Monday, December 10, 2007

From One Pickup Truck Driver to Another

It is with great sadness that I have to write these words about my recollections of my grandfather and the time we spent together over the years, but even more disheartening, given the timing, that I can’t be there in person to convey them. I trust that my brother can deliver our deepest sympathies to Terry, Jim, Paul, my mother, our family and friends on this day, as we honor the life of Robert “Bob” Comstock, my grandfather.

Think back almost thirty years ago, before PlayStation 3, XBox, iPhones, YouTube and the internet when all that a teenager could dream about was getting his driver’s license. During that time, my immediate problem was that every able-bodied driving instructor in my family was too busy. There was no one available, or willing to volunteer, to teach an anxious teenager the finer points of driving a 4-ton pickup truck with a 2-ton lift gate on the back. No one, that is, except my grandfather.

It was Bob’s responsibility to drive the truck, nicknamed “big blue”, around the neighborhoods taking care of the rentals, which was always a full time job (and still is). It was some of my fondest memories being there next to him. During those summer months, I had two choices; one, either hang out in the front of the office with Doris (and if you knew my grandmother you’re probably waiting to hear the second option), or two, jump in “big blue” for a “roadie” with Bob around “the Park”, eagerly waiting for my opportunity to get behind the wheel.

For me (and many of you), the choice was simple. And without fail, every time we went out on “a call”, I got my chance to hone my driving skills, while Grandpa sat patiently, calmly next to me. Don’t get me wrong, we had work to do and Bob made sure that I earned “my keep”. There were numerous refrigerators, stoves, or old furniture that needed hauling to the dump, but those were minor details to a 14 year old Jeff Gordon in training.

We’d spend an hour or so loading the truck (Grandpa would always do the heavy lifting), then he’d throw me the keys and tell me to get behind the wheel. With “big blue loaded to the hilt” with our responsibilities, Bob would coach me out of the driveway, around the block and down 66th Street to the dump, making sure that I didn’t take out a mailbox or parked car along the way. He used to love seeing the expression on the guys’ faces when I’d pull into dump with another load. Bob would wave to the guys showing his approval, and I’m sure a little satisfaction that we made it there in one piece, again and again. Then, he’d make it a point to drive us back down Park Blvd himself, slowing in front of the office, so no one would suspect a thing, including Doris.

During those drives in the truck, we would talk mostly about baseball and his beloved Cubs. After college, I remember getting my share of grief for signing with the Yankees. But, I know that he was just as proud and eager to hear stories of my time in the minors, as I was to hear his stories of the late night dances with the ladies, bad knees and all.

Last week after I received word that his health had taken a turn for the worse, I called Bob from my pickup truck. Knowing his condition from my mother’s report, I anticipated a brief, unresponsive conversation, but was surprised to hear the cheerful, appreciative sound of his voice. It took me back to those times in “big blue” and made me appreciate him even more. I will miss him dearly, and regret that I am not there to honor his life, with our family, in person.

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