It must have been dawn when I stepped onto the bread truck with Dad. I don’t remember that part. I don’t remember a lot of things from the beginning to the end, and that day was no different.
Except that it WAS different.
I was getting to go with my dad for an entire day; all by myself, nobody but Dad – my dad who was rarely home during my awake hours. It was nice that he had a normal job this summer.
When you have a dad who’s a teacher and an all-seasons-coach, you just don’t see much of him, unless you’re at one of his games. But, then you’re just an audience, seeing him from afar.
Today was different. Today I was sitting on the crate next to his seat. Just me and my dad.
It didn’t take long for the heat to invade on a summer morning in the valley, so it was good that Dad was delivering in Jerome that day.
Fresh bread smells filled the truck as we drove up and up and into Jerome. It was always fun going to Jerome, up past Mom’s and Dad’s old high school on the steep ridge, and around past the houses that seemed to hang in midair off the side of the mountain.
Sitting on the crate put me down where I could watch the heat waves rising off the pavement and breaking like surf over the low doorway and into the truck.
Most of the day, that’s where I sat, waiting, watching, and staying out of the way, until we were moving again. The gray, pebbly pavement began creeping past the doorway, becoming a sheet of pewter as we sped up. A warm breeze condensed the tiny beads of perspiration that had collected during our stop, and cooled us off as we traveled along.
It was hard to know where we were heading, because that open door drew my eyes like a magnet. Sunlight glinted off the metal framework, making it a showcase for the pictures reeling by like a filmstrip going sideways.
As our speed increased, the power of the magnet grew, and the blackness of the rubber flooring leading to the opening became a liquid abyss blending into the roadway outside, seeming to tug at me. But, with one touch of my hand on Dad’s knee, I was safe, and we were coming to another stop.
We pulled over right next to the sidewalk that ran by a little grocery. The hill was so slanted that it was hard to understand how a door could open off that sidewalk and lead into a room with a level floor.
We parked right outside the door, and you could almost feel the coolness of the store creeping out through the dark screen. The old wooden frame was smoothly shiny from all the visiting hands, and there was a dented, rusty, metal shield across the middle, advertising something in flaky paint.
As Dad let the screen door shut behind him, it made a sideways “Clack,” as if it wasn’t hitting all at the same time.
And then, there he was again telling me to come in.
I opened the door and felt the gentle pull of the long spring at the top. And the door clacked behind me. Oh! It was so cool and dim. The floor WAS level, but the soft wooden planks kind of swayed back through the store, down aisles neatly displaying things the people in Jerome needed.
Surprisingly, the grocery man wasn’t old like his surroundings. I’m sure Dad told me his name when he introduced us, but all I remember is that he asked me if I wanted a soda pop. “Really? Could I have one, Dad?”
Sure,” he answered. “Over in the cooler by the window.” Looking down inside, I saw sodas lined up like soldiers with hats of every color. I chose an orange one. The cap dropped down into the side of the cooler as I levered it off, and oh, how icy-cold that orange soda was.
The old wooden door clacked behind us as we left, and the heat rose off the sidewalk as we stepped back into the truck.
Traveling back down the mountain, the cooling breeze whisked tendrils of hair out of my braids and around my face, and the moisture of the soda pop bottle wet my hands so I could wipe it on my thighs to cool them off.
At home would be my brothers, and my mom getting dinner ready, but right now, I was looking down the road, sipping on a soda, and sitting on a crate next to my dad in the bread truck.
Chris Hanson is a native of Cottonwood. She grew up in Sierra Vista and now lives near near Elgin, Arizona. Her parents moved back to the Verde Valley in 1985 and her father, Rusty, still lives in Cottonwood.