Since Monday’s post was all about my son I think today’s post should be all about my little girl… right after I relate one additional thing about my boy.
This morning — Tuesday/Day 6 — my son and I did something we rather enjoy doing and that we had previously done three years ago on a trip to the same town. We climbed to the top of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. See pictures below.
Why wasn’t my daughter with us? That’s because she was having too much fun hanging with her new girls. From the moment we arrived she gravitated to the other young ladies and it seems they’ve been having quite the time of it. They all screamed something at each other in some sort of “girl code” and then took off for the beach to paint their nails or something. I really don’t know and I’m afraid to ask.
This afternoon my daughter proved once again how she can probably make me do just about anything. The girls (by now a sizable pack numbering somewhere between 8 and 12 and with no discernible leader having emerged) were looking for something to do. Stepping away from the other wolves girls my daughter approached me as I was walking toward the beach.
Daddy, where’s your credit card?
I did not like the sound of this.
“What do you need it for, Sweetheart,” I asked.
“It’s just that the other girls want to go get iced coffee,” she replied, looking almost forlorn.
I knew she couldn’t care less about coffee. She was having so much fun with her new friends and worries that if they all went off on a walk to the donut shop and she stayed behind she’d be somehow out of step with them. Hey, I get it. I’m kind of the same way. They call it “FOMO” – fear of missing out. It’s why I don’t like to sleep.
Being the awesome dad I am I hatched a better plan. Instead of coffee we’d take all the kids for ice cream. This way no one would have to pretend to like coffee. Who doesn’t love ice cream? We walked to Dairy Queen and enjoyed our treats while my son regaled us with the history of that franchise. He’s been watching YouTube videos on corporate America.
And while we were in that shopping plaza we spotted a place I almost immediately regret having spotted. “Look girls! That place does henna tattoos.”
I suppose there are few better ways (or worse) that a father and his daughter can bind together than getting inked up. And it’s henna. It will wash off in a week. She chose a llama. They’re big right now. Me? Well, let’s just say I was feeling patriotic.
The rest of the day was filled with more pool time, a wonderful dinner, and great conversation with our friends.
My daughter is happy her daddy is so cool. Her daddy is happy his daughter is so happy. The other she-wolves probably think we are both strange and amazing – a combination that cannot be undersold in life.
For Indian ink and happy memories with my little girl I am most thankful. Let’s see what tomorrow brings…
The year was 2006. I had only one week earlier proposed to my wife (well, she wasn’t yet my wife; that’s why I proposed). She had been in the habit along with a handful of friends from college and their ever-growing families of traveling to the Outer Banks of North Carolina every year around the end of summer. They would all rent a house and enjoy a week of fun at the beach. Now that I was entering into this fray I, too, would be invited along. It was lots of fun for about two days. And then… a tropical storm struck the Carolina coast. One of the group, heeding the weather reports early, decided to pack his family and bailed. He’s Canadian, though, so I think tropical storm warnings are especially traumatic. I had been assured that “these things happen all the time” and that there was “no need to worry” and that I should “stop being such an amazingly good-looking but dreadfully cautious killjoy”.
The storm came. The
roads flooded. After one day of looking
out the window and NOT seeing water recede I decided I should probably try to
make a break for it. I got in my car and
headed south on the beach road for exactly one-half mile. Attempting to drive through standing water
that didn’t look that deep my car – a brand new Dodge Magnum – shorted out
and died. Long story short: I walked
back to the beach house, a friend of my wife helped me push the car to a local
supermarket parking lot, and I borrowed my new fiance’s pickup to drive back to
New Jersey. The insurance company sent
an adjuster who deemed a new engine was in order. Turns out it just needed spark plugs. A few weeks later I had reclaimed my vehicle
and life went on. The following summer,
as a newly married man I returned to the beach with my wife. We were already expecting our first child
(though we had not yet told anyone) and we enjoyed a few days of sun and
sand. The summer after that, with a six
week-old boy in tow we ventured on the first of many family cross-country road
trips and I began documenting them in writing.
Which brings us to today – Monday or Day 5 if you like.
