Charlie’s Last Stand pt.3

The months rolled by and turned into years. The Hoffman House provided a consistent sanctuary that was conducive to harmony and peaceful growth.  Birthday parties came and went. Elise took her first steps, and holiday gatherings were always a smash! Aiden was thriving relatively speaking, and Renee had finished with undergraduate studies! In the process Renee earned an opportunity to attend Graduate School at NMHU! This meant the family would once again be forced to willingly uproot. Their lease was up in June, so they started looking for suitable housing up north.  If Zane had his way, they would live on Hoffman Street forever. Time marches on however and attending Grad-School was a once in a lifetime opportunity! Thankfully, the Section-Eight subsidies were transferable, and Renee began searching for a potential landlord who would be willing to accept the government vouchers. It was 123 miles from the Hoffman House to NMHU, and the voyage would lead through some scenic New Mexico back-country. Historically speaking, moving wasn’t that much of a chore because they could always count on Charlie to lend support. Without fail, Charlie would enthusiastically offer up his equipment, knowing that his contributions were greatly appreciated.

Charlie was proud of Zane’s newly acquired F-250, even though it was ‘all beat to Hell.’ The windshield was severely damaged, and the farm truck had seen better days. The cracks in the glass were of no consequence to Zane because The Truck was still drivable. Unlike his father’s Chevrolet, the Ford came factory equipped with commercial grade brakes. The industrial suspension was equally as rugged. The Truck was engineered to safely transport excessive loads, and it came equipped with a professionally installed Class-Five receiver hitch which was much safer than what Dad’s pick-up had to offer. Charlie, who historically loathed Ford products, was forced to admit his son had picked up a bargain!

Despite its rough appearance, the Ford was mechanically sound in every way. It set the family back $600, and it was worth every penny! Moving to Las Vegas would surely put the old truck through its paces, and Zane wanted to make his father Proud one last time! He intended on maximizing the carrying capacity, and in true Shimek fashion he would push the truck beyond its conceived limits! In order to accommodate this, he would need to fabricate some side boards at the very least. The Truck was indeed a bargain, and the price point fell nicely within the family’s budget. Because of this, Zane felt it prudent to allocate the remaining funds towards the acquisition of a nice set of steel cargo racks! Zane and Renee had access to a modest amount of disposable income, so they agreed to invest in Charlie’s legacy! The family would spare no expense! Under normal circumstances, they would be thrilled at the prospect of shopping for such a sacred acquisition.  Zane and Renee were infamous bargain hunters and were known to scour the Sunday paper for good deals.

Sadly however, the typical excitement preceding such a venture was dampened by a somber shadowy specter. Charlie offered his trailer, but he couldn’t lend his labor. The incredible stamina that made up Charlie’s youthful persona was rapidly dwindling. The pain and lethargy made it so Charlie stayed inside most days. His rugged and leathery sun-burnt face was turning grey and gaunt. The potency of the prescribed painkillers had been systematically ratcheted up in order to keep pace with the suffering. It had been nearly four months since his doctor deemed the cancer ‘inoperable.’ Charlie had lost over sixty pounds by now, and Zane was in complete Denial.  In a last-bid attempt to earn Dad’s love, he went on a personal crusade to find racks worthy of the King of Gypsies!

In attempt to procure the racks, Zane scoured ads on Craigslist. For hours on end he would window shop and compare. Much to his chagrin, he couldn’t find any racks that met up to his expectations. The majority were of the standard ladder rack configuration, and that wouldn’t do! Zane envisioned racks that would extend well above the roof line because he wasn’t going to be hauling ladders, he was going to be moving furniture! Zane had the perfect truck racks pictured in his mind’s eye, but he couldn’t find a physical representation of them anywhere. After three days of internet searching, it dawned on him they would have to be made from scratch!  

Throughout the span of their marriage, Zane would half-heartedly mention, “a man is no kind of a Man, until he can weld together his own set of ladder racks!” This was his peculiar way of suggesting he would enjoy welding. Zane couldn’t perform the work himself, however the job could be easily farmed out. The more he thought about it the more he liked the idea!  The prospect of custom-made racks was overwhelming his body’s ability to think rationally! Zane envisioned racks that would be epic by any stretch of the imagination! He would instruct the builder to provide a massive structure that would extend over the cab, and all the way to the front bumper! Zane understood they must be at least four feet deep in order to accommodate a standard 4X8 sheet of chipboard which would act as sideboards, preventing loose items from tumbling onto the highway. In Zane’s mind it was imperative they be robust enough to accommodate a vast array of mattresses, sofas, and box springs. In preparation for some action, Zane penciled out sketches onto fresh sheets of crisp printer paper. Not being overly concerned with scale, he haphazardly scribed lines with correlating numerical dimensions. He planned on rising early the next morning so he could fully put his plans into effect!

