Three things I remember most about my father are his wicked sense of humor- his difficulty to express his emotions -understandable- coming from generation where people didn’t openly say how they feel. For him to expose his sensibilities was awkward and he’d characteristically disguise his discomfort with a joke. Lastly, he was wildly famous for spontaneity.
Often he say:
‘let’s go girls -we’re taking a road trip.’
…a trip?!?!?!!!!! (ohboyohboyohboy)
‘just pack what you need’
pack up what we need?!
with no definitive plan how could we possibly know what that was?
pshaww/whatevs -grab up some stuff and we’re outta there.
Those childhood memories are some of the very best. We’d climb in the station wagon- you know…the kind with the fake wood panels on each side and just go. None of us- dad included- knew where we were headed or where we would end up he’d just let the car navigate. crazy huh?
Man I’m tellin’ ya..those were great trips…most of them. One time we ended up all the way up in Quebec where I learned a lesson about the language barrier the hard way. On an early morning shortly after arriving and famished- we walked into a French Canadian restaurant. Brilliantly I thought- when in Rome… and so I decided upon French toast for my breakfast.
The waiter soon brings our meals and mine was disappointingly a plate of white buttered toast.
What the hell?! THAT’S not what I wanted. My older sister in her best 7th grade French awkwardly explained that French toast is not simply toast made by a French – or French Canadian person but instead that it’s bread dipped in egg and frie—– oh well you all know what French toast I suppose.
The waiter thought it was funny but still didn’t quite get it and I ended up with what I presumed was the same toast and an overcooked egg on top. Now I’m crying because it wasn’t at all French toast AND I wasn’t wearing my egg on toast shorts set because of all things forgot to pack when I was ‘grabbing up some stuff’ that was the ensemble I left behind.
Sounds funny now- then it really wasn’t….at all.
After the fake French breakfast debacle we checked into a local motel where the lobby and every room in the joint was decorated floor to ceiling with dark and spongey cork. Was that ever a thing?! And if you know cork then you also know it has a very distinct smell to it- kind of a cross between wet dog and burnt hair. Another one of my sisters convinced me that the cork was covering the walls because it secretly doubled as a dragon’s dungeon and I might ever see the light of day again.
To this day I’m traumatized at the sight of a bulletin board.
The rest of that trip is kind of blur except for the last part when we found ourselves here:
and I remember thinking to myself as we stood there unable to hear anything but the sound of thunderous rushing water…I’ve never felt smaller. that was cool.
And then there was the time the car itself- (okay not really but…) drove us to Pennsylvania to watch odd clannish families church butter and steer horse driven buggies. My dad insisted we all try something called shoofly pie. On our journey to the pie he sang several choruses of this song. Really this was not so unusual- he’d sung it on many other occasions that were completely unrelated to pie- any other kind of food or Pennsylvania for that matter. weirdo.
After seeing what shoofly pie looked like I wondered if my stomach would indeed say howdy. I declined sampling it. I liked seeing the Gettysburg Battlefield though and imagined myself a Civil War widow weeping into a bloodied rag. weirdo.
I think maybe that was the defining moment I realized I wanted to be an actress.
We went to lots and lots of other places and those remembrances are precious but probably the most unforgettable trip was the first time we trekked up to Lake George in the early 70’s. Because this is one of my earliest memories ever I’m not sure how old I was but very young. This particular vacation is now what the family refers to as ‘the greatest and smokiest’ one and here’s why…. as we neared our exit on The Adirondack Northway my sisters and I sat in the back of the car -while Dad up in front was enjoying a smoke- we arrived at our destination and he tossed his cigarette butt out the window. At the same exact moment a random and unusual breeze must have pulled the little bugger back in through the rear window as we parked in an almost empty lot and gathered our belongings from the car.
No one noticed.
We checked into our room and went about our day – swimming- sunning – picnicking and doing other fun Summer stuff. Popped back into the room to change and find a suitable dinner place but as it would happen plans changed real quick
When we got to the car …it wasn’t there. In its place was a burnt up shell of what looked like it could have been the car. Just that- the frame. No seats. Not roof. No nothing but charred steel. HOLY COW !!!! It was absolutely horrific and fantastic both at the same time. That must have been something when the thing burst into flames…like pwoooooooosh
no one said anything- we just stood there looking at this remarkable disaster- not wondering what might have happened- not wondering how we were going to go back home- in fact there was a moment when it almost felt as though this was the most ordinary thing ever. I’m sure my dad was kinda freaking out but we didn’t know it. We were on one of our special road trips and he wasn’t going to let a little ooopsie thing like this ruin it for us. That Lake George trip was decidedly one of our best.
Thinking back on this now I can’t recall any of the particulars. How did we get back home? How bad did my dad feel about burning up the car? Stuff like that. We never talked about it in so many words afterwards although many other trips were taken with no significant casualties other than maybe a scrapped knee or overload of mosquito bites.
As for the car fire fiasco….over the course of time it was just a thing that became a family inside joke- hanging ‘no smoking please’ signs on the car and we learned to laugh about it. Oh- also my dad quit smoking.
Then we all grew up. My sisters and I have our own families and/or partners and take our own family vacations- as far as I know none of them have ended in catastrophe.
And my dad? He too took his own trips with his long term fiancée . He and she traveled extensively and life was grand for us all.
One day he started getting sick- he became sicker and sicker and needed full time care- at first it was super tough because as I adulted our relationship was not always easy- he disagreed with a lot of the choices I made and we often argued and made up and argued again- it became a pattern I unhappily got used to….but anyway… he stayed in my home where it turned different. Our roles reversed and he became my child…sort of. He said a lot of ‘I’m sorry for the time I…’ and I would wave my hand way dismissively- didn’t matter no more. He lived with me for several years which meant collection upon collection of conversations. Sadly his razor sharp wit began to dull and his mental capacity grew smaller and he started speaking a lot less until barely at all. Finally there was nothing more than the occasional nod when I’d ask if he wanted ice cream or the television on. It made me very sad to watch him fading but I continued talking with him everyday. Once in a while he’d give me a sign that he recognized what I was talking about. One afternoon I started telling him how happy I am that I have all these memories of growing up with him as my dad. I don’t know what made me bring it up- I mean it had been decades since the incident but I mentioned the Lake George trip and how fun it was and of course the car fire.
and then…the man who hadn’t spoken a word in months weakly motioned for me to come closer and he struggled to say
‘I’m sorry I set the car on fire that time.’
I said ‘it’s okay dad- it was a fun trip’
I thought he fell asleep because his eyes were closed -a few minutes passed with me tidying up around him still shocked at hearing a voice that hadn’t been exercised in a long time. Minutes later- with my back to him I heard that voice once more- I’m not sure- it could have been the last time he verbally communicated with anyone. It certainly was the last time he spoke with me.
‘I’m grateful none of you girls were hurt.’ (looooooong pause) If you’d have died I woulda killed ya’ – he smirked. and I squeezed his hand
So…he WAS still the same dry witted guy I remembered all throughout my life …inside he was the same.
“Are we there yet?’ I thought to myself
‘Yep- I guess we are’