Pulling Out the Stops In an Orange Pickup
I didn't want to sell the pickup. It had been Guy's truck. Retired on a disability pension from the army, Guy returned to Whitney with the migratory birds when Oregon's hard winter loosed its grip on the Blue Mountains. He parked across the gravel road from our house, unloaded his gear, and stayed in the small cabin until enough snow on the mountain melted that he could get up to Greenhorn.
Then he loaded up his belongings again, drove up the mountain, pitched his tent, and stayed the summer. But as fall came round he would say, "When the geese go south, I go south," and he'd head for warmer winters in southern Oregon.
Guy had moved with the seasons for 20 years and was well into his 70s when we moved onto the ranch.
He needed help the last several years he came to Whitney. I cut his firewood; he loaded it into his orange pickup and unloaded it at his cabin. But one year, he wasn't able to get the wood into the truck, so I loaded it for him.
We drove back to his cabin, and Guy said, "I can unload it. Thanks for your help," and offered me $5.
I thought about it. He might have been in better financial shape than I was, but I decided that was irrelevant. He needed help, and I could help him. Besides, I liked doing it. "Put the money back in your wallet, Guy," I said.
I helped him get water in five-gallon containers. Later his heater burned through, and I told him, "I have to go to town. I'll find you one." I found a heater he could afford, brought it back, and set it up.
He never asked for help. He just said, "I've got to go cut me some wood. I'll be out by tomorrow."
"I'll go with you," I offered. I cut dead wood, loaded and unloaded it, and split the biggest pieces for him.
Guy's driver's license expired when he was in his 80s. "I'm going to have to stop rambling and live with my sister in town when this season is over," he said and asked me, "You want to buy my pickup?"
I needed a truck, but figured I couldn't afford it. I asked him how much he wanted, and he said, "$450, or $300 if I take the winch off."
"Guy, that pickup's worth $1,000, even if it needs some work."
"If I sell it to anyone else, I'll get $1,000 for it. If you want it, it's $450, or $300 if I take the winch off."
"If you're sure you want to sell it for that, I'll get the money rounded up by tomorrow."
"If I wasn't sure, I never would have mentioned it."
He'd never say it, but the low price was from gratitude. I deeply appreciated him putting the much-needed pickup within my reach, but I thought he wouldn't want me to say too much about it, so I got the money and thanked him.
"You're entirely welcome," he said. And we helped him enjoy his last spring in Whitney Valley.
I enjoyed the winch on the front of the pickup. I cut a small notch in the frame every time I pulled out someone's car that was stuck. By the time I decided I didn't care about numbers and quit cutting notches, I had 18.
One time I saw a van stuck in a mudhole down a side road. The woman pushed, the man sat behind the wheel, and three children gathered off the road on dry ground. I didn't ask why they had decided to tackle it that way; I just got into position, fed out cable, hooked up, and pulled them out.
Winter was my busiest season. If people offered money, I usually said, "I don't want it. I like to think people help each other. If you feel you owe, help somebody who needs help."
A man in a new car, which had veered into the ditch because he had relied too heavily on expensive tires on an icy road, said, "I'll never have time to help anyone out of the ditch. I want to settle the debt now," and he gave me money.
A woman I helped responded similarly. "My husband is not well. Without your help, we might have been in serious trouble," she said. "Money isn't the best expression of gratitude, but it's the only way I have right now. A tow truck would have cost us much more than this. Please accept it." I did, with thanks.
Not long after that, my daughters and I made up a story that ended with a group of people whose vehicle had been pulled out of the ditch. They stood in the road, asking, "Who was that bundled-up man in the orange pickup?"
"That was no bundled-up man," said one. "That was the orange stranger." The fading rumble of his V8 could be heard in the distance, along with his call, "Hi O Orangy, away."
We enjoyed that story and the truck, but as our daughters grew, the pickup no longer comfortably contained the four of us. We also moved to a place where we weren't the only helpers within an hour or more. And so we bought a car.
We couldn't afford to keep a rarely used pickup. But we'll always remember Guy. We understand the meaning of helping people out of tight spots. We let go of the pickup and held on to the memories and the meaning.