The 1931 Ford Model A was a heavy-duty truck. My dad's had the hard top while most of them had a canvas top. Our truck was already ancient in 1955, at the ripe age of 24 years old. I, myself, as of that same year, was the ripe old age of 4 years old.
I remember the truck had a short side pickup box, and came equipped with wooden side boards that enhanced the carrying capacity of the box, extended it up about another foot.
My sister Elaine remembers it as a Studebaker. Sadly, she is wrong, which I have handily proven because I have the benefit of Google. Many long years may have passed since I was four years old, but as I am fond of pointing out to her, I'm not yet as old as her; she's four years older than me, and I fear this may have caused her aging memory to flag. Just kidding, sis! But I'm still right. I remember you could only unlock the old truck on the passenger side, another fact independently confirmed by a cursory Googling. Henry Ford thought it safer to open on the curbside and slide over to drive it rather than fumble with a key on the traffic side.
So I remember the old Model A quite well despite my advanced age, thank you. In particular, I remember the small flock of domestic geese that had taken a shine to the old truck, and made their home underneath it. Now, everyone knows that geese are pretty when they take majestic flights in formation. And some people know they're also awful pretty sitting on a dinner table, although that's less common in modern America than it was in Victorian England, when Dickens had his Scrooge ask the neighborhood urchin to go get the goose, to which he replied, "what, the one as big as me?"
But most people also know that they're ill-tempered reprobates on the ground, as mean as old drunks but faster, smarter, and more ruthless.
When he needed the old truck for some chore, even my dad approached the gaggle of hissing, honking, geese with something approaching trepidation. The old gander cared little for Dad's patriarchal authority, and attacked him as freely as it did any who dared go near it. The truck belonged to the flock of geese, and the old gander was going to see that everyone knew it. Dad did his best to ignore the flock of geese, refusing to let on to the mob of demonic birdies that he feared them. Even so, when he returned the truck he always brought it back to the very same spot, which was more kindness than they deserved. I wonder if he had begun to suspect that if he moved their favorite truck to a different spot they might just take over the house, or the whole ranch, or maybe even the city of Lewistown, and therefore should be dealt with diplomatically and with the ultimate goal of detente. If they appreciated the gesture, they didn't let it show, invariably honking and hissing at him each and every time he exited the truck until he was plumb out of sight, cursing under his breath.
I would think that some of you have suffered goose attacks somewhere in your childhood, on your Grandpa's or Uncle's farm. Having the whole flock advance on you with hissing, and honking, threatening to peck the daylights out of you is a memory burned into the grey matter of most Montanans at some point or another.
It still happens to me on a regular basis since my brother-in-law has a flock of the worthless critters, and I have to drive through his acreage to get to mine, which still feels like having to run their gauntlet.Of course, now I am driving my three-quarter-ton Ram 4x4 truck, and not a tricycle. As I drive, I see them out the windshield and clench my fists at them. I call them horrible names, and wish terrible things on their mothers. They regard the truck as no more threatening than my tricycle was then, and act like they are going to tear it apart stem to stern. But I know better. God hasn't yet created the goose that can breach a Dodge Ram, but when He does, woe to humanity.
When I was four, I had a dog named Rip, who would have nothing to do with the old Model A truck. Though he took a profound pleasure on pissing all over hill and dale, marking the entire place as safely within the confines of his territory, he never even attempted to mark the tires. Even with Rip's delusional sense of the ranch being his own pee-drenched province, he seemed to admit that a circle about a hundred feet in diameter with the truck at its center was the sole domain of geese.
Rip was a friendly Blue Heeler that, when not on duty to help dad with the cows, saw it as part of his duty to watch me and my tricycle carefully. He was never far away from me. He showed no quarter to cow, bull, badger, coon, nor cat. He would "rip snort," as my dad often said, which is how he earned his name. Occasionally, knowing he could outrun a goose, he would sneak to just within the circle around the Model A. But he never dawdled long.
At four, I wasn't as smart as Rip. Like him, I too would get close enough to stir up the old fellow from time to time. I took a perverse and borderline narcotic pleasure in the rush of adrenaline I got from him attacking me as I sped away on my tricycle. When he considered that I was far enough away, he would quit pursuit and stand there staring and sibilating evilly until I was a sufficient distance out. Then he would beat back to the shade of the old truck, and with a few more good honks, finally settle down.
Even as short as I was at four years old, I was too tall to see completely under the truck and spot him. He had to, from time to time, come out, and go over to the grain bin, where my dad would spill a little barley for the flock.
One day hunger overcame his need to guard the truck. I happened at that moment to be launching an all-out offensive campaign to get near his Model A, peddling my speedy tricycle as swiftly as my chubby little legs could carry me. Well here he came on his rampage, only not from under the truck, as I expected, but from my side. Suddenly, like I was pinned between the old gander and his truck, like something that would have happened to Seargent Rock.
At that time, we were precisely the same height, him and me, but to me he looked about the size of a gorilla. He was outraged, beak open wide, with red eyes fixed on me.
I knew my whole life depended on what I did next, so I carefully made my move, bending one chubby leg forward towards the pedal of the tricycle, trying to get underway, therein making my escape.
Peck, right between the eyes, to the bridge of the nose. Ouch, that hurt! Then again, and again. Hot tears welling up, I climbed off the trike, arms windmilling frantically, I ran until I was far enough away from the truck that the gander reckoned he'd taught me a lesson.
With great, wracking sobs, I ran into the house, knowing the only possible salve for the vicious assault I had endured would be motherly comfort. It was no good going to Dad, who happened to be in the house for a cup of afternoon coffee and who had the opposite reaction, bursting out laughing. Finally, when he was able to catch his breath, he took the opportunity to teach me a lesson, saying, "how many times have I told you that that truck is the gander's truck, and to stay away from it?"
I was hurt, and worse, my feelings were hurt. I thought that Dad should have strapped himself up with irons, stomped right up to that truck, and unleashed a barrage of lead right into that son of a bitch. Then, after picking the hundred or so rounds out of its hateful body, Mom could have prepared a stately dinner of stuffed goose for the evening. Everyone knows that the best way to defeat your enemy is to eat them.
Instead he added insult to injury. I did get a black eye from the goose, too. And my Uncle Dale, no more sympathetic than Dad was, gave me a full raft of trouble over it for years. Any time I had a black eye from there on out, he'd holler, "How'd ya get the shiner, son? Get pecked by a Goose?" Har har, Uncle Dale.
Words cannot describe my pleasure when, a few years later, a fox confronted that goose and finally sent him to hell. I only wish I'd done it.
Gary Shelton was born in Lewistown in 1951 and has been a rancher, a railroader, a biker, a teacher, a hippie, and a cowboy. Now he's trying his hand at writing in the earnest hope that he'll make enough at it to make a downpayment on an RV. Hell, scratch that. Enough to buy the whole RV. He can be reached at [email protected] for complaints, criticisms, and recriminations. Compliments can be sent to the same place, but we request you don't send them - it'll make his head big.