Multiple family crises devastate brothers–to cope, they restore family truck and relationships

August 1, 2017 10:26 am Last Updated: November 18, 2017 8:38 am

For decades, a brown 1980 Chevy Scottsdale pickup truck sat in his shed, collecting a thick coat of dust. Seated in the driver’s seat were traces of a forsaken childhood: his mother’s warmth; the woof of their family dog; and his father’s spirit.

Eric Linn couldn’t sleep knowing that, soon enough, the light of memories like these would be snuffed out of his mother’s eyes.

A terrible accident had claimed his father’s life decades ago.

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The Linn family was no stranger to tragedy. Eric’s brothers–Steve, Phillip, Sam, and Mike–had beared witness to it in 1992 when they were still baby-faced. Eric, the oldest, was 20 years old; Mike, the youngest, was only 10. One Saturday morning in Avon, Minn., their father walked out to the pasture to check on the cattle, and the next moment their mother had found him on the ground, his chest crushed in by a bull’s hooves.

“The bull was still on him when my mom got there,” Steve told Kare11.

At their father’s wake, the boys were the first ones there. They stood together at their father’s casket, not moving away for even one minute, not until the last of the grievers had filtered out of the door.

“There are people that talk to us to this day,” Eric said. “They said that was one of the saddest things they ever saw in their lives.”

Another tragedy hit the Linn family, devastating them further.

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For the Linn family, their father’s spirit remained vigorous.

“We strongly believe that he is still amongst us,” Eric told Kare11. “That and our faith is what keeps us going. Without it, I don’t think our family would’ve made it this far.”

Faith absorbed yet another blow when their mother’s memory began escaping her: in 2008, she started repeating herself and losing items like keys more frequently. Eric was the first to notice the warning symptoms, and he was also the first to worry. A new tear had appeared in the Linn family fabric, and it ripped right through the hearts of the five brothers.

“We were a close-knit family but when this disease comes into our life, especially after losing our father, it’s a whole new challenge. Emotions run high,” Eric told The Visitor.

That year, their mother was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. A rare, fast-moving disorder without any treatment options, the Linn brothers had to sit by and watch while the disease claimed more and more pieces of their mother: her identity, her behavior, and her memories of their childhoods.

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The 1980 Chevy pickup truck was the first car their father ever bought. Eric remembered the first time he laid eyes on the car.

“He was proud as a peacock,” Eric told Kare11. “That was a pretty big deal to have a new vehicle in the yard.”

The truck did everything for the family: it hauled corn for their hogs, brought them to the front steps of God on Sundays, and drove the brothers to school and back.

But after their father’s accident, Irene Linn assumed the role of both parents, rearing five children all by herself while working as a caregiver at Mother of Mercy. She never missed a school sports event.

She also loved the pickup truck. It was part of her husband’s memory and for that, it was part of her family. She drove everywhere in it, whether it be through town or around the countryside, her little dog accompanying her. So when the truck broke down, Eric couldn’t bear to have it hauled away.

Instead, he parked it in his shed. That was where it stayed for decades until one night, when thoughts of his ailing mother ravaged his sleep and kept him up, he decided to do something: fix up the truck.

“I need something just to keep my sanity,” he thought.

Soon, the entire Linn family picked up their toolboxes

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For three years, the brothers spent their weekends in Eric’s shop with their backs hunched over tools, replacing the front bumper of the truck and washing the grime away. Their families came as well; kids and wives lingered in the shop, hearing stories about the Linn family and the farm.

“It was good therapy for us to work on something that was once our mom and dad’s,” Eric told The Visitor. “We built a real keepsake for us to have forever.”

The truck’s reveal was scheduled for May 8: Mother’s Day. Irene, close family members, and her caregivers came and gathered around the tarp covering the truck. Eric gave a speech, his voice thick with tears and emotion.

“Through blood, sweat and tears, every nut and bolt was taken apart to rebuild this old friend to create a family legacy,” he said. “On this special Mother’s Day, we want to present this truck to the person who stayed strong through difficult times, raised us with love, a strong work ethic, humor and, most of all, compassion. To you, Mom, an old friend returns.”

Father Jeremy Theis, parochial vicar of the local church, blessed the truck before Irene’s caregivers pulled off the tarp, revealing a beautifully restored 1980 Chevy Scottsdale pickup truck. It gleamed under the cheerful Minnesota sun, vibrant and fresh.

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Eric didn’t think that his mother knew what was happening, but he believed that she enjoyed it. He took her on a ride around town in the truck as a bittersweet ceremonial gesture. It was one last memory for her, for a mind where memories of joy slipped through the cracks. But to the brothers, however temporary, its existence alone would suffice.

“Tragedy and disease have taken so much from us,” Eric told Kare11. “Who would have thought that after all the work our old farm truck did to support us it would be the glue that kept our family together?”

One year later, Irene Linn passed away in peace. Even after their mother departed, they still know her love; they know a beautiful, sun-drenched Mother’s Day. But sweetest of all remains the symbol of their childhood: an old, worn Chevy pickup truck.

Watch a video of the reveal here: