Fictional story originally posted Sept 10, 2018
I received an interesting call this summer. The caller identified herself as Leona Green and said she hoped I didn’t mind that she got my number from the phone book.
“I saw your picture at the Fair,” she said, “and it brought back so many memories. The one of the old truck. May I ask where you took that picture?”
I replied that I’d found the rusty old relic in the Hills one day when I’d been hiking.
“Do you think it’s still there?” she queried.
“Very likely,” I said. “It looked like it had been there for a while. It’s on forest service land, off a dirt road.”
There was a long pause, and I wondered if I should say something to fill the gap. Finally she spoke. “I’d like to ask a big favor of you, but I think we should meet first. Do you live in town?”
I told her the area where I lived, and she chuckled. “Why, that’s just down the road from where I am at Clarkson.”
“The assisted living?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s the one, on Maple Street. Would you like to visit?”
Since I’m retired, we agreed to meet in a half hour. I got ready and drove the short distance, bringing the picture with me. She met me at the front desk and took me to her neat-as-a-pin room. I handed her the picture.
“Oh, my. I really wonder if it’s the same one.” She sighed as she held the photo and stared intently at it. She looked up at me. “I used to know someone with a truck like that. It was painted green at the time.”
She asked me about who I was, and we chatted and compared notes until we’d arrived at a few common friends and acquaintances. She had a quick wit and lively sense of humor, and we were enjoying one another’s company when she suddenly peered intently at me. “Are you up for a little adventure?”
I raised my eyebrows. “Uh, maybe.” When dealing with a 97-year-old, one should never jump right into anything without seeing a few yards ahead.
“How would you like to take me on a drive, and we can go see that truck?”
I did a short mental calculation, looking at the clock: 45 minutes to get there, a few minutes to look at it, then back should still get her home in time for her meal. “Are you sure?”
“It’s a beautiful day!” she exclaimed. “Why not?”
A half hour later we were winding our way up the highway on a hot summer day, Leona’s walker folded in the back seat. I knew right where the truck was, and drove straight to it. We parked on the side of the dirt road, her passenger side window giving her a clear view of the truck.
She turned her head to look at me. “I’m going to push my luck and ask you for another favor. I’d try it myself, but I’m too old and too short.” She pointed to the truck. “The windows are all gone, so you should be able to reach right through that opening, on this side – the passenger side. There’s a lever you can push, if it’ll still move. It opens the air vent. If you get in there, you might find a box. Could you do that?”
“You bet,” I answered, my door already half open. It was an easy task to reach my arm into the truck. Not so easy was the lever she’d mentioned. It was big enough to get a good grip, and I yanked and pulled until it gave way. I hesitated only a split second before my hand entered the dark slot, but found her little box immediately. I drew it out and brought it to her. We both sat in the car while she dusted the box tenderly. She cupped it between her hands for a good five minutes, then opened it. We both gasped. It held a diamond ring.
She pointed at the truck again. “That’s a 1934 Chevy pickup. See the hand crank out front? It used to belong to a Mr. Dewey Nelson and it was green. He was 24 when I knew him, and he’d bought it used. The spring before I turned 17, he asked me to marry him. I was absolutely dizzy in love! He was so much older than I was.” She smiled at me. “Of course, it’s that way when you’re young, you know. Twenty-four, for heaven’s sake!
“Well, I said yes, and he gave me this ring. Isn’t it beautiful? But we didn’t want anyone to know yet, not until after I turned 17, so we kept it a secret. I wouldn’t wear the ring except when we went out together. When he dropped me off at home, we’d put it back in its wee little box, and we had that cunning hidey spot for it in the truck, inside the air vent.”
She was quiet for a minute or two, remembering. She looked up at me again, this time with tears in her eyes. “About a month after we were engaged, I got word that he’d been killed in an accident. We had one of those spring snow storms, and the roads were terrible. He missed a curve. No seat belts in those days, of course.” She shook her head. “What a long time ago that was! I was devastated. I never did tell anyone that we were engaged, not until just now when I told you. No one else ever knew about this ring.” She sighed. “But that,” she pointed to the truck, “is why I am Leona Green now, instead of Leona Nelson.” She closed her eyes and smiled. “God has been very good to me.”