The Dream of the 18-Wheeler

Doug looked like an independent, typically flinty New Englander–tall and lean, hard-working and as  ambitious for all of his kids as he was for himself. When I first met him, years ago, he sized me up as a potential wife for his son, and I got the feeling he found me wanting. I couldn’t build anything. I had no idea how to winterize the camp on Lake Winnipesaukee.

Use plumber’s antifreeze to winterize a toilet. DIY directions in the link on the right. Just in case you need to know.

“You’ve never poured plumber’s antifreeze into a toilet?” he asked, incredulous.

I had not. How could I be successful without this basic life skill?

But I had graduated from college. Even better, I’d earned a graduate degree. He respected education and hard work.  I’d been working my entire adult life. That was good, too. Most of all, though, he approved of me because I loved his oldest son.

Over the years, he was puzzled at some of my career decisions. Writing was a good, practical skill–but he was puzzled that I wrote things that didn’t have my name on them–ads, brochures, commercials, articles and speeches that others

Speech scripts. Image courtesy of the

took credit for. That baffled him. “Don’t you mind that your name isn’t on it?”  he’d ask. “People wouldn’t care if I said it,” I explained. “But when the CEO says it, it makes people listen and act. That’s fine with me.”

It was difficult for him to grasp my love of art. Early on, when I was a paper maker, he could not fathom why I would grow plants, beat them into fiber by hand, and make paper without using electricity. “That’s just going backwards,” said the man who lived in the area of New England re-shaped by the machines of the Industrial Revolution. “I could build you a real pulp beater,” he said eagerly. When I refused, he settled for building bookcases into the dining room of the house, adding a closet and building a kitchen island for his son, the chef. The shelves in the island could hold 150 pounds each, because “you never know what kind of equipment you’ll be using in the kitchen”.

When his car pulled up for a visit, the trunk would pop open and instead of suitcases, he would unload tools, sawhorses, and power equipment. As his daughter in law, and  until I moved to Phoenix, I had never lived in a house that did not have a closet, countertops, refinished cabinets, chair rails, a bookcase, or a kitchen island that he built and installed.

If he didn’t understand my papermaking, he understood raw art journaling even less. Why anyone would write and draw and keep it private was amazing to him. Private didn’t make money. And meaning-making, well that was all well and good, but you couldn’t cut into it at dinner.

He’d look at drawings or journals of mine and say, “You know, you could sell this. And with a good marketing plan, you could get to the point where you’d need an 18-wheeler. Now that’s a sign of success.” He fixated on the 18-wheeler idea for years, bringing it up in random phone calls, at holidays, asking me if I’d done well enough to need an 18-wheeler yet. As he grew older and frailer, I grew more tolerant of the 18-wheeler conversation.

Last December, Doug was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. He took it as a challenge as complicated as the corner closet he built in the tiny bathroom in one of our houses. He wasn’t ready just yet. But at 85, those are not decisions we get to choose.

He asked about my book–was it selling well? I’d just gotten the royalty statement, so I could figure out that I’d sold enough not only to fill one 18-wheeler, but it would have to make more than one trip. I had arrived just as he was leaving.

The storied 18-wheeler, a gift from Doug’s son, an apple that did not fall far from the tree.

Doug died early this morning; some of the family was with him, and some on the way. He had a busy, work-filled life. His retirement years were filled with building, and the senior living place added a large workshop building that he managed and stocked with tools and equipment for all the woodworkers in the facility. His last piece of work was a gift for us—a wood turning of a bird house, with a tiny light inside that welcomes admiring glances with warmth and light. It will hang in our ficus-tree/ Christmas tree as a reminder of his own big heart. As big as an 18-wheeler.

-Quinn McDonald is grateful for the opportunity she could be Doug’s daughter-in-law. And proud that she could finally fill up that 18-wheeler.

56 thoughts on “The Dream of the 18-Wheeler

    • Doug was a character. He died almost two years ago, and we still miss him. He brought up that 18-wheeler as a measure of success until I thought I’d strangle him. And I never see an 18-wheeler without thinking about him.

  1. My heartfelt sympathies to you, Kent and your entire family. Doug sounds like a salty kind of a man, one that inspires those around him and makes those same people get off their rockers and DO something. He certainly instilled a great work ethic in Kent and I’ll bet he was extremely proud of you for filling that 18-wheeler.

    Thanks for sharing this moving tribute to Doug, I feel like I knew him just through your words. Please give Kent my condolences and I’m sending big, healing hugs to you both.

  2. Pingback: How Do You Describe Yourself? (attempt #2) « creativityboost

  3. I am sorry for Kent’s and your loss. Doug was a man who will leave memories all over — in each home that was graced with his handiwork, and so much more. So glad you were finally able to fill that 18 wheeler for him–he must have been thrilled at the idea of it crammed full!

  4. Just reading this today and I have tears in my eyes. My heartfelt sympathy to you, Kent and the family. I also had a very dear father-in-law. He died way too young and we miss him. Memories do help but the feeling of loss is always there. Bless you today and every day dear Quinn. I was so touched by your words. Thanks for sharing Doug with all of us.

  5. Quinn:
    It’s so true that even when you know they will be leaving you, it’s hard to accept that loss when it comes. How wonderful that he was in your life. Wonderful tribute.

  6. What a lovely memorial story. I am sorry for your loss and just a tad jealous of your relationship with this man (the hubster’s father died before we ever met).


  7. Quinn, what a lucky girl you were to marry into Doug’s family. Such a beautiful tribute. I will be thinking of you all over the coming days and weeks, sending warm thoughts for happy memories and laughter as your hearts heal.

      • thank you, were blessed to hava such a man in your life…i loved the way you described his “practical” nature of building and making tools to make processes go faster…a true craftsman to his soul. and to know he loved one of my pieces…well, that brings tears to my eyes. again , thankyou!

  8. We who have great in-laws are so fortunate. I remember mine with fondness as well. Could you post a picture of the birdhouse? Woodturning is what has me curious. Blessings.

    • The birdhouse is packed away with the Christmas ornaments, but I’ll send you a photo of another wood turning he did so you can get the idea of what it is. Its a smoother form of carving.

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