A True "Jeep Girl"

After so many months of working on the restoration of Dad’s Jeep it was finally ready for a test run.  I’d managed to take the rusting hulks of two, 1946 classics and pull them into one beautiful ride and I wanted to make sure it was running well before I delivered it into his care.  Hearing the nearly 70-year-old engine roar to life after she’d sat silent for the better part of 30 years was magical, silent for nearly a generation I was hearing sound that few still living had ever heard.

Anxious to give it a test run in the fields behind the house, I hoisted Bethany up into the passenger seat.   I knew there was no way that she’d ever be able to see enough to navigate over the intricate steps and side cowl of the vehicle so I did a lift-and-toss maneuver like you’d do trying to get an old dog into the back of a truck. At 140 pounds my “hoist” was more of a flailing as legs, feet and arms went in six different directions.  I finally managed to get her butt over the side cowl and figured the rest of the parts would find their way inside eventually.  She had no way of comprehending how to ride in a vehicle that had no doors, no roof, no arm rests and a seat that has no landscape so once in, I immediately buckled her up and scooted myself around to the driver seat.

Me and Bee
I started the Jeep and wrestled it into reverse, backing around to the left in one, quick arc.  Of course, with no landscape to the seat pan which would settle her in and guide her as to which way “upright” was, she naturally gravitated to the right and listed like loose cargo out the door opening.  I grabbed her coat-sleeve and pulled her back to top-dead-center in the seat – through the whole action she never stopped tapping the plastic toy rattle against her teeth, in fact I doubt she even realized that she was at a 45-degree angle to the floor!  We beeped the horn, slapped it into first gear and headed down the driveway.  Once there, I shifted it into low range, knocked the small drive lever into 4-wheel and immediately turned left not onto the road but onto the front lawn.  We went cross-country through my front lawn, over the creeping myrtle undergrowth, through the tree line on my neighbor’s property and across the hills to the open fields.  We jostled hard and fast with me laughing in delight and Bethany laughing at the rough ride.  Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders charging up San Juan Hill back in 1898 could have had no more thrill than did I, and while he worried about being shot by Spanish guerillas, I worried about broken welds, snapping drive-shafts and 70 year old metal that was being subject to stresses that it hadn’t felt in decades. My ride was like betting on an old man with a young new bride; which one would disappoint, disable or kill the other one first? 

Bethany?  She just calmly tapped the plastic rattle against her teeth.  She listed left, then right, and then left again.  I’d shift the engine and then shift the Bethany.  Downshift the transmission, upshift Bethany.  Each time I’d yell over the whine of the L-134 engine “hey, you’re fallin’ over again”!  She’d laugh and having no way of knowing where “up” was, wait for me to correct her decline.  She’d then throw her head back and laugh in delight.  We rode around for nearly an hour that way – up hills and down hills, winding out of deep gravel bogs and bouncing over fields that had laid fallow for a decade, our wheels finding the deep contours of the land that the even layer of field grasses hid from our view.  At one point the speed and hidden furrows sent the front end up in the air before the back wheels hit and slammed it back down.  I do believe that was a defining moment; the singular moment when I became her instant, yet temporary, “favorite parent”.

 Bethany has not left my side for the better part of three weeks since that first ride. In her limited vocabulary, a single clear cry of “JEEP” rolls forth from her tongue with the oratorical grace of a 19th century politician.  Even while I did additional work on the vehicle, she demanded to sit in the passenger seat and not understanding the notion of “disabled vehicle”, preceded to scream “JEEP”! while slamming her body against the back of the seat.  For better than 2 hours, this activity continued making me fully aware of the fact that my 17-year-old daughter was now a bona-fide “Jeep Girl”.

While much of the 5-month restoration effort was probably in reality an escape mechanism for me, to see her now enjoy the fruit of that labor was a heartwarming event.  Someone captured that initial ride on video and every time I see it, I well up with tears in my heart.  To see her sitting rigid in the passenger seat, plastic rattle against her teeth, straight black hair with the silver bow on top being tossed around by the contours of the land, the smile on my face as I reach over and right her; reminds me of the joy which the friends of Lazarus must have experienced when he returned from the grave.


I’m unsure if old Jeeps have emotion (I know they have personality), but if they do in fact have emotion, this one must be happy to know that in it’s return from the grave, it’s brought joy and delight to many already and that the unique character it possesses as a result of its shortcomings are the very thing that make it wonderful.  Perhaps that’s exactly why I now know in my heart that Bethany is indeed a true “Jeep Girl.”

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