Over the years the routine didn’t change a whole lot. The kids, Josh, and David at the time, would stand with the queen and wave as I pulled out from in front of the house to head out on the open road for another several week trip. The hardest part of the whole career was taking the corner off the castle property onto the service road. It marked the beginning of another stint of maintaining relationships via laptop, and cellphone.
I never left in the middle of the night, or the early morning. This life-style can be extremely hard on kids, and in an effort to protect them we made a commitment to two rules. The first was to never leave home while the kids were sleeping, and the second was to never tell them I was on my way home until I was pulling in the drive way.
The first was important to us for instilling security and stability. We never wanted our kids to have to worry about whether Dad would still be home when they got up. So when we tucked them into bed at night, they knew, if Dad was there when they went to sleep, he’d be there when they got up. Often this meant that I would leave the house about 3 or 4 hours before bed time, the day before I actually had to leave with a load, and I’d spend the night in a nearby truck stop, local terminal, or rest area, depending on the direction I was heading for/with my load.
The second rule, never tell them I was on my way home, was important to us because it allowed us to instill trust. In this industry so many things screw up good plans. You could blow out a tire 30 minutes from home, sit three or four hours waiting for a service truck, and then be out of hours and not able to make the house. Had I told my kids I was heading that way, I’d have been setting them up to let them down.
Some people would argue it’s good for kids to experience disappointments and learn that things happen out of our control, and while I agree with that concept, I disagreed that this was the place to teach it. I was on the road two to four weeks at a time, when I was coming home, it was time to be home, and my kids were eager for it!
With that in mind, I’d toss my headset on and call home when I was about ten minutes from the house. I’d talk to my wife as I rolled closer, and as I was making the swing onto the service road near the house, where a blown tire or other mishap would mean the truck was making it home anyways, I’d let her go and she’d gather the kids and take them outside.
Josh was always so excited that Deb could hardly contain him as I rounded the corner. Off the service road, into the property is a right corner. There is a driveway off to the left after making the turn, and it was there the truck had to be backed into.
I’d swing wide, and stop near the waiting family. With the whole road blocked, I’d swing my door open and my eager two to three year old would climb up into the cab and onto my lap. Then we’d pull up and set the truck up to back in.
Often we’d have to wait until traffic came by. The road is a dead-end into the community, and the only traffic in or out were people who lived within, or guests. Living here most of my life, we knew just about anyone coming through. The road was narrow, barely room for two trucks side by side, with two big trees, one on either side of the street, placed in such a way that it added to the difficulty of the back.
Once the traffic would clear, I’d reach up and hit the four-ways, slip the truck into reverse and say, “Ready?”
“Yes!” He’d grab hold of the steering wheel.
“Okay, here we go.” I’d ease the clutch out and the truck would start backward up the hill. “Turn right a little… Good, good… Okay back to the left, just a little bit. Okay wait for the trailer to push in there.. Hold it right there.”
Sitting on my lap trying not to slide down as he maneuvered that wheel, and grinning from ear to ear he’d turn the way he was told, when he was told.
“Okay, follow the trailer, don’t let it turn any sharper, or any less, just follow the trailer back in.”
And he’d look out the drivers window trying to make little adjustments as we crept backwards.
“Not quite, a little more left… There ya go… Okay now straighten it out, crank it left.”
He’d worked hard to crank that wheel as I pushed in the clutch letting the truck slowly roll.
We’d stop. “Okay, here is the one pull up we get, you ready?”
“Yeah.” Nothing but smile.
I’d point and say, “you need to aim for that right there. That rock, you see the rock?”
I’d slip the truck in first and we’d slowly creep forward as he straightened out. and then I’d give him directions as we backed up along the curb, putting the truck only inches from the curb on the right side as he followed my lead.
There were a couple times over the years that I had ran into some newer drivers, struggling at some dock, and I’d get out to help. They’d tell me they are having a hell of time and I’d just say, “We’ll get you in there. Follow my directions, I could get my two year old to back this in, but the key is he listens.”
It would earn me a dirty look, but we’d swap hand singles, and from outside the truck I’d help the driver put that thing on the dock he had been fighting with. After words, I’d get the chance to share the story of my little guy, eagerly backing in when I got home.