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My Hero Is a Knight In Rusted Armor

My husband still drives the same pickup that lumbered into my driveway for our first date, 15 years ago. Now, however, the truck's doors open unexpectedly, adding adventure to every turn. Its dash lights, gas gauge, and speedometer no longer function: rolling roulette. But the engine is still chugging along.

As a farmer, Dan takes strange pride in running a machine to its final crankshaft rotation, and he revels in the idea of getting something (transportation) for nothing (the resale value of his truck).

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But I've come to deride this ride. I turn my head to avoid the eyesore when it rumbles past en route to the field or shed. And on the unavoidable occasions when I'm stuck behind its wheel, only the clanking is louder than my protests.

After 14 years, my husband and I have learned rule No. 1 for a happy marriage: Keep one eye shut when evaluating each other. As for his truck, it's best I keep both eyes shut.

But last month I saw Dan's truck in a new light. I'd been cruising smoothly down a drizzly highway in my own reliable vehicle, 35 miles from home, my doors securely latched, when my unerring gauges blinked to inform me that despite a full fuel tank, my car's engine had ceased all function. I coasted to a stop on the shoulder, made obligatory, futile cranks of the ignition, then used the car phone to call Dan.

I LIVE in Iowa, where car trouble is more inconvenient than terrifying. A friendly, middle-aged woman pulling a horse trailer stopped to offer help. I assured her my husband was on his way, then settled back to wait. And wait. Every few minutes I turned the key, but whatever needed to fire wasn't firing.

I told myself I was merely bored, not in danger, but my heart leapt in relief at the sight of Dan's familiar, corroded pickup cresting the hill. My rusty knight had arrived, with a chain to pull me home.

My mud-spattered husband linked my bumper to his, working with a farmer's complete disregard for mess and discomfort that at once awes and disgusts me.

He walked to my window to instruct me in piloting the towed car, explaining that I would have no power brakes or steering.

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"Don't ram into me," he advised, then proceeded to rattle off directions for our back-roads route.

"You've lost me," I sighed, and we looked at each other, perplexed.

"How 'bout if l just follow you?" I offered. Dan flashed an exasperated smile, eyes blue as his chambray shirt, and slapped the hood of my car - an agrarian affirmation of affection.

My job at the wheel of the disabled car was to keep the chain between our vehicles taut. I had no choice but to focus on the dependable man and machine in front of me as we inched our way home.

Maybe it was the rain making it shine, but never has a beat-up farm truck looked so good. Its driver - my knight in rusted armor - looked fine. And I had both eyes open.

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