offhand shots

When Dad challenged the car salesman to a fight, my chances of getting the Bronco jumped. We had gone to Omaha to look at a white Ford Elite Dad had seen in an Omaha World-Herald ad.

He worked a deal and put down a deposit but said we wanted to look around. At the next dealership, we saw the Bronco. I had daydreamed of a Jeep to get me in and out of every fishing nook and hunting cranny, but my safety-minded mother vetoed it, saying, “They look like they could tip over.”

But, oh, this Bronco, 1974, bronze body with white top, which the salesman said could easily be removed. Heck, take out a few bolts and the doors come off too. After the test drive, I was sold. But Dad wasn’t. He had been a car guy back in the day; his pride and joy was a yellow 1949 Mercury convertible, which according to his lifelong friend Gene Moreland, helped him win the heart of the pretty nurse who became my mother.

Photos of Dad, Mom, Gene, and Lee in the Merc show them smiling like carefree young adults back when, well, they were carefree young adults. Dad wasn’t sure about the reliability of the Bronco, and my dream of off-road adventure faded as we returned to the Ford lot. Then the salesman extended Dad’s check to him and said, “Sorry, we sold the Elite.” “You what?” Dad said, coming out of his chair. “You can’t sell that car. I had a deposit on it.”

The salesman jerked back, sputtering, “But we didn’t have a sales agreement,” or some such jibber-jabber as Dad lit into him and, ultimately, offered to settle it outside. “Now, you don’t want me to call the police,” the salesman stammered. “I’ll talk to the manager.” He was up and out the door.

Dad was not a big guy, but he had the confidence and courage of a B-29 Liberator pilot backed by the solid build of a hardworking farmer. Steaming, Dad watched the guy disappear into a glassed-in office. I waited, then said, “Dad, I’d rather have the Bronco anyway.” He turned, smiled, and said, “I know. But let’s see what this jackass comes back with. We might end up with a heck of a deal on a car.”

The jackass didn’t come back with much, just an excuse about being sorry, the car was gone, but we could look at others on the lot. Dad cut him short, snatched his check, and said, “Joe, let’s get out of here.” Then he stormed out. I glanced at the salesman, now regaining color, then did my best impression of Dad storming out.

Outside, Dad stopped, threw a disgusted look over his shoulder, and said, “Well, that didn’t work. Let’s go get the Bronco.” Yes!

Options? Yes, well, an AM/FM radio. I added a gun rack, CB, and a hand-me-down 8-track player. Hunting, fishing, camping, mud, snow, sand, there was nowhere I couldn’t go. So I went. Senior year in high school, then college across the state racked up the miles. After graduation, back to the farm.

Then I met the Mysterious Redhead; she lived in Omaha. The Bronco held up, but driving it across the state was getting riskier by the mile. I bought a Ford Courier but kept the Bronco. Drove it less and less. There’s a happy ending. My son Sam and I pushed the Bronco out of the dusty garage, hosed it off inside and out, evicting mice that had made themselves comfortable. In high-school shop class, Sam worked on it, eventually firing it up, kicking a spray of mouse poop out the exhaust pipe until Mr. Portenier shouted for him to shut the stinking thing off. Apparently, cooked mouse poop is not an agreeable smell.Now it sits outside a mechanic’s shop, awaiting a new lease on life. It just dawned on me. I should’ve thanked that jackass car salesman.