“The family – that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to.” ~ Dodie Smith
I am 46 years-old and I am on a road trip with my parents. They are 76 and let’s just say, it’s been an adventure! We left their home in Horseshoe Bay, Texas at 5:30 this morning and drove for 13 hours through to St. Joseph, Missouri where my Aunt and Uncle will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary tomorrow night. It’s a chance to gather with my family and celebrate, and I wasn’t going to miss it. Besides, there’s nothing like a good road trip.
I’m not sure that I’ve been in the car for a road trip with both of my parents since I was 14 when we drove from our home in Winnipeg to spend Christmas at my Grandma’s (again to St. Joseph). That was like, 1975 and we were in my Dad’s car, a gold Chevy Tornado with an 8-track tape deck (definitely another “women of my generation” moment).
Now that certainly was a trip. One of my three sisters was with us ~ the other 2 no longer lived at home ~ along with our dog Duke, a Doberman, and all of our Christmas presents. The car broke down somewhere near Council Bluffs, Iowa in the midst of a snow storm, and we spent our Christmas Eve in a Ramada Inn where I penned a poem on hotel stationery to commemorate the … um … occasion. (If only I had a blog back then!) When I get a chance to dig it out, I will definitely share it. It is something of a family classic.
But anyway, back to this trip … It started with my mother gently reminding me the night before we left that I probably wouldn’t like my father’s choice of music. She did it under the guise of encouraging me to bring my own music (which, of course, we all know I have plenty of) but really it was more of her not-so-subtle way of saying, “Don’t complain!” Feeling a bit like a 12 year-old being told to “behave myself,” I smiled obediently. Okay Mommy! No temper tantrums on this trip. 😉
With that admonition, I made a silent pact to definitely keep my music and temperature preferences to myself. More on THAT later. Thankfully, we were in Dad’s Lexus sedan, a luxury vehicle, so behaving was relatively easy. I had more leg room in the back seat than I have in my bed and my own controls for everything from a backseat seat cooler to an automatic recliner thing-y that puts Lazy Boys to shame. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover that particular feature until we were well into the trip, somewhere along the Kansas turnpike, I believe.
At one point, I attempted to adjust the gale-force air conditioner that was icing my legs over and repeatedly pressed a button on my console only to discover that I was alternately raising and lowering the sunshade on the back window. Fortunately, my father did not catch me doing this. Fearing that there might be an ejection button, I decided to quit tempting the fates in pressing random switches and resigned myself to the frigid car temperatures that my dad prefers.
I had forgotten in my old age that my parents have this obsession with gas mileage, and it has always been something of a game for them to calculate, RE-calculate, and report the adjusted consumption at regular intervals. This trip has been no exception. Believe it or not, the car got almost 32 miles to the gallon. I know this because my Dad announced it about every 10 or 15 minutes. “Pam, we’re getting 31.7 miles to the gallon … No wait, 31.8, can you believe that?” Seriously, in 775 miles, we only filled up once which really was pretty amazing.
Now, let me give you a crash course in the cardinal rules of McFarland family road trips. It’s pretty basic but it is key: “Eat when Dad eats; pee when Dad pees.” If not, you’re screwed. Our first stop was a gas station not far from their house to top off the tank. This particular station offered daily specials: a 5¢/gallon discount ~ Tuesday is Ladies’ Day, Wednesday is Seniors’ Day & Thursday is Men’s Day. As it was Thursday, Dad was thrilled. After putting in about 10 gallons, he paid for his gas only to discover that the clerk had neglected to give him the advertised discount. Upon questioning, she looked out the window to check the daily special sign before refunding him a whopping 50 CENTS on the $40 tab. This all happened before 7 a.m. (Really … I am not making this up!)
At the next stop, a McDonald’s in Burnet, I irritated Dad by messing up the Egg McMuffin order but then I redeemed myself by introducing him to the whole Extra Value Meal concept which got us the hash browns thrown in practically for free.
