My dad and I used to drive around, sometimes, just looking for garage sales. We didn’t get to do it very often because of my work schedule at the time, and of course in the harsh light of hindsight I wish that I had made more time for things like that. You never know what it is you are going to miss most until you already miss it.
One time, we were in a village called Walden not far from where we lived back then, and we came upon a beat-up old house with an overgrown yard and a rusty green tractor in the side yard, partially covered with a worn-down canvas tarp. For some reason, despite having never expressed an interest in having such a thing before to my recollection, my dad spun his truck around out of the blue, pulled into the dirt and gravel driveway, and we got out to take a look at the tractor.
You need to know a few things about my father. First, at the time, we did not have the kind of a yard in which he would be able to make much use of a giant farmer’s tractor. Second, there was no ‘For Sale’ sign on this tractor, and no indication that its owner would have any interest in parting with the great metal beast-on-wheels. Third, and bear in mind that I do not pretend to know my way around tractors, but in my admittedly uneducated opinion it was a heap of useless rust beyond any reasonable means of repair. But my dad wanted to stop and take a look, anyway. I was very confused at the time why we were there, but… there we were.
The tractor’s owner was an old man, at least twenty-years my father’s senior. He came out of a shed built into the side of an old barn, clapping his dusty hands against his chest over his grungy sun-faded red t-shirt. Everything about this man, his home, and his yard indicated to me that he was a hoarder. As we approached the tractor, I could see at least a half-dozen old beat-up things, farm equipment and a couple of trucks, in his back yard behind the barn. I knew then that this wouldn’t be a brief pit-stop on our little impromptu road trip. This old man's rundown home in Walden had, instead, become our destination.
The old fellow shook my dad’s hand and when he heard his name, he immediately asked if he was the same Richard who used to work for a man named Jimmy who owned an auto body shop in the nearby town of Cornwall. It turned out the man’s son had my dad repair and paint his 1960’s era Ford pickup truck about fifteen-years earlier and, somehow, my father had left enough of a good impression on the man that a mere handshake and exchange of names made the two old fellows fast friends, on the spot. My dad wasn’t trying to convince him to sell the tractor, anymore (not that he had the money to buy it, anyway). He was making a connection with the old man, who was eager in his way to have another pair of eyes to take a gander at the things he had laying around.
I remember he had an old air compressor that kept running on and off during their discussion, and my dad struck up a conversation about what he was working on in his shed before we got there. We went inside. They exchanged information. They kept in touch.
This was a man we did not know. We stopped to inquire about a tractor my dad did not need from a man who was not selling it. My dad just did things like that. He was an instantly likeable guy, knew just about everyone, and took joy in making little, unexpected detours every chance he got.
He didn’t plan everything ahead, my dad. He just got in the truck, drove around, and let the destination find him.
I thought about this on my way to work late last night, and I thought it was worth writing about. Sometimes, I think it might be really great to live like my dad did on those occasions, not worry so much about where you were going to end up, and be ready to pull a u-turn if something interesting catches your eye.