It is that time of the year that lingers between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Fall comes late to the Southwest and the leaves are just beginning to turn brown and fall off the trees. It is predicted to be the first freeze of the year which means I will have to pick all my vegetables and fruit tonight or risk losing them to the frost. Other plants will need to be covered to protect tender leaves. After a fast writing tour in Southern Arizona I am scrambling to catch up with my life when the phone rings. It is my youngest adult child, my son, requesting my precious time.
“Are you sure you can’t come with me to look at the truck? I need moral support.” I sigh, but not so loud as to let him hear me. My work as a writer allows me more flexibility than his father who is boxed in a traditional job.
“OK, but you’re gonna owe me,” I reply. “I need help with the gardens. I have pumpkins and squash to bring in; beans, peppers and corn to pick; the new lime tree needs to be protected, and I have to put sheets over all the vegetables.” Negotiations complete, I tell him to pick me up in thirty minutes. Pulling out of the driveway I note the time at 12:21 pm.
This is the first new vehicle for this young man. His previous car, a hand-me-down from his Nana, is terminal. The white, GMC Jimmy, has served him well for many years. A decade ago he used it to take his Nana to the grocer, and patiently wait for her to pick out just the right tomato paste while she showed off her handsome grandson to the cashiers. Her spirit clings to the Jimmy and there is a certain sadness to selling an old car, yet it is time to take the next step.
We find the shiny, silver pick-up he has been eyeing positioned in front of the dealership. It is used, in good condition, and has earned an acceptable amount of miles. Like all of us, this truck shows the marks of life: a stain on the upholstery, tiny scratches by the door, the faint hint of an odor that lingers in the cab.
Each of us circle the vehicle like a pair of sharks. I am looking for all the things I have been surprised with when I have made a vehicle purchase in the past. He has a look of longing on his face. I have seen this look before with other men wandering through car shows. The men age, their hair grays, but the look never changes. The desire and admiration for polished metal and roaring engines remains forever, and I see my son is in love.
On the test drive we push every button we can find to make sure it does what it is designed to do. He floors the pedal down an empty street and suddenly he has wings! In a parking lot he switches to four-wheel drive, and I envision him at the family cabin meandering down snowy roads.
Back at the dealership we sit down to level the playing field. The truck needs to be detailed and taken to a mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection. I ask to see the dealership’s license and the owner complies. We run a check on the VIN number, discuss interest rates and credit records. Signatures are exchanged with a small cash deposit, and I am assured my son gets his money back if this pretty truck sours into a lemon.
He drives me home and the clock reads 3:30 pm. The sun is low in the sky and the air is already chilled. My desert bones tell me it will definitely freeze tonight. We head out to the back field and he moves my heavy pumpkins to the porch while I pull beans for drying. The vegetables that can survive the frost will still need to be nurtured and protected and I race to beat the fading light. It is quiet for a while as the shadows elongate and then he speaks.
“You know, I don’t know how I would do this stuff without your help.” I feel my heart slide up to catch in my throat. My firefighter son that runs toward burning buildings still needs his Mom! I understand what he is says, vaguely remembering feeling the same way about my own parents and how it would be impossible for me to function without them.
“It’s generational,” I reply. “Nana and Grandpa taught me what I needed to know. You pay attention to the details and do your homework. Then throw in some hard-won life lessons and you figure it out. Someday you will do the same with your children.”
“But what about people like Josh.” Josh, a childhood friend, has come up the hard way. He is a self-made man, and has been since his early teen years. Everything he has learned has been through his own efforts. Joseph continues, “His parents always needed him more than he needed his parents.”
“You’re right,” I said. “Josh is an old soul. He has always known what to do and how to do it right. And now he has broken the cycle. He understands what it takes to be a good parent and will lead his children forward the same way Dad and I have guided you and your sisters.”
He continues to care for my vegetables, deep in thought, undoubtedly about his new truck. Holding a basket full of the fruits of my labor, I watch him from across the yard and recall a comment from a friend with two wonderful sons of her own.
“I don’t get it,” I had said to Margie. “We were young parents with no experience. How did we manage to produce three adult children that respect their bodies and minds, assume their own responsibility, love each other, and are as beautiful inside as out? Hell, I had no idea what I was doing.”
“It’s an investment,” she replies. “You put in the time when they are young and vulnerable and it pays off later.” I had a “Duh” moment. Why had I not seen this earlier? She was completely right. I thought about all the times we had struggled to make it to parent-teacher conferences, holiday recitals, dance classes, drum lessons, soccer games, and heal broken hearts. We made sure they had the right friends, respected animals, treated the less fortunate with kindness, marveled at nature, learned from history, acknowledged authority, and questioned authority. Instinctively, we spent every ounce of energy protecting and nurturing all three of them, and routinely reminded them they needed to the same for each other. Now, nestled in the autumn of my life, I am amazed we had the energy to get through each daily challenge.
Back in my real world the sun is down, and another day has passed. My baskets of vegetables from the season’s harvest are lined up in the kitchen. Because I have invested the time to take care of my gardens, the vegetables will take care of me later.
I am hoping my kids will too.