A few hours down the road and it was time for a coffee stop. Now I can sniff out a Starbuck’s even at 75 mph and Gainesville, Texas was no exception. It’s a gift, I know. We enjoyed a grande latte and ate a scone ~ because we can’t eat in the car ~ and then hit the bathrooms before continuing on. You can always count on Starbuck’s to have clean bathrooms, my father reports, so it’s worth the price of the coffee. We were set for awhile.
But then, we never really stopped for lunch so by late in the afternoon, the blood sugar and general mood was dipping precariously low. Having driven the whole way and more than a bit perturbed that he couldn’t get the car over 32 miles to the gallon, Daddy needed a break. We pulled into the parking lot of yet another McDonald’s, and Dad stopped to let Mother and I out before he parked.
Mom hopped out while I searched for my flip-flops, which were buried somewhere beneath the usual “Pam-piles” of stuff in the backseat. Annoyed, Dad barked at me, “C’mon Pam! Get the hell outta the car!” Right then, a nearby truck began to back out, so Daddy shifted into reverse and (unbeknownst to him) nearly ran over my Mom. I jumped out of the car (barefoot but with my flip-flops in hand) as Mother smiled at me apologetically,”Your father can be a little impatient sometimes, honey.” I giggled, reminding her that ~ while she has been married to him for over 50 years ~ I’ve been around for 46 of them. This was not a news flash.
I really wasn’t up for McDonald’s (again) so while they had some soft ice cream, I went outside to stretch my legs. I’d been freezing all day and the sunlight felt good. Other than this, the only relief I had from the blasting a/c was when I stoled Mom’s jacket off her sleeping shoulders.
I found a grassy area under the golden arches and had a short asana practice which seem to fascinate two guys from Oklahoma in a nearby pick-up. “What do you call that thing you’re doing?” one of the guys shouted, which was followed by a brief conversation. Then, I kicked up into a handstand, tentatively testing my injured wrist which was great until I lost my balance and ended up planting my hand into a pile of dog poop. *Note to self: probably not good to practice yoga near urine-streaked lampposts; sure sign of dog visits, cultivate awareness.
The trip continued on. For the record, let me just say my parents are awesome. Married 55 years, they really have this sweet relationship that’s fun to watch. They are active, hip and totally cool, but hey, they ARE 76! The XM-Radio station of choice — which I swore I wasn’t going to complain about — was not moved from its preset channel all day. I’m not exactly sure what the genre was supposed to be, but let’s just say there was a LOT of elevator music with some Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and an occasional Norah Jones’ number thrown in for interest.
I contained myself for the most part, with just a couple of casual suggestions that we might just “try” another station which went totally ignored. I was good for about 9 or 10 hours but then totally snapped in the 11th hour when the conversation turned into a debate involving the lyrics of Moonriver and just what IS a ‘Huckleberry friend,’ anyway?! (And no, I am NOT making this up either.) I’m thinking that given my recent blog entry on song lyrics, this had to be some kind of karmic event.
We rolled into St. Joe ~ home of the Pony Express ~ about 7 p.m. Dad was tired, hungry, and ~ shocking to all of you, I’m sure ~ somewhat irritable! He checked us into the Holiday Inn as Mom and I unloaded the luggage. Then, he handed us the room keys and announced he was going to the hotel restaurant for a drink, to which I loudly piped back, “Have two! You’re cranky!” A couple entering the hotel chuckled at the comment and asked where we were from. Mom replied, “Texas,” and they inquired, “Oh, are you running from the hurricane?” “No,” I assured them, “We brought HIM with us!” (For the record, if I WERE to be running from a hurricane, it would NOT be to St. Joseph, Missouri!)
We joined Dad in the restaurant and had a fabulous dinner. Well, who really knows; we simply inhaled it. But a little food and Daddy was a new man. My cousins Kelly & Kathleen joined us at the hotel for a visit. Daddy slipped off to bed, but the three of us ~ along with my mother ~ closed down the bar, laughing until we cried, sharing family stories and a bottle of red wine … or two.
As I walked my mom to her room, I felt such gratitude ~ not just for the day we’d shared, but for the memories we’d made. You know … there’s nothing like a good road trip! With love from Missour-ah …
Goodnight, my Huckleberry friends … whatever the hell that means!