The thing is that even though nothing much happened yesterday, even less happened today (hence the long and winding intro). We played on the beach During the day and in the pool when the sun went down. My wife and I prepared dinner and drinks for 50 people. You know, typical stuff. But one thing that did happen struck me as ironic considering how this all began…
I always have a hard time sleeping on vacation. I don’t know if it’s the change in bed or the
change in atmosphere. Something just
seems to prevent me getting a good night’s sleep. Today was no exception. I woke up around 5:45 because of the sunlight
pouring into the room “like butterscotch” as Joni Mitchell would say. I was excited because at least I would see
the sunrise over the Atlantic. Look, it’s
not like I go looking for these things but when they happen in my presence I try
to make the most of them. I’ve seen the
sunrise before but there is something really awe-inspiring watching it come up
over the ocean. It truly gives one a
sense of the majesty of God. I stepped
outside onto the balcony. And I
immediately realized that Mr. Golden Sun was already over Mr. Horizon by a few
degrees. Damn. I missed it.
No worries though. I opened my
laptop, went to Youtube, and entered “sunrise ocean corolla nc”. Within moments I was watching what I had just
missed – time-lapsed, no less! Saved me
the trouble of waiting through the whole boring thing. Then I went upstairs to the kitchen for my
black coffee, then downstairs to the driveway to jump rope for a half-hour.
In 2006 there was no going to Youtube to watch a
sunrise. I mean, I think there was a
Youtube then but it wasn’t a part of everyday life as it is now and there wasn’t
nearly as much content. There also was
no “black” coffee. Until four years ago
I used to give my dad a coronary every morning when I’d pour cream and sugar
into my morning Joe. “Why not drink it
like a man?” he’d ask me. “Dad, I’m 37
years-old. You shut up because I am a MAN!” I likely never said those words but if I did
I likely said them like the guy from that episode of Law & Order
called “American Jihad”. Yeah, you’d
have to have seen it I guess. In 2006 there
certainly was no jumping rope for this guy.
I think at the time I fancied myself being “in shape”. I also fancied myself having great
flexibility despite already having had my spine fused five years earlier. I did not care what I ate (which included
nothing that wasn’t meat). If you had
asked me to pick up a rope and jump over it for 30 minutes I would have
accepted the challenge and then promptly died.
Times change. People change. The sun still comes up. Man always desires to better himself. And Dad will always be right. I still can’t imagine why I ever put anything
into my coffee.
One more thing that wasn’t a thing in 2006 was you,
son. And yet, this morning after I did
all of my ridiculousness I walked into your room, shook you from your sleep as
only a dad of an 11 year-old young man can, and said loudly “WAKE UP!!! It’s time for fun!” See the thing is I didn’t care if you
slept. I wanted your company. I love hanging out with you and my
waking hours are kind of boring if you’re not a part of them. You grumbled.
I jumped on the bed. You muttered
something about hating life. I pulled
the covers off. It was great fun. And where did we go from there? Well, since you share my DNA I’ve often planned
our time together based on what I want to do. The thought is that if I enjoy it, you will
too. And if you don’t we’ll blame your
mom. In short order you were dressed and
we were off on a morning walk. The
Dunkin’ Donuts is only a mile away and I was craving something more than black
coffee. Figured you’d like a donut and
we could enjoy some father-son time together.
What I didn’t count on was your determination to be even
less physical at that hour of the morning and on vacation than I was at any
hour of the day when I was in my 30’s.
Three blocks from the beach house and you dropped this gem on me: “Dad, when
we get there do you think we can Uber back?”
Yes, I did just hear that correctly.
Uber wasn’t a thing in 2006.
And it wasn’t going to be a thing today either. We got to DD, grabbed our breakfast, and
WALKED back to the house. And you know
you’re happy we did because along the way we passed something really neat. We took a slightly different route and
encountered the rather sizable fire/rescue station. Since the Outer Banks are kind of isolated
one might figure that a rescue station would have to be well-equipped to handle
any kind of life-threatening emergency.
What neither of us figured was that they would have “it” right out
front. “It” was a concrete pad – but not
just any concrete pad. “It” was a
concrete pad with a giant letter “H” painted in an even gianter circle smack in
the middle of the pad.
“Look!” we both said in unison. “A helicopter landing pad!!!” Like two little boys excited over the dumbest
thing we both squeeled with delight at the prospect that a helicopter might
swoop in at any point during the day. We
walked a little further. “Of course, son,”
I said, “that would require someone to have to kind of die or something.” We paused in sadness for a moment. And then you looked up at me.
“But it would be kind of awesome.”
It would indeed my boy. It would indeed.
For moments of clarity when God allows me grace to compare
my life today with my life before kids and to know that it’s so much better
now; I am most thankful.
As the Good Lord says, there is no rest for the weary. Actually I’m not sure that was the Good Lord
who said that. I think He said something
about making sure to observe the Sabbath.
