Friday, May 30, 2008

“Letting Go of Lawson Ford”

c. 2008 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a quiet morning in Chardon, just after daybreak.

I took a thermos of coffee from my truck, and poured a cup while reflecting on the awakening day. Steam rose in delicate wisps from the container. A solitary gull flew overhead. Finally, I lifted the hot beverage in a toast.

“Goodbye, old friend,” I said.

The dealership parking lot was empty. Though mere days had passed since closing, it might well have been months, or years. Emptiness was in the air. Only a farewell note in the window gave testimony to what had gone before.

A stray automobile brochure flew overhead, carried by restless gusts of wind. I tried to catch the wild squares of paper, but had no luck. Standing bare and pale, the building seemed to scold my attempt.

“Let it go,” the structure whispered. “Let it go.”

I sat on the tailgate of my black pickup. Rays of sunlight peeked over the dealership roof as I wandered in reflection. Somewhere, I heard a dog barking at the brightening sky. My Java was flavorful and satisfying, with outdoor aromas mixed in for good measure. For the tenth time, I read a letter that had arrived about the dealer closing their Geauga County operation:

“Dear Rodney, Thank you for your previous business! (We) would like to announce the consolidation of… Ford stores in to one… location. We will continue to offer the best customer service and attention to detail that you received in the past.”

In the midst of a sip, I heard the sound of tires creeping over the asphalt. Quickly, my eyes turned toward the driveway. A car was approaching. It radiated various tints of metallic pink.

I sighed. It was Liz, my wife.

“Rodneyyyy!” she sang, while parking next to my truck.

“Good morning,” I said. “Sorry if I woke you…”

“I could feel that you were gone,” she observed, still sitting in her car. “Honey, are you okay?”

I nodded. “Yes, of course.”

She was unconvinced. “Mind if I join you for a cup of coffee?”
I scooted sideways on the tailgate. There was a spare cup in my cooler.
“Well, Rodney,” she chirped. “You’ve done some unusual things for a newspaper story. But this one has me flustered. Why would you want to see the sunrise at a… car dealer’s parking lot?”

“A closed car dealer,” I said.

Liz shook her head. “Well… wow, you’re right. All the cars are gone. I thought maybe they were resurfacing the pavement.”

Silently, I handed her the letter.

“Hmmmm,” she said, while reading. “I expected this might happen. But they’ve included a twenty-dollar gift certificate. That’ll come in handy!”

I nodded. “Things change…there’s no stopping the march of time…”

My wife snuggled closer. “So, are you sad about this? Is that why you’re out here this morning?”

“No, not really” I replied. “I’m just taking inventory.”

“Inventory?” she said with puzzlement. “Of what?”

“Of my memories.” I answered.

Her surprise was evident. “Okay… well, at least you’re not out here having a powwow with Agent X. Or your friend Ezekiel Byler-Gregg!”

The mention of imaginary characters from the newspaper brought a smile to my face. “No, this is a solo mission,” I said. “Maybe next week I’ll see those guys again.”

Liz squeezed my hand. “So, tell me, Rodney. What are you remembering about this place?”

It had been a long time. But my thoughts were clear. “It started when I left New York State, in the early 80’s. In those days, the business was called Lawson Ford-Mercury. I bought a second-hand Volkswagen here, after coming home to Ohio. A fellow named Stan was my salesman. When I found an Econoline Van at an auction in Pennsylvania, they did the title inspection to get it street-legal. This was the first place I saw a new Taurus, thanks to a friend who worked for the company as a mechanic. That was over twenty years ago…”

Her eyes were wide. “What else?”

I took a deep breath. “I bought my ’79 F-150 4x4 here. It was my first truck. When the negotiations became tricky, Milt Abrams got involved personally.”

“Milt Who?” she said.

“He was the owner,” I explained. “A cool fellow. Very cordial and direct. I remember that he wore a belt-buckle made out of coins.”

“Wow,” she laughed.

My retrospective continued. “I rented cars here when the family needed to make long trips, comfortably. Then, my stepson, Jason, started working in the service department. I came here to buy parts for my ’85 Ranger pickup, and my ’96.”

“But the business changed hands?” Liz wondered out loud.

“Yes, a few years ago,” I said. “Can’t remember when… the place remained ‘Lawson’ for most of us, though. I noticed it’s still listed under that name on the Internet, quite frequently.”

She patted the tailgate where we were sitting. “And you bought this mule here, too?”

I nodded again. “Yes, another F-150. Leased it first, from a young guy named Mike. Then bought it from a fellow named Dave. It’s been a workhorse.”

“And the story ends there?” she said.

“Actually, it ends right here,” I answered, after a pause. “Our lives have become so busy… somehow, I lost track of time while working on writing projects.”

My wife grinned. “Calendar pages keep turning…”

“They sent notices that my vehicle was due for an annual checkup,” I recalled. “But my first priority was to finish a book on handicapped athletes and their personal growth through competition… I hadn’t visited the dealership this year. Then, their goodbye letter arrived. Suddenly… everything stopped! I had to come here. Just to say farewell…”

Liz turned philosophical. “This is part of life, Rodney.”

“Yes, you’re right,” I agreed. “Just like Fisher’s Big Wheel going away. And Conley’s. And Valu King, Bi-Rite, Woolworth’s, Golden Dawn, Ash Motors, the Sohio filling station, Longo’s, Fina’s, and the Goodwill store. This area is changing, forever…”

“Remember the newspaper you found, from 1919?” she said. “Imagine those people seeing the county as it is today! They would barely recognize what we take for granted.”

“So true,” I agreed.

“You’ve got to let go of Lawson Ford,” she pleaded.

I looked again toward the empty dealership.

“Let go,” the building whispered once more. “Let go…”

Moistness flooded my eyes. I raised the coffee in tribute.

“It’s time to leave,” Liz said, emphatically.

“Goodbye,” I mumbled.

“I’ll treat you to breakfast at the New York Deli…” she promised.

The moment was at an end. I patted my belly with anticipation. “You always know the right thing to say!”

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