Each year that I traveled abroad, without fail, I would bring back the obligatory souvenir for my friends and myself. Usually something mass produced, maybe something original and handmade once in a while. Something that would probably be forgotten or thrown away eventually. Everyone has a souvenir from someplace.
Upon my arrival into Middlemarch, after a week of being in New Zealand, I saw an old truck sitting along the side of a field. A stark contrast to the earthy tones that surrounded it, it screamed out, “Welcome!” It was an antique with various patinas of color covering the surface. It had personality and exuded a feeling of being “retired” after years of hard work. Sitting there alone, I felt a sense of sadness, as if it would like to be helpful again. At the time, I had no idea the truck actually belonged to the family I would be staying with for the next three months. The house wasn’t far from the truck and everyday, we would pass by it to do work on the farm. I had looked forward to taking my camera and capturing every facet of this great automobile.
The day finally came when I was able to take some time off and walk down to it. It was beautiful and sunny with a bold blue sky overhead. The truck was a Bedford, a name I’d never heard of before. “Stewart’s Transport Ltd” was written on the side. It was from Dunedin, where we went to collect our groceries each week, over an hour away. The building still remains where Stewart’s Transport was housed and was built in 1872. It was sold to Stewart’s in the 1960’s, having been previously known as the Otago Wool Stores. It has remained unoccupied since 1999.
Having been a classic car owner myself for 20 years, I feel a comradeship when I get around old vehicles. I’m curious about the similarities and love the simplicity of them. Back in the day when you really had to drive a car, instead of being driven by one. It seemed people tended to bond with their vehicles, as if they were part of the family. Although this was a work truck, I’m sure the driver took it home with him each night and maybe he, too, bonded with it over the years.
The birds had made a mess of the interior and peering under the hood, appeared that baby birds had called it their home at some point. The bed of the truck had long planks of wood, some of them curled from the weathering, most of them missing. Moss grew on them, as well as on the outside of the truck, adding to the multitudes of color and texture. If only all of its scrapes and dents could tell a story! This truck appeared to have seen it all. The fuel and water gauges inside read cold and empty…a testament to its current condition. I wanted something to remind me of my time on the farm and of this truck. When I saw the license plate, I knew that’s what my souvenir would be. I asked the owner if it was ok to take it and he said, “Good luck getting it off of there!”
The next time I went, I took some WD-40 and a screwdriver. Trying the screwdriver first, in the hopes it would give it up easily, was futile. I sprayed some lubricant on it and came back a couple of days later. Still rusted and not budging, I thought I had been defeated. The plate will stay on the truck, probably where it belonged anyway.
About a month later, to my disbelief, the owner walked in the house and handed me the license plate. My eyes lit up like it was Christmas and I asked how he got it off of there. Apparently, a saw did the trick. I looked up the age of the plate and it was issued around 1971. It was almost the same age as me. I had my souvenir…and it wasn’t a mass produced, plastic piece of junk. It will remind me of the thousands of sheep I helped herd, the baby calf that was pulled out of its mother forcefully, saving both from dying and the family that helped make these memories for me.