First published in 2006, this story weaves a love for old cars into how a man grieved for the love of his life. Meet Bernon E. Brackett, one of the many Ozarkians I’ve had the pleasure to get to know along this journey.
We all work through grief in different ways. I am discovering that as I try to get along without my mother-in-law these days.
I recently met a man who took a 6,500-mile trip to deal with his grief over losing a wife of 50 years.
Bernon E. Brackett, a native of Lebanon, Mo., treated me to a ride in his ’39 Dodge – a car just like the one he learned to drive as a kid. I met Brackett while in Lebanon on a media trip for travel writers. It is the home of “friendly people, friendly places.”
We stopped at the Russell Stover Outlet store on exit 127, off I-44, to have a cup of coffee. It was his 74th birthday. In a short amount of time, he talked about his life, rich with travel, love, loss and newfound love.
Brackett spent 28 years in the Air Force and he and his wife raised a family of four children. While in the Air Force, he lived all over the world – including bases in Japan, Turkey, Thailand and Germany. He served as postmaster for the base in Okinawa before returning to the U.S. and retiring shortly after. Brackett says he returned to Lebanon because his folks were getting old.
His wife died in June 2003. He says, “It took me about 2 months, and I decided to break clean and get everything out of my head. I packed my stuff. I told my kids, ‘I’m going to take a trip.’”
He decided to travel along the northern, western and southern borders of this country in his truck, trying to stay out of Canada and Mexico when possible. He headed north to Nebraska. He diverted over to Sioux City, Iowa, and then went to International Falls, Minn. He recalls, “I tried to stay off any Interstates. Some of them you have to get onto, but really very little.”
From Minnesota, he headed west across North Dakota and Montana on two-lane pavement. He had to cross the border to go into Canada “a little bit” while in western Montana. When he reached Washington, he turned south onto Highway 1 and went all the way to Los Angeles and turned and headed to Las Vegas to visit his son. After a week in Vegas, he drove his truck to Arizona and traveled along the U.S./Mexican border to Del Rio, Texas, and cut back to San Antonio, headed east to Louisiana and then, turned and headed for home. Brackett figures he traveled about 6,500 miles.
He did not listen to the radio or to book tapes. He says, “Mainly, I just looked at the scenery. Like in North Dakota, even though I lived there for four years, I didn’t know they raised so many sunflowers – miles and miles of them.”
He adds, “I learned that the people are purty nice wherever you go. There was only one time during the whole trip when I even felt out of place. It was at night, and the only place to eat was a bar and grill in Montana. I walked over there and had a good meal, and the next thing I know, the place is full. I’m the only stranger in there, and I’m thinking ‘Man, this ain’t right. I gotta get out of here.’”
Brackett came home and settled into life in Lebanon, which included driving his ’39 Dodge that he bought from his friend in Sioux City in 2000. The only piece on the car he’s replaced is the gas tank. Everything else is original.
Brackett likes to show his car at the cruise-in at Candy’s Frozen Yogurt Shop on the second Saturday of each month in the evening. When he’s not talking about his car to folks at a Cruise-In, he and his new bride – he married again in 2005 – like to take drives in the car on Sunday afternoons, or “just whenever.”