Last Ride

By JIM NICHOLS

He loved automobiles. My father said that if you gave Roy enough parts, he could build a whole car by himself. Of course, that was decades ago when cars were more mechanical than electrical as they are today, but it made sense to me. When I bought my first used car (1955 Ford), Roy, my grandfather, helped me pick it out, negotiate the price, and then he lay on the concrete driveway for hours repairing things that he felt the car needed.

Although poor financially, somehow he and my uncle managed to buy a small Piper Cub. My first airplane ride was in that Piper and he and my uncle spent many weekends at the airport working on that little plane. He lived with grease under his nails and seemed to feel that was something of a calling. When he died, my only inheritance was his metal toolbox. It was packed with tools that I did not know how to use, but I have learned. 

That was the era in America when automobiles were becoming kings of the country. Highway construction was booming including President Dwight Eisenhower’s dream of an “interstate highway” system. As a former general, he had marveled at the highways in Germany and wanted the U.S. to mimic that at least. A big event every fall was the unveiling of the newest models of each automobile. We had both a Chevrolet and Ford dealership near our home and I as an adolescent would lurk around the stores waiting for the newest model to be displayed. It was such a secret that the new car models were shipped with an opaque canvas covering them so one could not see what they looked like until the appointed day.

My grandfather Roy seemed to prefer Buicks for some reason. I suspect that, in his eyes, they had the best mechanical pieces.

Roy Skalitzky

Even Roy’s employment dealt with engines and wheels. Although initially a streetcar driver, when those were phased out, he became a bus driver in the big city. My sisters and I spent many nights riding the Roanoke loop with him. At the end of the route there was a five-minute break that allowed him to get out of the bus, run into the corner drugstore, and buy some candy for us for the next loop. He drove that route for many years and, as one would expect, made many rider friends and was a helper to each. It was an early example of a bus ministry.

He was a happy and cheerful person, but occasionally would say something more serious and thought-provoking, especially to a young person. Those grandparents’ house was near a funeral home and, occasionally, one could see a hearse leaving that facility. I could count on grandfather saying, “There goes somebody taking their last ride.” I could not decide whether he was making a joke or being serious but chose the latter. Still, it was an odd comment to a ten-year old. Even his thoughtful reflections had something to do with riding or driving—rolling wheels. In retrospect, I believe his “last ride” comment was part of his reconciliation to the brevity of life. It is something that each of us wrestle with, do we not? 

At his funeral, I was one of the people who carried the casket to the hearse, set it on rollers in the back, and pushed it into the vehicle. His last ride was starting.

You have probably heard of some version of the following anecdote. Some married couples have the good fortune (I believe it is good fortune) to live long lives by one another’s side. History comes and goes, and the other partner is still there. 

Recently, an elderly couple in a nursing home approached death in near parallel. The nurse was summoned for the passing of one of them about 7 a.m. She contacted the funeral home to come for the body. While the funeral home representatives were in the building, the other member of the couple passed at 8:30 a.m. The funeral home workers did double duty that morning. In the nurse’s notes, she wrote, “They got to ride to the funeral home together.”

My grandfather would have been pleased with that closing comment.

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain

One comment

  • A thoughtful piece–I’ve known other couples who passed within hours of each other (as in you example). I’ve always thought that would be a blessing to take that last ride together.

    Like

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