On summer road trips and missing a parent

 

July Morning Blogapalooza: "Pick an age and write about what summer – one memory, one day or the summer in general – was like from when you were that age"

 

I remember summer road trips.  Some of my best and most touching memories of my dad were during these times when we got to step away from the routine.  Seeing him outside of the daily grind of taking care of his family.  We lost our dad fifteen years ago and I miss him.

When I was very young, summer meant driving down to my father’s birthplace of Natchez, Mississippi.  A cooler full of cold cut sandwiches, bags of chips and pop in full size bottles (cans of pop were too pretentious, translation: a little more expensive).  No a/c but just a bunch of open windows with the breeze blowing in.

As one of the younger kids in a really big family, I remember my older brothers and sisters telling me how lucky I was to come along when I did.  When they were growing up, my dad was a heavy smoker who obsessively loved sports.  So their road trip memories involved riding around in a smoky car with the windows rolled up listening to crotchety baseball commentators on AM radio.  Adolescent misery.  All I have to do is jokingly mention those days and it nearly sends them into a frenzy to go jump off of something very tall.

I will forever be grateful to my older siblings for knocking all the rough edges off my parents and giving them proper training on raising kids.  By the time my younger brother and I came along, my dad had quit smoking and expanded his road entertainment options to actually include some music.  On top of that, these were the times I got to see that my dad was not always a super-serious guy and he could be pretty funny sometimes.

I was too young to have ever known them, but I always remember hearing about how great my grandparents were and how much my dad loved and missed them when he moved away.  As the oldest in his family, my dad was particularly close to his mom.  Still he couldn’t wait to escape the oppression of being a young black man in Mississippi in the 1940s and ‘50s, so he joined the Army at the tender age of 17.  When he returned from serving in Germany, he settled in Chicago and never lived in the South again.

One of the things we would do in Mississippi was visit the cemetery where my father’s parents were buried.  On one particular trip when I couldn’t have been more than five or six years old, I have a memory of my parents leaving the kids to wait in the car while they went to pay their respects at the two graves laying side by side.  They had their backs to us and I noticed my dad drop his head down as his shoulders slumped a little.  My mom reached up to put her arm around him.  My dad pulled out his ever-present handkerchief and dabbed his eyes as my mom led him off into the distance.  As a tough, stern-yet-fair man, it was the only time in my life I ever witnessed my father crying.  To my kid’s mind, it was so hard to believe that even adults could be sad about missing someone.  Now that I’ve lost him, I have an idea how he felt that day.

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