I wasn’t yet asleep when my dad came into my room and asked for my help. If he did this now, it wouldn’t be that surprising—a man in his sixties has a multitude of uses for a man in his thirties, even at just before midnight—but I was still in high school and I had no idea what could bring my dad to my room asking for help in the middle of the night. When he told me to get dressed and meet him in the driveway, I understood even less.
“And wear something dark,” he added as he walked out, leaving my bedroom door open.
During my youth, my father owned a number of cars, most of them earth-toned Volkswagon buses, and the one we owned at the time of this story was dark, nutty brown with lighter brown stripes going down the side. I’m guessing the stripes were put on as an afterthought once the Volkswagon dealer realized that even those who were inclined to purchase late-model VW buses might themselves balk at one that looked like a great boxy turd. It was in this bus two years earlier that I had demostrated to my dad my startling fluency in involuntary English expletives when one afternoon he undertook to teach me to how drive stick. It turns out an old VW bus is not a very good vehicle for learning to handle a standard transmission, but it is an excellent venue for finding out what curse words your sixteen-year-old son knows and how well he can work them into sentences. I expected to find my dad in the driveway next to the brown bus, but that’s not where he was. He was sitting in the cab of our pickup truck.
When you live out in the countryside of Texas, owning a pickup truck is inevitable. Ours was used sparingly, mainly for trips to the lumberyard or to haul junk to the junkyard. It was never used just before midnight on a hot summer evening.
As we drove down the country roads between our house and our destination, my dad told me what we were doing. There was a plot of land he wanted to buy, he said, one he had had his eye on for a long time, waiting for the owner to put it on the market. Earlier that day, he said, the owner had finally done so, announcing the offer with a massive sign right in the middle of the land.
“It’s important that you understand,” my dad told me as we drove, “that I am going to buy the land. I’m going to buy all of it and I’m going to pay the amount that the seller is asking.” He looked over at me to see if I was following him, his bearded face lit in the glow of the truck’s dashboard. “You need to know that before we do what we are going to do.”
“And what are we going to do?” I asked.
“We’re going to knock down that sign with this pickup truck.”
The first hit was pitifully feeble. Neither my dad nor I knew how fast one should drive when one is ramming a billboard. The sign was huge, rooted into the ground by two round wooden posts. My dad had hoped we could drive the truck up to the sign and then push it over slowly, but the posts were dug too deeply into the ground for that, so we went with Plan 2. Which was ramming.
The truck headlights were off. My dad was driving. I was standing in the field, offering what guidance I could. We were both giggling like schoolgirls.
I do not know at what point our mission made the jump from sober undertaking to Jackass, probably about the time we both threw ourselves to the ground to avoid being seen by a passing car despite leaving the pickup truck running with its front end pressed against the base of the sign, but by the time we were backing up even further distances to build up even more speed, it was unclear whether we were both going to die from the impact with the sign or from laughter-induced asphyxiation.
When the sign finally cracked, it was almost disappointing. Both posts cracked at the base at once, tilting the sign down at an angle. After that, we didn’t so much ram the sign as drive the truck up the slope of its posts, pushing it down the rest of the way. Then we loaded the sign as best we could into the back of the truck and drove away, not turning on our headlights until we were down the road a bit because we’re sneaky like that.
Driving the country roads back to our house, the sign hanging more out of the truck bed than in, my dad used his handkerchief to wipe the tears from his eyes and admitted that, upon reflection, there were probably better tools available for taking down that sign than a pickup. It was, after all, made of wood, and try as he might, he could not recall vehicular collisions as one of the major methods for cutting wood.
“I hear axes are good,” I put forward. “Or chainsaws.”
My father nodded and agreed that those did sound reasonable and that, if ever we decided to make a habit of this kind of thing, we should invest in just such tools.
“We could even buy one of those two-handled saws,” I said. “We’d be outlaw lumberjacks.”
My dad smiled at the thought, and so did I. I’m not sure if his cheeks hurt as much as mine did, but I’m guessing they did.
Happy Father’s Day, Outlaw Lumberjack.