Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Into the West

The title above is also the latest tweet from younger son who left today on his post-graduation motorcycle trip to California. He describes his general plan here. He will visit 20 states and, if all goes according to plan, stand on the highest point in nine of them. He expects to be home sometime between June 18 and 20, but for tonight he should be in Santa Claus, Indiana.

Am I nervous? Of course, but he's 21 and has planned this trip more carefully than I planned the solo European jaunt I did when I was 19. Would I feel more comfortable if he were with someone as opposed to making a solo trip? Perhaps, but then sometimes two people end up goading each other on and get in more trouble than one person would. He took a test ride of about 500 miles and back two weeks ago, so he knows what a full day riding a full bike will be like. He did what appeared to be a good job packing everything securely, in two saddlebags, one backpack, and a magnetic map case. He may send things back once he no longer needs them, which would give him some room to pick up a souvenir or two.

He's prepared for bad weather; in fact, he practiced riding in the rain on his test drive to the Kentucky Derby. Having checked the forecast for today's ride, he donned his rain suit before leaving this morning from our family breakfast at one of our favorite local dives. And while I didn't cry after watching him ride off, I will admit that I came close. It's been a bittersweet couple of days here watching him graduate from college and head out on his own personal grand adventure. I feel very old and somewhat no longer needed, as if I should say, "My work here is done," take a bow, and sit down. He was a good kid, and now he's a good man. Have a good trip, okay? And here's lookin' at you!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dear Dad,

I've been thinking a lot about you lately, especially here in the week bracketed by Mother's Day on Sunday and your birthday on Saturday. I appreciated that you always sent your daughter a card on Mother's Day. You were so supportive of my efforts, some more successful than others, to help two rambunctious boys grow into two good men. While Mom always questioned my decision not to go back to work after the younger one was born, you didn't hesitate in letting me know you thought I was doing the right thing. You may have been compensating for your own feeling that you weren't there for much of your daughter's childhood; even so, I appreciated your support and encouragement.

I've been going through several boxes of papers, photos, yearbooks, and other bits of your life first on my own and, then, with the brother and his wife when they visited recently. Some of the items offer a comfortable familiarity, a reminder of the Dad I knew and loved. With many of the items, though, I wish I could be going through them with you at my side or at least in the next room, for questions and answers shouted back and forth through the doorway. The best I can do on my own is guess at the answers or make up something that pleases me and might have pleased you.

There is a silver baby ring, for example, in the smallest box I have ever seen with the smallest lid I have ever seen. I wear your gold baby ring around my neck on the same gold chain you wore; did the silver one belong to your big brother Jack, the uncle I knew only through your stories? I expect that I will find a silver chain for the silver ring and wear it in place of yours when the husband and I return to Vietnam next year. On the last trip, I left all the jewelry I couldn't stand to lose at home and wore thrift store replicas. Obviously, I would hate to lose Uncle Jack's ring, but losing it would not cut nearly as deeply as losing yours would. There might even be a cosmic symmetry if I were to lose it in Asia since that's where Uncle Jack lost his life in the Korean War.

And the papers, all the papers! More of your school papers got saved than mine, I think. Certificates of perfect attendance and excellence at basketball, tickets to football games, programs from school plays. Amidst all the papers is a program for an Initiation, with items such as "Have Jimmy Lightner dance with Miss Megill while Delores Cox plays the piano" and "Have Mr. Ida tell what he likes about the senior girls." I know that Mr. Ida was a teacher at St. Edward High School. Jimmy was your cousin, I think, your younger cousin. Was this how the upperclassmen initiated the freshmen? It would be interesting to hear if all these things really happened. Did Doris Buck really tell how to milk a cow without using her hands? And how did D. D. Iverson's "talk on the finer point of necking" go?

One envelope contained quite a collection of photos of young women. I recognized Mom in a couple, but I know about Mom. The one I'd like to ask you about appeared in three photos, two with you and one on her own. Given the way you were looking at her here, and the way she was holding you here, I'd guess you were pretty special to each other. Who was she, I wonder. She was certainly quite pretty. A friend suggested that I should harness the power of the Internet to try to find out, similar to the way I remember you trying to find Uncle Jack's girlfriend forty or more years after Jack died. I think it's better just to let this one go. Imagination may well be safer than reality.

The menfolk and I are marking what would have been your 82nd birthday by going shooting. I bet you never thought you'd see the day when your daughter owned a gun even if it is painted pink and decorated with Hello Kitty stickers. You'd get an even bigger kick out of learning that part of your grandsons' Mother's Day gift to me was registration in a gun safety class needed to get a concealed handgun permit in Virginia. No, I don't have a handgun nor do I have plans to get one. But it's kind of badass to think that I could.

I'd love to see your reaction to your younger grandson's plan for the next month or so. He graduates on May 22 and leaves the next morning to ride his motorcycle to California. He did a practice run last weekend, riding to the Kentucky Derby and back. His bike is smaller than the one you had (there were some photos of it among all those papers) but even so I'm sure you would have some stories to trade once he's back.

Time to head home from the gym now, so I'll sign off. Know that I miss you lots, but appreciating more every day what a good foundation you helped give me. I think you'd be happy with the way things are going.

Love you, Dad, and miss you.

Your little girl