Truth be told, there’s nothing wrong with a little rest and, I am also
informed, sleep is possibly necessary for human existence. Although I’ve never been able to verify that
claim it seems worth checking into.
As for me and my house we will see the lop. Only two people in this world would
understand that last sentence. One is my
sister. The other is my dear friend
Kelly. So I am dedicating today’s
installment to Kelly’s son who is a fellow blogger. I’m sure at this very moment he’s wondering what
we did all day Sunday (Day 4). So I’ll
We did absolutely nothing.
Having been to mass last night and having driven over 1500 miles in the
past couple of days, taking in kitschy sites along the way, we thought today
would be ideal to laze about the beach.
I woke up at the ungodly hour of 0800, said my prayers, grabbed my black
coffee, and busted out a new jumprope I had purchased in Alabama the other
day. This one is weighted. A treat for me! After burning through a half-hour of cardio I
showered, put on my 1910-era bathing suit (have to cover myself up), picked out
a boater hat from the closet, and headed down to the beach with my ukulele. Along the way I packed a bag with my pipe,
the Wall Street Journal, and some sarsaparilla ale. Humming Civil War hymns, I gleefully strode
across the sand, found an ideal spot, and laid my blanket down. For the next several hours I basked. Basking is fun with the ones you love.
I mean, come on… The reality isn’t nearly as
interesting. My bathing suit is from J
Crew and barely covers my rather long thighs, there is no pipe. Haven’t read the Journal since my dad died. And the drink in the bag was a tumbler of
margarita. I basked all right. A tiny bit of sunblock to protect my
shoulders but otherwise I took in as much sun as I could. Vitamin D is good for you.
And that’s about it.
By day’s end I had counted both of my kids to make sure they
had made it back in from the beach. We
had a lovely dinner. And, totally not
burned, I went to bed thankful for this time.
God is very good to me. He’s
given me people whom I love and time to spend with them. The overactive imagination? That’s just a bonus.
*You already know that I started out Day 3 by writing about Day 2. Now I am starting out Day 5 (in a manner of speaking) by writing about Days 3 and 4.
We did make it past Asheville last night (or
rather, early this morning) and checked ourselves into a hotel on the side of
I-40. Charles Kuralt once said upon the
completion of Interstate 40 – which runs from coastal North Carolina all the
way to the Central Valley of California – that it was now possible to drive
from one coast to the other without seeing a thing. I fear he was right. That’s not entirely true. Why, late last night I saw stars. No, my wife did not beat me over the head for
blasting the original cast recording of Evita while she was
sleeping. My son, in a way only 11
year-old boys can do, announced confidently that he had to relieve
himself. He did this about ten miles
after I had driven past the last exit with any services for a considerable stretch
of road. Oh well, I’m a guy. I get it.
You don’t really need a bathroom proper in order to take care of that kind
of business. It’s just how God made
us. The only problem was that this
stretch of I-40 wends and winds its way through the Great Smokey
Mountains. It was cut as judiciously as
possible through rocky cliffs. Owing to
that fact the highway engineers “forgot” to install a shoulder. I drove as far as I (and his bladder) could
travel before, mercifully, finding a runaway truck ramp. Out we hopped. I walked him around the back of the vehicle
to afford a tiny bit of privacy (not like he cared) and for some reason I
looked up. The night sky was blanketed
with thousands of stars. We live in the
Dallas area. On a typical night we’re
lucky to see about five stars and one of those is the moon. I also saw a sign that proclaimed bears would
be crossing the road in some kind of pack formation. I feel sorry for the bears, really I do. According to the sign, they cross like this:
a she-bear followed by three cubs. Where’s
the dad? Not doing as good a job as I
am, I should imagine, shepherding my wife and kids across the continent.
Upon leaving the
hotel I did something I promised I would not do on this trip (or anytime if I
can avoid it). I asked my wife to
drive. She’s a fine driver and I
appreciate the help. It’s just that this
is something I can do for her. When I
was growing up I never once saw my dad NOT walk around the car to get the door
for my mom. It’s a car door. Of course she can open it by herself. But he did it for her because he could. And he could because she allowed him the
privilege. Until the last time I saw him
drive anywhere with her, he held her door.
I liked that. But, I needed time
to write so I accepted her invitation to take the wheel. She drove us all of an hour and a half until
reaching the city of Greensboro. That’s
where my niece and her family live.
