A father commemorates his son’s birthday in a vehicular way.
I bought that Chevy half ton from Steve Twerdun. Me and Mary had just got hitched and we needed solid farm transportation. That Chev was a fine piece of truck. People noticed me when I drove it into Marshallville back when it was shiny and new (PAUSE) and I was shiny and new.
Luke, our first born, was conceived in that truck. It was a hot day in late August and me and Mary were drivin’ home from seeing her parents about an hour away. We stopped for a pee by the road when a prairie storm come up with thunder and lightning. It rained hammers and nails. We couldn’t see to drive so we had wild sex in the steamed up truck by the side of the road.
The next May when Mary went into labour, she woke me at three in the morning. We got two-thirds of the way to the hospital in town and she gave birth, right into the tote bag she had her clothes in. Luke just slid right out of her and into the bag. So he was born in that truck, too.
Seventeen years later on an August night Luke drove the truck into a soft embankment, uprooting a tree which came through the side window impaling his head. He died in the truck, quivering at the end of a broken branch. (PAUSE)
(STARTS TO SOB) I leave Luke’s truck up there to remind me and the sky what happened. (TRYING TO GAIN CONTROL) He’d a bin fifty years old…today. (SOBS)
This deep memory piece aspires to be a great country song loaded with irony and poignancy. An elderly man, 33 years after his son’s death, still grieves every day for his lost child. The old truck, slowly sinking into the prairie atop a rise, harbours his most significant memories starting when he was first married.
The first three paragraphs are delivered almost happily as he recalls the events of the story. In the first paragraph he sets the scene and remembers the shiny, new truck with delight but a bit of sadness creeps in when he says “And I was shiny and new” indicating his advanced age.
The second paragraph he delivers a little sheepishly but with enjoyment of the memory of the day Luke was conceived. The third paragraph again is a pleasant memory if somewhat surprising for the birth in the truck and the ease of it all.
The fourth paragraph is matter-of-fact, deadpan as if he is trying to hold back the emotion of the event. He is still stunned by it. The stark image of his impaled son is followed by a pause so the audience can realize Luke was conceived, born and died in the truck they are seeing. How horrible!
The final paragraph is the kicker. The truck is his personal memorial to his lost son, the object that still connects him every day with Luke. His voice is clogged with emotion as he speaks the second last line. After a pause, the last line is charged with cruel memory as he reports the special nature of the day. The pause between “fifty years old” and “today” and the way “today” is delivered are the keys to the story’s success. He has a hard time getting out the last line before he breaks down and sobs after the story is over. It’s an emotionally charged ending that shouldn’t feel manipulative but honest and sincere.
Since the background sound will only be the sound of the prairie wind whispering through the grass, this has much potential to be maudlin. I want to avoid that. I want the audience to see that although it’s a sad story and he is still heartsick over his loss, there is an underpinning of acceptance of how life is.
Dennis Scullard gave a superior performance as the still-grieving father expressing his deep and incurable sorrow, just emotional enough. Dennis is evolving into a very good actor and his roles are getting larger. Watch his demo reel.
Luke’s Truck contains the first mention of Marshallville which looms large later in The Lonesomes once we get to town life.
This old half ton was a familiar site to me from my sacred site tours as it sits at the bottom of the rise below the buffalo effigy in extreme southern Saskatchewan, again about a mile from Montana.
I love how the truck dominated the landscape while deteriorating comfortably into the prairie soil. I shot it twice on two separate trips, once with the hood open and once with the hood closed.
The truck belonged to Ralph Rasmussen who grew up on the family homestead just below the buffalo effigy. I met Ralph several times on my trips and have written about him on my blog. He told me his interesting history of the sacred site as well as his family background in the area. Ralph has since passed away but his truck still sits atop the same rise where he parked it years ago. Other than my use of his old truck, the fictional story of Luke has nothing to do with Ralph Rasmussen.