A word from Curt
My summer project is a small book entitled The Pineywoods Manifesto. It’s for my four grandsons and is my attempt to pass on the qualities and values of my home area of western Louisiana.
You can view the cover of all thirteen of our titles at our Creekbank Book Table.
The Pineywoods Manifesto: You are not defined by what you drive
“The most important thing about you is not the things you achieve; it is the person you become.”
The loaded flatbed truck crosses Hwy 28 as I wait at the light. It is hauling unusual cargo: three stacks of smashed car bodies. I wish I’d had time to count the number of pancaked vehicles strapped to the bed.
One thought always hits me when I see a load like this: there was a day in the distant past when someone proudly drove each of these cars or trucks off a sales lot.
They were shiny with that new car smell. The tires gleamed black. The radio played loud and clear, and I’m sure the owner (if they could forget the 60-month note they’d just signed) held their head a little higher as they came to their first red light.
But the crossing stack of pancakes reminded me of a truism: No matter how new, expensive, big, or tall— it’s eventually leaving this earth on the back of a flatbed truck crushed for scrap metal.
That brings me to this point: a Pineywoods Man doesn’t define his value by the vehicle he drives.
Nor does he judge or define others by what they drive.
A vehicle is simply four wheels to get us where we need to go.
It isn’t meant to be a status of who we are or our contribution to the human race.
If I have to derive my self-image or value from the size or newness of my vehicle, I have an out-of-whack sense of priorities and may be lacking in some part of my self-worth.
Most men where I come from drive a truck. Even though I live in the city of Alexandria, I drive a truck. There’s always a need for a truck: hauling a dog or lawnmower, a stack of lumber from Home Depot or backpack sprayer full of Roundup.
My truck isn’t fancy— a 2011 Silver Dodge Dakota. It’s amazing that every third truck in Louisiana is some shade of silver. Often, I’ve wandered around Academy’s parking lot searching for which silver pickup I’d parked fifteen minutes ago.
I bought this used Dakota when we came back from Africa. Including the 1964 Chevy pickup my dad gave me in college, I’ve now owned five trucks in my nearly fifty years of driving.
I’m a firm believer in buying a good vehicle, then driving the wheels off it. The best car or truck to drive is the one you, not the bank or mortgage company, own.
I don’t have to have a new truck to prove who I am. My manhood isn’t tied up in how high off the ground my truck is or how wide the mud grips are.
Now, let me be clear. Many Pineywoods Men need just such a truck to make their living. We call it “working in the woods” and a powerful and dependable 4-wheel drive truck is essential to their work.
However, I’ve known men who didn’t feel fulfilled if they didn’t have a shiny new truck or jeep. They’d often buy a new one every two years or so. I’m always tempted to walk behind that truck and see how large of a monthly note they’re dragging.
I’ve known other men who drove well-broken in trucks that probably were worth seven figures.
Don’t judge a man or woman by what they drive.
I feel I must make a confession: our other vehicle is a Cadillac. When people in my hometown of Dry Creek see me behind the wheel, they invariably scoff. “I never thought I’d see the day Curt Iles drove a Caddy.”
Neither did I. DeDe’s father, Herbert Terry, died while we were in Africa. Mr. Herbert loved a big car with lots of leg room and as he said, “some get up and go.” He wanted DeDe to have it when we returned from overseas, so we inherited his 2008 Caddy. I nicknamed it “The Welfare Cadillac” from a novelty song of the 1960’s.
It’s a fine driving machine and seems to float down I-49 with its 75 mph speed limit. Besides, there’s no other brand name that is used as a verb as in, “I was cadillacing along when the Woodworth officer put his blue lights on.”
A Cadillac, or any large car, is coveted in my part of Alexandria. DeDe drives it most of the time and is often asked what she’d sell it for. She tells of parking at WalMart, and as she entered the store, a man about our age said, “I saw you get out of that Cadillac. Where’d you get it?”
“My daddy gave it to me.”
The man smiled. “Now, that’s what I’m talking about.”
It’s got 100,000 miles, and I suspect the Caddy has that many more still under its hood. I don’t plan for it to go to the car pancake factory on my watch. I told DeDe we’re going to go down on the corner of Bolton and Jackson and auction it off for a tidy profit.
I bet we’ll get enough to buy one of those high clearance big-wheeled pickup trucks or that jeep I’ve always coveted. Even then, we won’t be defined by what we drive.
So, be careful how you judge others.
Don’t judge them by their ride.
Or where they live.
Or who their folks were.
This is America and a person willing to work hard can rise to any level.
Don’t judge a man by the type of work he does.
There is dignity in any work done well. I’ve watched concrete finishers who were true artists and restroom attendants who took as much pride in cleanliness as they would in their own home.
All work is worth doing well.
For sure, don’t judge someone by the color of their skin or nation of origin.
It’s a dinosaur that has no place in our new Pineywoods.
And never, no never, look across the lane and judge a person by the vehicle they’re driving.
It doesn’t define who they really are.
Smile and wave. It’ll show them you’re not defined by what you’re driving.
You’re defined by that smile, wave, and the solid character that sits behind the wheel.
If you liked this story, you’ll enjoy The Wayfaring Stranger.
Download a free e-book of the first of the Westport Series books, The Wayfaring Stranger, here.