Right before getting out of the car my wife pointed out that Facebook had notified her of a “memory”. On this exact date three years ago we had also visited my niece on a cross-country drive. Her son was a couple of months old. We had taken a picture of my daughter holding her first cousin once removed. This meant that we would have to re-create the picture. My niece prepared a lovely breakfast for us. Sadly we couldn’t stay long – just long enough to enjoy a meal and catch up. And one of the best parts for me was getting to play with her dog – a lab mix named Leo. I love dogs and I especially love labs. They’re so friendly and seek attention. They also want to be loved and so they go out of their way to please every person they meet. Sound like anyone we know?…
Perhaps the funniest thing of our trip so far happened at this time. I almost didn’t want to write about it but my wife insisted I should. My great-nephew is potty training. It happens. As we were getting ready to head out the door my niece walked past the bathroom door on her way back into the kitchen. As only a parent who’s potty training a child can, she said “Did someone poop?” And before anyone could comprehend her question a certain member of our party who happens to be my mother-in-law replied quick as lightning: “Me.”
Sometimes in life there are pauses. Sometimes these pauses are dramatic like when the Twin Towers fell and we all held our breath for 40 seconds. Time seemed not to exist. Sometimes these pauses are ironic like when we await the punchline of a joke. In either case there is anticipation in these pauses. We know something is coming, we just don’t know what. This was not one of those moments. In fact there was no pause. Her answer was immediate. The pause came after her “Me”. The pause was me and my wife wondering how to process what we had just heard. For a moment we just stared at each other. And then we figured it out. We were to laugh. Look, I’ve never thought bodily processes a good subject for humor. It’s lowbrow and cheap. But her innocence in answering so quickly and something about the moment just made us laugh. Seems she didn’t want my niece to think it had been her potty-training son. I admire such honesty. And I laugh at it.
After breakfast we were back on the road. Remember when I said a trip with us is like trench warfare? So… a half-hour later we stopped. This time our stop was an outlet mall. Unlike the depressing shell of a mall we had seen two days earlier, this one was vibrant. I hit all the shops I wanted to, got some new shorts and shirts. The lady behind the counter at the Old Navy even gave us a 20% discount because she liked the Nintendo-themed shirt my son was wearing. It seems his love of classic video games has indeed paid off. Back on that road. Another hour, another stop. We had promised my daughter we would hit a craft store so she could get a few items to keep her entertained at the beach. I thought the ocean and stuff would have been enough; but it appears not. Ten minutes after entering they emerged with even more crap stuff to stuff into the car.
Finally, we were on our way again. Fits and starts, kids, fits and starts. By the way, did you like my use of the word “wend” up above? Thought so. From the craft store we actually raced to get to our next destination. See, we’re Catholic, if you couldn’t tell, and this being Saturday evening and not wanting to attend the “beach mass” at the Outer Banks On Sunday morning we decided to take our chances on a church in the city of Rocky Mount. We got there with one minute to spare. I ALWAYS wear my best suit to Sunday mass. This time, however, that option was not available to me, arriving with no time to change. The church was interesting. For those in the know, it looked like a typical 60’s parish that had recently been assigned a more tradition-minded pastor. The mass was ad orientem and we knelt at the rail for Communion. This might offend some but I realized over the past five years that I need to go out of my way to exemplify the virtue of reverence in the face of so many Eucharistic abuses. Kneeing for Communion, for me, is the best way to do that. Not a fan? Sorry. But the building itself was quite distinct in that it featured the most bizarre stained glass windows. At one point I looked up to see a purple man-baby looking down upon me. If that doesn’t put the fear of God into one, I don’t know what will.
And now for the “Top Reason to become a Libertarian” section of the post. We drove on from Rocky Mount headed for the Outer Banks. Normally, this is a three-hour drive. Not with us. And not because we took a ton of stops either. I use the Waze traffic app. About fifteen minutes out from mass Waze informed me “Police reported ahead.” My wife and I looked at each other and, noticing two county police cars in the median, remarked in unison: “Police right there.” Lucky for me I was not speeding. Had the cruise control set at the actual speed limit. But that didn’t stop our friends from Edgecombe County, North Carolina’s Sherriff’s Office from pulling out in tandem and trailing me for five minutes. In my mind I went over any possible violations I could have made. Nothing. Why were they doing this to me? We were about to find out because they put their lights on. Being the dutiful citizen I am (and always obeying my federal overlords) I quickly pulled to the shoulder. An officer approached my vehicle. Without ever identifying himself he said simply “Got your license?” I already had it out so I handed it to him (careful to make sure it was my driver license and not my gun license because this isn’t Texas and he has no right to know) and asked “What’s the problem?” “We ran a check of your plates and it came back ‘no record’,” he said. Stop and think for a minute. If I haven’t done anything wrong, why on earth would you run a check of my plates? None of this made any sense. After five minutes he returned to my window and handed me back my license. “You’re good,” he said. “I know that,” I replied. He turned on his heel to walk away and I decided to be a wiseguy.
