In 2011, I volunteered to fly to Oklahoma and pick up an accessible van that my father-in-law had purchased. I was to meet a man named Dewey at the airport, pick up the van, and drive it halfway across the country to Maine. The accessible van had been Dewey’s wife’s van, and she had died earlier that year.
Dewey and I had a few conversations over the phone before I left for Oklahoma, and he always referred to himself as “Dewey from Oklahoma”, when he called. He seemed like a nice old gentleman, so I wasn’t too worried about meeting him. Plus, the trip sounded like a fantastic adventure, so I was game.
I arrived at the Tulsa airport on a Tuesday, and there was Dewey from Oklahoma in his cowboy hat and boots.
Dewey from Oklahoma suggested that we go out to lunch before the van exchange, and I agreed. We went to the local Applebee’s, and chatted for an hour. Our conversation was a bit sparse at the beginning of the meal as Dewey and I had nothing in common other than the van, so instead of forcing conversation, I let him talk.
Dewey cried through most of lunch, telling me stories about his wife. Telling me how much he missed her. He talked about all the trips they had taken in the van, and how much fun they had together even though she had spent the last few years of her life in a chair. Dewey spoke fondly of the van, as it had enabled he and his wife to go on adventures. “That van saved our lives.”, he said.
It was only then I realized that this transaction would be hard on Dewey and I steeled myself for a tearful departure.
After lunch we headed to his home so I could pick up the van. I asked if I could use his restroom before I hit the road and he obliged. When I walked into his house it was a bit like walking on to the set of About Schmidt. Dewey’s home was a tchotchke haven. Dolls everywhere. If I hadn’t known his wife had died, I would have thought she had still lived there. But his bathroom told me otherwise. Amidst the pink crochet toilet cover and decorative soaps, was a filthy bathroom and a trash can filled with empty beer cans. His wife was definitely gone.
I left the bathroom and Dewey from Oklahoma was outside. He opened the van door for me. I gave him a hug, and thanked him for having lunch with me. Tears rolled down his face as I backed out of the driveway.
I waved goodbye, and turned off of Dewey’s street. I took a deep breath and wiped tears from my own eyes as I drove towards Kansas.