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FlipSide contributor Abram Sturgill with his Poppy’s 1997 Chevy S10 4x4.

It all started early last summer when my grandfather, Poppy, began hinting around that he wanted to buy a few cows. My Grammy and mom were completely against the idea, arguing that we have enough on our hands with the sheep and other farm animals, but my Poppy didn’t let their grumbling deter him. A smart man my Poppy, he got his cows, bypassing the women in our family by purchasing the animals without warning and then taking them straight over to my aunt and uncle’s pasture. They too have a small mountain farm and their 100+ head of cattle run out on an old reclaimed mine site, meaning Poppy’s cows are out of sight and out of mind. Usually.

Now, Poppy bought his heifers with the intention of multiplying his herd quickly. His hope being they calve by spring. Because this will be their first delivery, Poppy frequently feels the need to make a trip across the mountain to check on the heifers. My aunt and uncle live on the other side of the mountain, which as a crow would fly is quite close, but driving over there requires heading off-road.

In addition to checking on his heifers, Poppy needs to be able to haul salt blocks, mineral tubs and hay. Poppy has a Kawasaki Mule that serves him well on warm, summer days, but it is an open-air vehicle, meaning once cold weather arrives, Poppy won’t be driving it to make the two-hour round trip to my aunt and uncle’s farm.

Now, most men are happy to own one truck, but not my Poppy. He has three trucks, and each has its own purpose. Poppy owns a 2006 Chevy 4x4 pickup that we drive when we need to replenish our grain stock. He also uses it to take sheep to the market and occasionally pick up some new antique my Grammy thinks she needs.

Poppy then has a 1976 Ford 4x4 flatbed truck. It is a three-quarter ton truck, with a winch. He uses it to pull out trees to cut up for firewood or rescue the occasional driver who has slid into a ditch because the roads are muddy, or ice covered. Lastly, Poppy has the 1997 Chevy S10 4x4 that he uses to putter around our farm — that was until Grammy bought him the Mule.

The S10 has been parked near the garage for the past few years and was considered semi-retired. It needed a lot of repairs. The key switch wires had been nibbled on by a mouse and the tires were worn slick and one tire remained permanently flat. It was questionable whether the brakes worked. Poppy knew that if he was going to drive something over the mountain this winter so he might monitor his cows, he was going to have to invest significant time and money on the S10.

At first, my Poppy made these repairs on his own. It was his truck, and he was working on it for his own reasons. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that Poppy couldn’t drive three trucks at one time and that maybe if I helped him fix it up the S10, he might let me drive it too. Well, that was my thinking anyway.

One must understand, my Poppy is the definition of old school. He has a hard time letting go of things and doesn’t rush into new ideas, resulting in him sometimes failing to appreciate that I am 17 years old and more than capable of learning new skills. For instance, I have been driving my mom’s Kona for over a year, but Poppy was having a hard time visualizing me in the S10, no matter how hard I hinted around for the opportunity to learn.

Having gone through similar experiences with Poppy over the past few years, I knew what I had to do. For instance, when I wanted to learn how to operate the tractor last summer, he kept putting me off with excuses. But, one morning he left it running while retrieving something from the barn. I took that as my opportunity to prove myself and jumped behind the wheel. The rest is history.

I knew that I was going to have to approach the S10 the same way I approached that tractor. I was once again going to have to prove myself to him. No, it wasn’t an ideal situation, but one that has consistently worked for us. I knew that I only needed to wait on the opportunity to present itself.

This past September, I agreed to help my cousin who lives around the ridge pour a concrete patio. To do so, I needed to borrow some of my Poppy’s tools that were stored in his garage. When I showed up to get the tools, I found my Poppy busy piling brush in the pasture and my Grammy in the house. The S10 was just sitting there. It was then I realized that this was my chance, so I carefully started placing the tools in the bed of the truck.

Once finished loading the tools, I looked around to make sure no dogs, sheep or chickens stood in my way and then climbed into the driver’s seat of that old S10. Taking a deep breath, I opened the ashtray to see if the keys were where Poppy always left them. Yes! The keys were exactly where I thought they’d be. Feeling confident that this was going to be the day, I put one foot on the brake, the other on the clutch, turned the ignition and poorly hid my surprise and excitement when I heard it catch. I had successfully gotten the engine started. Believing the gods were with me and I couldn’t fail, I shifted into first and let off the clutch. Then the truck yelped, jerked and died. (Did I mention that I had never been behind the wheel of a stick shift before?)

Thankfully, Poppy was too busy piling brush to notice what I was doing. So, holding my breath, I made a few more anxious attempts to start the truck. Finally, I pulled out successfully. Coasting slowly down the driveway, I gave my Poppy a quick wave before zipping by him. Looking in the review mirror I could see Poppy shaking his head. I couldn’t tell if he was laughing, but he wasn’t yelling at me to stop, so I took that as a good sign and headed over to my cousin’s house, never getting out of first gear.

That evening, feeling good about my exploits, I described my adventure to my Grammy. Her only comment was to tell me that I needed to learn where second gear was. Mom on the other hand grounded me, which I had anticipated and took like a man. Having won what I considered a major battle in the war to be recognized as an adult, my Poppy began including me in making the repairs to the truck. To date, we have put on new brakes, fixed the lights, replaced the tires, and added windshield wipers. I spent almost an entire Saturday scrubbing mud out of the interior and purchased seat covers and floor mats out of money I made mowing grass over the summer.

A couple of weeks ago I drove the S10 across the mountain, over to my aunt and uncle’s house, with Poppy riding shotgun. He never complained about my playing the cassette player too loud, though he rolled his eyes when I sang along to John Denver’s “Country Roads.” I have gotten better at changing gears and can almost turn around in my narrow driveway without abruptly shutting the engine off. I can comfortably drive the truck around our farm to run errands or feed the livestock and this week I paid Poppy for my own gas.

It has felt good to reach this milestone. I am now a truck owner, having joined the ranks of thousands of mountain men going back over 100 years. Best of all though, I have enjoyed working on the truck with my Poppy. Despite his grouchy old man exterior, it has been a good bonding experience. Am I ready to drive a standard on the hardtop? My mom would tell you no, but I have no doubt that I can (or will) someday, though sadly it probably won’t be in this same hand me down S10.

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