“Just one thing,
officer,” I said. “Why do they call them
Officer Skippy shot me a look as if I had just asked him to explain quantum physics. “Um, I think… You know? I’m not… Hey Buck!” Here he called to the other officer who had never approached the car. “Buck! Why are they Tar Heels?” Buck mumbled something inaudible. Skippy stuttered a bit and then said “I think Tar Heel was an Indian or something. Yeah, I think he had black feet.” Then he scurried away. The thing is that my wife and I had just had this conversation moments before being pulled over. Thanks to Google we knew the answer and it did NOT have a thing to do with a Native American. I’m not even sure these two clowns were actual police officers or if they were. perhaps they were doing some kind of on-the-job training. Look, folks, be on guard when you drive through North Carolina. The very first speeding ticket I ever got was in the Tar Heel State and the trooper admitted it was because the county needed the money
Another stop. This one at a Walmart for supplies and the world’s smallest liquor store for liquor supplies. Then, with the cruise locked to the speed limit the rest of the trip we drove on toward the beach. And finally, at 11:35 PM we reached our destination. Having seen stars, family, a shopkeep with human decency, an inflatable unicorn raft from a craft store, Jesus, two Andy Griffith wannabes, and a whole lot of coastal flats we could settle into bed. And this dad could give thanks for his wife, children, mother-in-law, friends, health, and safety… and a whole lot of memories.
PS: I need to mention here that my niece and her husband started up a neat company a couple of years ago and I would love to drive business their way. The company is called Soledier Socks. Check them out here and, if you, like me, wear socks consider them for your next purchase.
This morning I woke up in Alabama. There’s nothing terribly spectacular about
that fact I think. Just a man and his
wife, their two kids, and his mother-in-law struggling to gain consciousness in
a hotel room in the Deep South… I did
what I do every morning upon waking up.
I hit the ground and said my morning prayers. Praised be God! I’m alive.
I got out of bed unassisted. I
required no help in getting dressed.
From the looks of things through the room-darkening drapes, the sun was
out. My watch told me that the
temperature hadn’t crept too high. This
was going to be a beautiful day and my heart is full of joy. I have a lot of prayers that I pray every morning. It’s structured. I’m not saying I pray like Rainman or
anything but if you mess with my routine I will cut you. I continued praying silently as I left the
room and headed to the lobby for coffee.
The trip downstairs took a little longer than it should have. I could not board the first two elevators due
to overcrowding. Hoop skirts and
parasols take up a lot of space. I told
you there was nothing strange about waking up in Birmingham.
We’ve traveled like this many, many times to where we have the unpack/pack thing down. The lady at the front desk marveled at how quickly we managed to get everything back into the car so efficiently. “Y’all must have done this a time or two befo-ah, I should declaaayah.” I nodded politely. My daughter and her grandmother came past the front desk. “Ya’ll fav-uh; but I reckon yal’l get that a lot,” said the lady behind the counter, now staring at my daughter and me. I whispered to my wife: “If we pay her no heed perhaps she will ignore us.” We went back to packing the car while the attendant busily replaced the carafes of coffee with bottles of gin and a bowl of sloes mixed with sprigs of mint. If I hadn’t been so scared I might have been tempted to stay and check this party out. As she placed the bottles down I heard her softly singing something about the land of cotton and old time days, silently moving apostrophes as she did so. I walked around the vehicle shoving each member of my family inside, slamming doors behind them. Then I locked the doors, rolled down my window, shouted “We won the wo-ah!” and sped away.
Absolutely none of that may have happened in reality. I just needed some kind of device to get my
story going. You see, it’s actually the
morning of day 3 as I write this. When
we reach the end of this dispatch you might see why I am writing this then or
now or whenever it actually is. Let’s
pick up from the only part of that tale that was true. That would be the part where I woke up and
We packed the car and headed to mass. My son and I were both wearing long pants
despite the increasing heat. That’s
because we would be heading to a place that required a certain dress code. My wife had chosen the church from a list
online. It was about a half-hour
away. She had to remain in the car to
get on a business call so Wilma, the kids, and I all headed into the tiny,
almost mission looking church building.
