The Blue Truck

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Richard Hackett was born under a dark moon.  In Dalesville, Alabama, that is what the townsfolk say when a baby has a birth defect – even a very minor one. They never mean to be cruel; it’s just their way.  But when Richard was dubbed the village idiot it made his father angry and everyone knew it when Bob Hackett was angry.

Bob Hackett worked at the docks along the Mobile River; he had no formal education, but he managed to live well, up until he was 42.  That was when his mother died of lung cancer.  Bob met Sarah Mae Watts in a hospital waiting room just a few days before his mother’s death.  Sarah Mae’s father was a patient in the same oncology ward.  They liked one another instantly and love followed. Just two months after their parents were “called home,” as they say in Alabama, Bob and Sarah Mae married and she moved to the Hackett house on Mulberry Street.

The Hackett’s made no plans for children, but in those days, when Sara Mae got pregnant, their friends and fellow churchgoers agreed that a baby was God’s greatest blessing.  Everyone wished them well and then minded their own business, until the baby arrived.  Then it seemed everyone wanted to know everything about him.

The year that Richard turned twelve, Bob Hackett died.  Two other things happened the same day: Richard renamed himself Richy and Sarah Mae realized her new situation, being a widow, was a prescription for disaster.  She had never owned a responsibility in her life, and suddenly she needed ways to keep the home and pay the bills.  She knew finding work would be hard because she had no experience other than housework; thankfully, she had a neighbor like George Peterson.  George was the owner of the supermarket and thought Sarah Mae could learn to use a cash register.  He gave Sarah a job.

Richy was a handsome boy and the congregation at the Baptist church liked to fuss over him.  The pastor asked Sarah’s permission to put Richy to work sweeping out the hall after the services and working in the churchyard after school on Mondays and Thursdays and all-day Saturday.  She agreed and the Board of Elders paid Richy twelve dollars a month to cut grass and pick up litter.  With Richy’s earnings, the widow Hackett and her son were doing well.  Each month the utility and grocery bills were paid and enough money remained for an occasional movie or a Sunday lunch at the Dalesville Diner.

Richy never learned driving.  The boys in mechanics class ignored him and he spent his class time paging through the Chilton Repair Manuals that piled up on Mr. Jackson’s desk.  One day in March of his senior year, Mr. Jackson asked Richy if he wanted to learn driving. Richy just shook his head no and replied that his mom said he wasn’t smart enough.

Harvey Jackson had been teaching auto shop class in Dalesville High School for over thirty years. His career began two days after his return from the South Pacific on September 8, 1945; the Board of Education hired him to teach juniors and seniors how to repair cars.

The school board president said Harvey didn’t need a college degree, he declared that no college in America could teach him more than he had learned in the United States Army Motor Pool. Now, Harvey was about to retire and felt he should begin moving some things he would leave behind out of his successor’s way.

In the parking lot behind the school sat a 1938 Chevrolet pickup truck.  Donated to the mechanics class by a local garage owner, it had been there since 1953 and had always been safe and road ready.  Jackson had paid the annual $3.00 registration fee for the last thirty-two years, but officially, the truck was the property of the Board of Education.  It was likely that Jackson was the only person who knew the ownership papers were in Principal Anderson’s safe. The truck’s bed had rust holes and the dark blue paint had pitted and gone chalky.  After class, on that day in March, Mr. Jackson took Richy Hackett to see the truck. Richy thought it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.  Jackson unlocked the cab and told Richy to sit inside.  Richy hesitated but Harvey pushed him into the driver’s seat and from then on, Richy Hackett simply loved that old blue truck.

Richy’s first driving lesson started immediately, but before he could drive, Harvey needed to teach Richy how to start the engine, use the clutch, shift gears, turn the wheel and apply the brakes.  The thing about the truck was that it was surely bruised and dented, but everything else, the engine, transmission, and brakes worked to perfection.  It had been part of Jackson’s lesson-plans for over 30 years.  Richy had been in mechanics class for two years, but when Harvey pushed Richy into the driver’s seat, it was the first time he saw the tell-tale glimmer of learning in the kid’s eyes.

As Richy eased the old Chevy away from the fence, Harvey told Richy exactly what to do.  And, as the old saying goes, like a duck takes to water, Richy took to the road.  It was then that Mr. Jackson gave Richy the first homework assignment he would ever complete successfully.  Richy was to practice driving after school every day; it would become a condition of his graduation.

Richy improved his driving skills each day, and for the first time, he had fun doing his schoolwork.  In the weeks that followed, Richy put nearly a hundred miles on the old blue truck at a top speed of about forty-five miles-per-hour.

It was just two days before graduation when Richy asked Mr. Jackson’s permission to drive the truck home to show his mother.  Jackson agreed and instantly realized that he must talk to the principal first thing in the morning; there was something he needed from the principal’s safe.  This would be his only chance to get rid of one big piece of classroom clutter.

Richy Hackett graduated with his class that June when he proudly walked onto the stage for a handshake with the principal, but the best surprise ever, came when Principal Anderson stopped Richy and turned to the audience and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a special announcement to make on behalf of this graduate – Richard Hackett. Because of a recommendation from Mr. Harvey Jackson, the Board of Education has voted to make a special presentation to Richard.  Along with his diploma, he will receive the keys to our school’s 1938 Chevrolet pickup truck.  We know he will make good use of it.”  There was a burst of applause.  Richy looked down at the key ring he now held in his left hand, he smiled and continued his walk to the other side of the stage.


Three days after graduation, a hand-lettered sign appeared in the window of the old auto repair shop across from Peterson’s Grocery Store.  Held in place by gray duct tape, the simple block letters read:

Delivery Service and Car Repairs
100% Satisfaction Guaranteed

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What a wonderful story. I loved it.

This story should be made into a movie.

Terrific article, and great research!

Is this a true story? It’s just so good I hope that it is. Honestly one of the best postings I have had the pleasure to read since first finding this site. Thankyou very much.

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