I know this story is a little early but what the hell. If you like it, or if you don’t, let me know. Maybe I’ll take a look at it some time and expand it and see if it can grow into a decent story.
I met him in a truck stop. He was climbing down from a big rig as I was getting out of my pickup. It was getting close to winter, the air cold enough to occasionally show your breath in the air. I shoved my hands in my jacket pockets and nodded as he came up beside me. “Nice rig,” I said.
He nodded back. “You a driver?”
“Nah,” I said, trying to think who he reminded me of. “My grandfather was, I used to ride with him when I wasn’t in school.” Suddenly it came to, he reminded me of Santa Clause. No, not the fat jolly guy whose belly shook like jelly. It was the old Santa Clause, the old European version, the pictures you see of a guy named Father Winter. He was a few inches under six foot and stocky but you got the impression that he was solid and not flab. A thick white beard was carefully trimmed and instead of red furs, he was wearing jeans and a leather jacket over a flannel shirt. Maybe it was the eyes. They seem to have a twinkle, especially when he smiled and his cheeks rose, as they did now.
“Ah, I used to ride with my grandfather when he hauled freight, but it wasn’t in a eighteen wheeler. Peterbilt man, your grandfather?”
“Yeah. Wouldn’t drive anything else.” I looked up into the sky; it was only seven o’clock but damn close to dark. The moon tried to shine through but clouds kept sliding in front of her. The cold had a bite but somehow it was a bite that felt refreshing. “Seems like snow is on the way.”
“Could be,” he said, opening the door and ushering me in. “I try not to guess to much, usually get it wrong.” It was one of those old fashioned places; a seating area split in half with one side marked for truckers. A sign said they were served first. There were also a handful of stools in front of the 50’s era counter. A woman pushed her way out of the kitchen with a tray in her hands and smiled as she passed. “Just grab a table, boys.”
The old man motioned for me to follow me so I pulled out a chair and sat across from him.
“Been a long time since I’ve been in a place like this. Name’s Jack, by the way.”
He shrugged out of his jacket before sitting down. “Just call me Poppa, its how all the drivers know me. Gets so you can barely remember your real name.”
“My grandpa was called Bull, but he never would tell me why”
Poppa started to laugh, one of those deep hearty laughs that would at least pull a grin out of you. “Knowing how some of these handles come about, I can see why he wouldn’t tell a young lad. Ah, hello dear. I’ll have the number seven with diet Coke.”
“Sure thing, Mr. Winter,” the waitress said. “And you, hon?”
“Burger and fries. Iced tea if you got it.” She nodded, stopping to take an order from another table on the way to the kitchen.
“What brings you here, Jack?”
Oddly enough, I found myself answering a question I hadn’t even been able to talk to my friends about. “Got divorced a few months ago and things just haven’t been the same. Big cities can turn out to be awfully small.”
“Too many memories and chance meetings, eh?”
“Yeah. Work going to shit too. I’m a writer but since we divorced, I just haven’t been to do anything. Thought maybe I’d get away, go back home. Maybe get recharged or reconnected or something.”
“It is important to feel connected to something, and to know where you come from. Might sound like something from a Hallmark card but if you don’t know where you’re from, you don’t know where you’re going.”
“That sounds like something my grandfather would say.”
“Sometimes us old fellers know a thing or two. What do you write?”
“I’ve had a few pieces published in a few magazines. Working on a novel, but who isn’t?”
The waitress sat our plates on the table and we fell silent as we ate. Poppa tucked into his pork chop and mashed potatoes with the hunger of a workingman. Me, well I hadn’t been a working man in a while but I still knew how to eat. Set to and get to work, as Grandpa would say.
“So where is home then,” he asked sopping up gravy with a biscuit.
“Close by, actually. Bout an hour from here, maybe less with the new roads. I haven’t been around in ten years. My family has a farm over near Brownsville, been in the family couple hundred years.”
“Lot of roots then. My family’s land was lost many years ago but we were able to come over here. Not quite the same but we’ve managed to survive.” His eyes dimmed a little as he lifted his glass but twinkled again as he sat it down. “The holiday season is approaching, young Jack. Better not forget gifts for all the young in the family.”
“Damn, I hadn’t even thought about it. I just had to get away.”
He smiled, rosy cheeks lifting. “Ah well you picked a good time for it. Winter is a time for rebirth after all. Nothing like the cold to strip away what you thought was there and show you what really is. Make the most of it, my friend. Maybe you’ll get that novel out of you after all.”
“Winter will be a change. I’ve been down south for so long I barely remember what snow is.”
“Hope you brought your boots then.” He was standing up now, pulling cash out of his wallet as he looked out the windows. “I got a feeling we might see snow tonight.”
“Think so? Looks the same as when we came in.”
He grinned and winked. “Ah well, you know us old folks. Sometimes we feel it in our bones.” He put money down on the table and pulled his coat back on. “Don’t keep yourself apart from everything, Jack. I’ve seen people with everything in the world who felt poor as church mice. I’ll be keeping an eye out for that book,” he said with a little wave and walked out the door.
I had no reason to hang around so I finished my tea and shrugged into my own jacket, zipping it up and stepping out into the cold wind. Trudging over toward the parking lot, I saw his rig pulling out onto the road and soon roaring down the highway. The air seemed to have more of a bite then it did before and it just felt like snow. I watched Poppa’s rig, standing outside my truck enjoying the cold. Must have just been clouds or something, but I would have sworn I could see snow following behind it, swirling in the air. As he circled the ramp and hit the highway heading past the truckstop, flakes started falling in his wake.