The sign out front declared that “All are welcome here!” And what a strange way they had of showing
welcome. We encountered a Catholic mass
in Spanish with heavy doses of Latin – as in, the priest seemed not to be able
to make up his mind. For instance (and I
don’t know much Spanish) the priest prayed the Our Father in Spanish, said
something rapidly in Spanish directed toward the congregation, and then chanted
the Pater Noster. We approached for
Communion. For such a “progressive”
looking church building we all knelt at the rail to receive Communion on the
tongue. Again, I prefer to receive
Communion kneeling and on the tongue but all of this seemed so disjointed. Regardless, we had been blessed to stand at
the foot of Calvary and I can’t ever complain about that.
We drove a little further down the road and stopped in at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Yeah, we’re those kind of people. And this is where the pants come in. Some shrines like their visitors‘ legs more covered than others. I don’t mind. It’s not like it’s 1800 degrees out today or anything. We’ll offer it up. This shrine was built under the direction of one of my heroes, Mother Angelica. Here was a woman who didn’t take any nonsense. A beautiful place it was, too. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere was a large church with an enormous plaza, visitors center, and the requisite gift shop. In fact it was both the best shrine gift shop I ever saw and one of the most beautiful churches too. I had to force myself to leave the gift shop before I spent a small fortune. We stopped at the crypt-level church to pray at Mother’s tomb and then it was on our way again. A quick lunch (at five different restaurants to accommodate five people who suddenly remembered it’s Friday and we’re not eating meat; a quick change for father and son into shorts; and we’re on our way.
Still further up the same road (and keep in mind at this point we’re only about 30 miles from where we left this morning) we stopped at another shrine. I have a former student who is currently walking the Camino in Spain, mocking me every few minutes on Facebook with her pictures of beautiful places along the way. It is as if she is saying “Ha! You will never make it to Spain but I am here!” Yeah, toots? I’m doing the Northern Alabama Catholic tour. You don’t even know… OK, so it doesn’t quite work the same. This shrine is more of a grotto than a specific place of pilgrimage. It’s another spot that I had visited years earlier with my brother (see yesterday’s post). It’s called the Ave Maria Grotto. Here’s the story… About a hundred years ago, give or take, a young Benedictine monk arrived at St. Bernard’s Abbey in Cullman, Alabama. Possessing an artistic streak, he began making “models” of buildings he remembered from his native Bavaria. He constructed these out of rocks, twigs, broken dishes, basically anything he could get his hands on. He began making more and more “buildings”, placing them on the grounds of the abbey. Eventually his creations were arranged around a long and winding pathway and people come from all around to see what one monk could do with the other monks’ garbage. At one point Wilma, making note of the literature that said “friends would bring Brother Jozef old pottery, dishes, and knick-knacks, asking him to fashion them into his miniature displays of cities like Jerusalem or Rome.” Said my mother-in-law while staring at a crucifix made out of dozens of seashells “He must have had a lot of beach friends.” Oh, and the gift shop strikes again. “Look, kids, it’s all the same at all of these shrine gift shops. Holy cards, books, and statues of saints. Don’t get too excited,” I said as my gaze turned toward a holy card of a Fulton Sheen statue holding a stack of his books. They’re getting clever, these shopkeeps.
Packing the family back into the car I drove across the
northern reaches of Alabama as I cut a diagonal path toward the northeast
corner of that fair state. We had
planned to stop at a place I had not been to yet but that my wife had visited
once as a child. There is a mountain
lookout near the convergence of Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia appropriately named
Lookout Mountain. From the summit, a
piece of private property known as the very touristy “Rock City”, one can see
seven states. After paying damn near a
hundred bucks to enter I wondered aloud whether those states were frustration,
anger, seething rage, depression, etc.
However, after wandering the grounds – following the paths laid out by
the owners – we reached the lookout point and it was well worth the money. Not only was the view spectacular (you couldn’t
really see seven states, or at least I couldn’t) but experiencing the excitement
of exploring new places and seeing things most people never get to see and doing
this with my wife and children brought a great joy to my heart. Additionally, the grounds feature lots of story-book
themed motifs. I’m still not sure why
there were hundreds of garden gnomes placed throughout the park and we may have
in fact been paced under some kind of Wiccan hex by signing the credit card
slip. Time will tell. To be safe we may return to Mother Angelica’s
grave for protection.