It was just about dawn when Zane woke up the following day. The family would be sleeping until he left for morning classes, and he intended to use the quiet time wisely. To facilitate the project, he eagerly set about posting an ad on Craigslist. Zane fired up the desktop computer and clicked on the link. In the title field of the barter section he typed the words: “I will trade my cash for your welding skills!” He then hit the tab key which placed the cursor into the text box. He went on to explain how he would pay for the raw steel and have the stock delivered, with the caveat being they would be custom tailored to meet Zane’s expectations.

He posted the advertisement, and then he leaned back into a pillowy office chair. In dawn’s early light Zane extended his arms up above his head; he unknowingly began to wring his hands together in midair. He was thinking about his Dad. “How could he have colon cancer,” Zane wondered? Knowing everyone was asleep, he repeated the question out loud. “How could he have cancer?”

For a brief moment, Zane’s mind journeyed back to his youth where a fond memory beckoned from the recesses of his deep subconscious. It was a time when Charlie and his boy were joyfully building sideboards for a randomly acquired pick-up. Zane remembered how Charlie gathered up six uniform pine slats In preparation. They measured half-an-inch thick, and six-inches wide. The timbers were eight feet long and would to be trimmed to meet Charlie’s needs. In his vision, it would only take three slats to make up one sideboard.  Utilizing three-foot long vertical risers, he intended on fastening the wooden slats horizontally, and parallel to the bed of the pick-up. He would secure them in such a way as to allow a narrow gap between the parallel boards. To implement the project, the father and son team scavenged for various assorted nails, hammers, and useful lumber. Charlie poked around, inside of the poorly lit pole barn, where the hardware was kept. In the meantime his boy rummaged through the wood pile searching for scraps. At a leisurely pace they gathered up their supplies and went about the mental work of fabrication. In gratitude for such a ‘pretty day,’ Charlie offered the project a little extra zip! To give the racks a unique flair, he staggered the boards by varying their lengths, meaning the longest slats would be on the bottom, while the second tier of slats would be cut progressively shorter. The upper most slats would be the shortest. Throughout the construction, Zane tried to stay out of Dad’s way, while attempting to be helpful in the process. In a playful display of showmanship, Charlie scribed out a penciled arc on the blunt end of one of the slats. He accomplished this utilizing a thumbtack and some twine. Charlie said, “Do you see what I just did there Son?  I used the string to scribe out an arc! I want you to do the same thing with the rest of the boards while I cut!” Zane understood his father was ‘going the extra mile.’ Utilizing an antique jigsaw, Charlie cut the material along the scribed lines which transformed the blunt ends of the timbers into soothing curved semi-circles. The smell of freshly minted sawdust permeated the workspace as Zane took note of his father’s ingenuity. With the blunt ends trimmed away the net result yielded a soothing terraced waterfall effect. After the work was completed, the team stood back and admired the sideboards from a distance. “Do you see how you can make something nice from out of nothing,” Charlie asked? Zane nodded in agreement and graciously added, “They look real nice, Dad!”

“That was during my freshman year in high school,” Zane lamented as the memory quickly faded into black. By now his attention slowly returned to the task at hand. He was still sitting at the computer, and he was still unconsciously wringing his hands in the air. Although he was safe at home, he internally balked as tears welled up into his aching eyes. The situation was unfathomable, and he felt compelled to stifle the unruly emotions. Despite his best efforts, uncontrollable sobbing commenced, and Zane instinctively cradled his head with two open palms. Nurturing sunshine streamed its way through the sliding window as tears rolled down his face. Time stood still for a while as he grappled with the anguish. “Get ahold of yourself for shit’s sake,” his cognitive mind suddenly commanded! He reminded himself that class would commence promptly at 7:30, so he put on a stoic face. He regained his composure and struggled to collect his belongings. He walked out towards the shed and closed the glass patio door behind him. He settled in under the weight of his backpack and peddled his bicycle out past the driveway and into the new morning sun.

…to be continued

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