A couple of weeks ago I headed south… just a quick trip to check in with my folks and help with tax paperwork.
Over the years driving has become my least favorite thing, especially when I’m alone. But staying connected to family is one of my most favorite things, so I get in the car. From the rural road I live on to the fast paced interstate, I find my groove in the southbound lanes and go.
This time the snow level was high, pavement dry and the sky was clear. The mountain fuel stop filled my car and my lungs with crisp, clean air. I couldn’t help but wonder how many times I or they or we have driven this highway, traversed these mountains, bought fuel at this location and a burger down the road.
I-5 has linked me to family my entire life.
Visits northbound when I was small… I don’t know how Dad did it. The interstate we use today was a two-lane then. Mom packed food and there were few restaurant stops. It took two full days and one night in a motel. Dad was silent, strong and focused as he drove. And I loved to watch him. He did it with a wife, two noisy little girls and no modern rest stops. Amazing.
Visits southbound when I was grown and married… one husband, one wife, four little boys and money didn’t grow on trees. The husband’s rule was everyone ate the $1.99 Grand Slam special at Denny’s… whether you wanted it or not. (cheap and filling, you know) The upside… it was only a one day trip on a modern interstate WITH rest stops and Grandma’s good food at the other end.
This solo trip I packed a few snacks… knowing I would eat at a restaurant on the way. Snacks are tradition. Makes me think of my boys, or mom… good memories.
I found Mom and Dad well, since their move eight months ago. Their apartment in an independent-living senior community is cheerful. And Mom knows almost everyone, how long they’ve been there, where they’re from, what they did before retirement and how the bus system works. She’s good that way. But Dad… not so much. He hangs back. And I know this because it’s my default setting as well… when I’m not sure… and when change is relentless.
I think Dad is sad though. He misses driving. It was kind of the last thing he had to give up. It was his connection to the way things were. And it was the last thing the doctor told him… that he shouldn’t drive.
Dad is the best driver I ever knew. He was unflappable. It was his thing. And he taught me well.
He even taught me to do minor maintenance, because “not all men will do this for you”, he often said. And he was right. Thanks, Dad.
When I call, I make a point of telling him that I got the oil changed or the tires rotated. He likes to know stuff like that. And he nods approvingly when I check the tire pressure before I head north.
Because, inevitably… I always have to head north. Again. And this time Dad is on my mind. I look for our favorite restaurants, the “safe” rest stops, the easy fuel access. I pass the olive groves and where we used to buy big cans of them, the lake just before we climb the mountain pass and the peaceful farmland on the other side. He has seen and memorized those same things. And sometimes, even though I am alone, I feel his hands are on the steering wheel.
So I channel my inner Bob… and drive on.