as he watched his young man disappear in a cloud of prairie dust and crumpled tumbleweeds. “That boy loves wheels.”
The years and the cars and the trucks kept right on rolling by. That GTO in the barn was looking better every day. In fact, was almost finished. Except for it being primer gray, it looked pretty good. Tom continued helping his dad work on it whenever he could, between football practice, time with his girlfriend, and all the many other things that kept a junior in high school busy.
“Hey Tom,” his father called out to him as he saw him walking from the pasture after finishing his chores. “You got a birthday coming up.” “Oh really Dad? Did you think I forgot? First thing Monday morning I'm going down to the DMV and getting my license. I'm gonna have enough saved for a car before Prom rolls around!
“Good for you son,” he said, and walked on into the house with his boy to clean up for supper.
Saturday morning Tom woke up feeling great. “I can't believe I'm finally old enough! YES! I am so gonna get my license on Monday!”
He went down to breakfast and enjoyed his usual special birthday breakfast of homemade waffles with strawberries and whipped cream, and thanked his mom for making them for him again this year. She hugged her son and said, “I can't believe my little boy is 16!”
“Well you better believe it,” he said, “because this 16-year-old is gonna be driving on Monday!” He looked around and noticed his dad wasn't having his coffee or reading his paper at the kitchen table this morning.
“Where's Dad?” His mother tried to conceal a smile. “Oh, he had to do something in the barn...why don't you go see if he needs any help?” He was just gulping down his last bite of waffle, so he hugged his mom, and said, “Sure.”
He walked out to the barn, his gangly legs taking long strides in the morning sunshine. “Dad? Whatcha doing in here?” When he walked in the barn he couldn't believe his eyes. There was the GTO, completely restored, painted black and shining brighter than the purest gold. He had gotten it painted without telling him! "What did you do?!"
His dad tossed him the keys and said, “Happy Birthday son.”
Tom was stunned. “No way! Are you serious? You're giving ME the GTO? This has always been your dream car dad!”
Putting it back together with you was my dream. I know how much you love cars...heck, even more than me. I wanted you to have a good car to take your girl to the Prom.”
Tommy wrapped his dad in a huge bear hug. “Thank you Dad! Thank you so much! I just can't believe it!”
“You're welcome, son. Just be careful...you know how powerful that engine is and I want you to pay attention and be aware when you're out on the road...okay?”
“Sure dad, I totally will, I promise.” His father knew exactly what his boy was thinking.
“Come on dad, let me just take it out for a quick spin, PLEASE? I'll have my license on Monday!”
“Oh all right, but remember what I said, be careful.” Tom couldn't get behind the wheel fast enough. He very slowly and responsibly pulled out of the driveway onto the farm road he had always been so fascinated with...just long enough to get out of his dad's view, then he floored it.
“Woooo Hoooo! Man this baby hauls!” He left his home and parents in a thick cloud of Caliche dust, forgetting the promise he had made to his dad just moments before.
The sun was extra bright that morning and he hadn't had time to grab his sunglasses...he never saw the deer that darted out in front of him, until he heard the awful thump and felt the car spinning wildly out of control.
“Jesus,” he called out, “help me Jesus!” The car swerved and flipped violently off the old dirt road, bouncing end over end several times before landing on its top with a horrific thud.”
Tommy rubbed his head.. “Why is it so quiet?” The sun no longer burned his eyes, the light he saw now was peaceful, soft, and comforting. He squinted as he saw a familiar figure in the distance. “Bandit? Is that you boy?” His beloved dog, gone for so long, came running up to greet him, covering him with happy, slobbery kisses. “What are you doin' here boy?” Tommy was disoriented for a minute, then he saw the road and realized what had happened.
“Wow...so it's true, huh boy? The streets up here really are made of gold.” Tom and his old friend walked off down the road together, and this time neither of them had a thing to worry about.
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