Finally we headed out toward a nighttime stopping point. “Feel like driving past Asheville?” asked my beautiful wife. Asheville, NC lies a couple of hundred miles from Lookout Mountain. I felt like stopping right then and there, finding a cocktail, and getting into bed. But I knew we had to go on. And if she thought I could get us past Asheville then I could get us past Asheville. Along the last few hours of our drive my wife lovingly mocked me for my multiple stops. Look, my back can’t handle that many straight hours in the driver’s seat AND I need coffee. Thinking my passengers were all asleep I turned on some music from my phone. Came across an old album I used to listen to with my sister when we were young and used to go to Broadway matinees on the regular just because we could. After a while my wife opened her eyes, looked over at me, and said “You’re so strange…” “What?” I said. “Just rehearsing for my new production: Evita, a one-man show.”
And just as Mandy Patinkin was cryptically shrieking about Eva Peron’s missing body we arrived at our hotel. The time was 1:37 AM (hence the next day posting). A more thankful dad I really don’t think you could find – at least not in any of the states one can view from a mountaintop that might be in Georgia or perhaps in Tennessee. No matter, I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.
Dedicated to Annie DeLisle for reasons known to her.
Well here we are again! And by “we” I mean “me” sitting in a hotel room in a strange place, laptop on hand, pictures uploading to the cloud, bizarre canned cocktail nearby, cataloging the day’s memories, and reminiscing about the past – both years past and hours…
By the way, wasn’t it swell of me to start this post with a relatively short paragraph containing just two sentences, the second one ridiculously long and ending with an ellipses? Thought so.
By “here we go again” I mean to say that the very thing that was the catalyst to this blog and the forthcoming book(s) is now underway yet again. All the way back in the summer of 2008 and with a six week-old boy in tow because it would have been kind of wrong to leave him home alone, my darling wife and I set out to take the road trip we had talked about taking since we were dating. Six weeks later we returned to our apartment in Northern New Jersey, the boy now a man doubled in age. For 48 days we criss-crossed the continent reaching the far point of the Vegas Strip. I was a brand new dad and had fancied myself a pro at fatherhood. It’s hard to blame me since I had the best role model. My old man always did not only what was best for us but also made use of what he was good at while doing it. As a result I know every cerebral dirty joke every told. What I was good at (in my mind) was writing. So at the end of day one I found myself in a hotel room in Northern Virginia, playing with a happy infant boy, adoring my life, and reaching for my laptop so I could “pen a few lines to remember the day”.
Those lines exceeded 2500 words.
The next night I wrote another few thousand. And the night after that I did the same. I shared them with my wife who suggested I post them to Facebook where soon enough I had attracted a small army of “fans”. Long story short, I kind of forgot to stop writing. And every time we’ve taken a road trip since I’ve realized what is the bread and butter of this blog – road trips.
So tonight I present to you Day 1 of a new adventure on the asphalt ribbons of America.
Let’s start with the title. Every good story needs an apt title. The purpose of this trip for us is to visit my mother in New Jersey. And since we love my wife’s mother as well and she and my mom are great friends we asked her to come with us. So we’ll have one grandmother on the trip, another on the other side, and a whole lot of fun in between.
The day began shortly before 3AM when I sprang from my bed, dropped to my knees in prayer, grabbed a cup of hot, black coffee, and hit the shower. My loving wife had stayed up most of the night getting the house ready to be abandoned for a month and packing the car. She insisted I get the rest since I’d be driving. It’s a guy thing. It’s literally the least I can do. I imagine myself in days of old, my family in the back of a coach and me on the bench up front driving the horses. I also imagine horses don’t scare me.
A trip with us is like a trip to the DMV only not terrible or disgusting. However it does take all day to go a few inches. I was going to compare it to trench warfare but I thought it was too soon. Our first stop came just thirty minutes later as we pulled into Buc-ee’s. Click the link to look it up. It is pure Texas and pure awesome. I think we accidentally spent a hundred bucks there. Well, not me. I bought a black coffee and did 25 pushups in the parking lot. Off we go…
About two hours later, driving into the rising sun, we crossed the border into the Pelican State (Louisiana) at Shreveport. The kids and my wife slept soundly this whole time. My Mother-in-law Wilma remained awake long enough for the two of us to discover we were both halfway through a rosary (individually) and so we joined forces. Then she crashed. And I drove. Alone. For hours. Don’t feel bad. I got to count all the pine trees in East Texas along the way.
