The last time I saw Bruce, he was bent over an old truck engine, taking a turn at a rusted lug nut. The garage was as cold as a meat locker, but that didn’t stop the guys. They had a refuge from the dinner party, a mechanical project, country music, and a case of beer. By the time I got out there, half of the beer was gone, and most of the guys had worked up enough sweat to shed their coats.
Bruce cranked on the lug nut hard enough to cause the truck to move. His grip slipped, the wrench fell to the floor with a clang, and he came up with chunks of his knuckles freshly removed. Despite his best attempts, the engine won that night. With blood running down his hand, Bruce grabbed a fresh beer, opened it up, and took a swig while staring down his foe.
He surrendered the battle as he told his son-in-law that he’d have to take the truck into a garage with a lift where they could get to the problematic part directly. The truck hood was closed, and tools put away. We stayed out there a bit longer and talked about life and family in “these parts,” near the border of Kansas and Missouri. Not much longer we had to say our goodbyes and return home.
For most of his life, Bruce drove a truck around the country. In the beginning, he worked for himself with his company name on the side of his rig. Towards the end of his career, his truck was adorned with a familiar big box store logo. I always enjoyed talking to Bruce about his job because talking to him was like taking several road trips. He was a living Rand McNally and knew every Interstate and highway for eight-hundred miles in every direction. Exit numbers were as familiar to him as stars are to an astronomer.
Just a few months ago, within the same week of losing a daughter to a decades-long battle with cancer, Bruce learned that he was inflicted with the same poison. Stage four, inoperable and maybe, but not likely, treatable, he was told that his time was limited—a year, maybe longer.
Unfortunately, Bruce didn’t make it that far. It was one of the few, if not the only trip he did not complete. Sometime in the night Bruce Voigts (father, brother, uncle, grandfather, and great-grandfather) found his last exit and turned the wheel to the right. While I am sad that I will not be able to hear another story about his time on the road, I am glad that Bruce did not suffer for very long.