Christmas Eve fell on a Tuesday so, like every Tuesday, I went to Clinton to National Health Care to check on Granny Ima and see if she would let me clean and polish her nails. Now Mama and I used to go to Columbia to spend every Christmas Eve with Granny when I was a child so in some ways, I found the whole trip ironic. Granny was happy and she smiled and said a few words, which was the best Christmas present she could give me, but she didn’t want her nails messed with, so I sat and talked to her until her CNA came to get her for lunch. Then, I kissed her goodbye, got in my truck, and headed home to get ready to go to Rob’s for Christmas Eve supper.
I bought my 1994 Ford F-150 with a little of Mama’s insurance money so it’s extremely special to me. Anyway, as I was leaving Clinton on State 308, I called my great-Aunt Pearl (Ima’s oldest sister) to apprise her of Granny’s condition and state of mind. We were talking as I merged onto I-385 and when I gave the old girl some gas, I felt a pronounced thump. I told Aunt Pearl I’d have to call her back, hung up and concentrated on the sound.
It was an intermittent noise, which is aggravating to diagnose, and I’m not an accomplished mechanic, but I was pretty convinced it was a universal joint needing replacing or maybe an exhaust hanger had popped loose when a woman in a PT Cruiser had tapped me in the rear end in downtown Clinton that morning. I sped up to 85 mph and the noise went away. I gently applied the brakes and the noise didn’t come back. So I turned the radio back up, passed a few slow-moving cars, and continued on my way.
When I went under the State Road 92 bridge, the thump became a clunk. I had tons of ideas running through my head and all of them centered on how I was going to pay to fix whatever u-joint or exhaust hanger needed attention. I also considered the motor might be going and just about cried. I call her “Mama’s Final Gift” and I’ve become seriously attached, but all the gauges read okay so I kept on and the sound stopped eventually.
I exited I-385 and turned left onto State Highway 418 about 23 miles later and when I hit 60 mph, the noise came back. I was almost home though, so I just started the “c’mon, baby, hold together” Han Solo talk. Then, quite literally, the wheels fell off the apple cart. I slowed down to a crawl to turn right onto the road to home and saw a tire and wheel pass me. My brain had just enough time to register the thought of “that’s strange; someone’s wheel is rolling down the road,” before the left front end of the truck slammed into the pavement and the truck jolted up and down with enough force to knock my head smartly on the roof of the cab. Then an awful grinding noise filled the air and I realized the wheel in question was mine. I drove on the brake rotor about ten yards until my brain finally got the message to my foot that it was still pressing the gas instead of the brake and I stopped. Then, it hit me.
My wheel fell off my truck!
I just lost my freaking wheel!
I followed my first instinct when something crazy like that happens to me and started to call Mama, realizing just in time my long distance plan wasn’t quite that good. So I switched gears and called Budge six times and she didn’t answer the phone. It didn’t bother me though; I think I was still in shock because, you know — wheel fell off and all. In fact, some primitive part of my brain still functioning correctly posed a very good question: what was Budge supposed to do if I DID talk to her? Raise the truck with telekinesis? Realizing I had not, in fact, married Carrie White, I called Rob, my stepdad, just as he was pulling into the yard from work. I explained my predicament and he said to sit tight, he’d get Baby Huey (my 6’6″, 375 lbs “baby” stepbrother Travis) and he’d be right on.
By then, Budge had finished her shower and called me back. I think all she heard was “wheel fell off.” Ten minutes later she found me sitting on the lowered tailgate of my truck having spoken to a few friends I’d called just to pass the time. It was while sitting there calmly drinking a bottle of water the reality and gravity of the situation. The noise I’d heard coming out of Clinton was the wheel wobbling as one or more lug nuts decided to take a vacation. The second noise was the exodus of even more of these vital little hunks of metal. The terrible vibration I felt on the off ramp and 418 was the wheel wobbling on the studs devoid of attachments.
I started to shake a little. As slow as I was going as I turned onto the road, the wheel leaving still caused a bad jolt. Now, imagine for a moment: What would have happened if that same wheel had flown off while I was on I-385?
I KNOW what would have happened because I’ve seen it happen during NASCAR races. The rotor would have dug into the asphalt, Newton’s First Law of Motion would have taken over and I’d have started either flipping end over end or doing some sweet barrel rolls down the highway. Since I wasn’t wearing my seat belt (they are under the seat cover) I’d have been ejected through the shattered windshield or the shattered side window, the truck would have hit me or the care behind would have run me over, I would have died on Christmas Eve 2013 and that would have sucked.
I don’t know why the wheel stayed on until I was going slow enough to survive the results. I know a lot of people would call it a neat coincidence. I don’t. See, as I was putting the wheel back on the truck, I asked myself why the lug holes in the rim were threaded while the studs were smooth. That’s when I realized the rim had ridden on the studs long enough to smooth them out while cutting threads into the rim. That’s not all; when I borrowed a lug nut from the other wheels, I discovered every lug nut was loose. Y’all skeptics think what you want and call me whatever you please, but I think Jesus and Mama were watching out for me one more time and I’m certainly thankful they were.
Love y’all and hope the new year is off to a great start! Keep those feet clean!