Perhaps it was the excitement of the rushing and mighty Big River but all my passengers seemed to awaken right before we crossed the Mississippi. After a bathroom break and photo op we stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel in Vicksburg. I got excited as we pulled off the highway. There, right next to the restaurant, was what looked to all the world like an outlet mall. They do come in handy on road trips for all the articles you suddenly remember forgetting to pack once you’re just out the door. Only this one was different. For starters it was only two strips of stores. And 98% of those were closed. As in, didn’t exist anymore. It was sadder than when my dog died in high school. Thank God for chicken fried steak.
As we barreled across Mississippi I decided it was time to indoctrinate the offspring by forcing them to listen to playing some selections my older sister made us listen to on road trips when I was their age. Linda Ronstadt, Boz Scaggs… I’m sorry. I almost drove off the road. Let’s listen to silence, kids! Silence sounds good.
Finally we crossed into Alabama where the stars fell. Not sure if that’s a tourist slogan or if a radiological waste site is actually contributing to the ethereal glow. It is a beautiful place. Here’s where it got really fun for me as a dad. When I was 12 my older brother had just graduated from West Point. Yes, that one. He set out on a trip to Birmingham to visit a friend from the Academy who had left two years earlier and was graduating from Auburn and he took me along for company. I remember the trip well and not just because my brother decided to make the 1000 mile return drive straight through but because our hosts took me to the Statue of Vulcan. Someone from Birmingham once visited New York Harbor and decided the Statue of Liberty would be nice overlooking their city. Instead they got Vulcan. Birminghamanians are proud of their city’s industrial roots so entrenched in the iron industry. In fact they’re known as “the Pittsburgh of the South” even though that city’s lifeblood was steel. Came up with that one all by themselves. Their history of segregation? Not so proud of that one. But they deal with that in several other really neat monuments. Hey, nobody’s perfect. Vulcan is really cool too. Perched on a very tall pedestal resembling a lighthouse, the deity looks out over Birmingham with an anvil at his side and an arrow in his raised hand. He’s even wearing a nifty apron round his waist. Unfortunately that apron was cut for a transparently smaller man. From the rear and shining on the Homewood neighborhood with the brilliance of a large celestial object is the exposed backside of a well-sculpted dude. God? Demi-god? It’s his butt. I remembered all of this and simply had to take my kids for the experience. Both kids laughed heartily when they saw it. Then we went to the top. My daughter even climbed the ten flights of stairs with me (had to get my workout in) and gleefully stepped out onto the viewing platform at the base of the Statue. Before freezing in terror.
The platform was an open steel grid. Boy was that scary. I had to be brave so she wouldn’t cry. Inside I had three heart attacks. Not figuratively either. Ten stories up and a clear view of the ground below. Maybe this wasn’t such a brilliant plan after all.
Nonetheless we got our pictures and drove on. On our way to the hotel just north of town God must have known I hadn’t closed my exercise ring on my watch. An old woman sat in an old car in the middle of a busy street. She had broken down. My wife said “She needs help.” Good observation. I pulled over, jumped out, and like roaches scattering in a kitchen but in reverse two other people and I ran toward her car, dodging traffic, and pushed her a block to a safe spot.
Finally in the hotel I “did the Dad thing”, even though I was beat, and jumped in the pool with my children. My wife went for food. Krystal’s. Never had ‘em? I’ll tell you more tomorrow. Wilma? She stayed in the room to pray. I needed it – the prayers that is. Later I closed out the day with a Walmart run. I forgot to pack my jumprope. It’s my daily cardio. I start every day with 30 minutes of high intensity jump rope before breakfast and vacation doesn’t change that. How else do you think I can do all this? Prayer? Oh, yeah that too. Made five trips back to the car for forgotten items, and finally cracked open a drink (if you can call it that) with my mother-in-law.
Which brings us to the present. Seems we have some 30 days ahead of us and many more adventures in store. I can’t promise more bareassed statues of Roman gods but I can promise lots of love and plenty of fun and a most thankful heart from this dad of two future saints.
Folks, I got off all that social media nonsense a while ago. Sorry but I'm not on Twitbook, Facepalm, YouHu, WingWang or any of the others. Maybe an event will happen to make me change my mind like Peter and Paul coming down with flaming swords and commanding it be so. Until then, read the blog and if you feel a comment is in order or you feel like sharing a tip or suggestion for a topic, email me at email@example.com.
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