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1999 Ford F-150 owned by Petrina Gentile's father. (Josie Trivieri)
1999 Ford F-150 owned by Petrina Gentile's father. (Josie Trivieri)

A Daughter’s Sorrow

How can I part with the truck Dad loved so much? Add to ...

It’s time to say goodbye to Dad’s 1999 F-150 pickup. My stomach turns; my heart breaks. Sure it’s an object, a material possession, but it’s a symbol of Dad – all that remains since he passed away three months ago.

The truck represented Dad. It was dependable and reliable – a pillar of strength, power, and might. With more than 350,000 kilometres on it, it was a workhorse, built Ford tough – just like Dad. It was still going strong – even in its later years, it never failed him, never broke down.

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Dad’s F-150 has stood parked stoically in the driveway since he last drove it on March 1, 2006 – the day his life took a turn for the worse. He drove it to the farm, but never returned in it. Instead, he was airlifted to the Ross Tilley Burn Centre at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre with third- and fourth-degree burns covering 30 per cent of his body from a grass fire gone horribly wrong. But he was a fighter: despite 13 surgeries and more than five months in hospital, he survived – the only person older than 80 at Sunnybrook to survive burns of that scope and magnitude. In the end, it wasn’t the burn wounds that claimed his life at 87 – it was an abdominal aneurysm that took him in the blink of an eye – six years and six months later.

Driving meant the world to Dad. It was part of his identity, the core of his essence and his manliness – the construction worker, farmer, hunter, explorer, loving husband who chauffeured his wife everywhere, and the caring dad who moved his four kids to and from university and grad school – 10 years alone spent moving my sister and me every four months as part of the University of Waterloo’s co-op program. And that’s when he was in his 60s.

But Dad only drove once after his horrific accident. I forced him to. I stopped on a quiet country road and told him to drive my car. At first, he refused – cursing me in Italian, but he slowly came around when he realized I wasn’t bluffing. He got into the driver’s seat, fired up the engine, made the sign of the cross, and hit the throttle hard. Within seconds, tears were streaming down his face and mine. We drove around laughing and talking for nearly an hour. Every so often, I’d remind him to slow down as the speedometer crept to 80 km/h. But he couldn’t contain his excitement.

Besides his family – his wife of nearly 62 years, four kids, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren – Dad’s pride and joy were his trucks: most of them F-150s.

Despite the hundreds of press cars I’ve driven over the years, Dad always preferred his good old reliable truck to any of these fancy new cars. In hindsight, I wish I had driven the truck more often. Dad loved it. He never wanted to sell it – he couldn’t bear parting with it despite the fact it was rarely driven.

We kept it insured after his accident – a small price to pay for a man’s happiness. And Dad kept going for his driver’s licence, too. He passed the test every two years after turning 80, a mandatory requirement in Ontario.

His pride and joy after getting his licence at 86 is still fresh in my mind. Sharp as a tack, I could hear him responding correctly in broken English to the instructor’s question at the group session: “What happens if the lights aren’t working at a four-way intersection?” After passing the test, he emerged, grinning like a 16-year-old getting his licence for the first time.

Getting rid of Dad’s truck is like removing a part of him. It’s strange – it’s like saying goodbye to him all over again.

If it were up to me and I had money to burn, I’d fix it up to the nines, give it a shiny new coat of paint, and keep it in the driveway forever as a tribute to Dad. It’s not logical, I know. But sorrow defies logic.

In the end, we sold it. Mom and I took it for one last ride before its new owner arrived. We drove to the farm for our farewell route – just like the hearse carrying dad’s coffin drove by his home one last time before heading to his final resting place. Parked in the driveway, we burst into tears. All those moments on the farm, in his trucks, lost in time, just like tears in the rain.

All that remains are memories – memories of an incredible man, mio campione, which means my hero in Italian.

I will always remember Dad’s courage and strength in the face of adversity, his sparkling eyes, proud walk, kind heart, infectious laugh, beaming smile, and gentle demeanour. I will cherish our times together driving around in his trucks, dancing the tarantella at Italian weddings, picking and packing fruit on the farm, festive holidays eating and drinking with our large, loud family, endless hours watching cowboy movies starring Clint Eastwood and John Wayne and, of course, all the roads we’ve travelled together, both in Canada and Italy.

I’ll keep his driver’s licence tucked away in my wallet, his personalized licence plates mounted on my wall, and his memories alive in my heart forever.

And every time I spot an old, white F-150 on the road, I’ll think of Dad – fight back tears as I remember an amazing father who filled my life with love, laughter, and happiness. It hurts saying goodbye to Dad and his F-150. Shakespeare’s Juliet was right. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

pgentile@globeandmail.com

Twitter: @PetrinaGentile

Follow on Twitter: @PetrinaGentile

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