Driving and Life Lessons

Old leather key wallet on top of an antique drivers license

Dad loves his wallet. Lately he looks through it several times a day then hides it somewhere in his room. During his professional life he conducted a good amount of cash business,  is accustomed to carrying large bills, and more than most of us might. Although he doesn’t remember to purchase anything anymore it is a way for me to give him a sense of purpose and perhaps comfort. The amount is much smaller and I have already decided it’s alright if he should lose it. He counts the twenty dollar bills again and again. Until recently he never bothered to carry ones and fives, and he doesn’t count them.

Dad also loves his driver’s license. Although it has expired, he still carries it. I keep other expired cards in his wallet as well. Strangely, this morning he pulled out his draft registration card dated 1956. I’ve never seen it before and have no idea how it was placed in his wallet. Then he shared a story I’ve heard many times. He was thinking about his “poor momma” and how she tested several times before passing the driving test for her license. My grandmother would get nervous and make mistakes. Finally, Dad went with her for moral support and she passed the test. Dad said she was a careful and safe driver and it was just a few years later that she was driving me all over town. Dad was also an excellent driver, but because his reaction time and vision were affecting his confidence, he willing stopped driving a couple years ago. 

Dad began teaching me to drive at a very young age. He would find a backroad in Arizona and put me on his lap behind the wheel of his 1947 Ford truck. When I was very small and squeezed into the middle of the seat with Dad on one side and my sister and mother on the other, Dad would grab my knee to make the horn honk. He was discretely pressing his elbow on the horn with his other arm. I still find myself in childlike awe of Dad.  As I grew into preadolescence, Dad would ask me to move the truck around our property or  just roll it forward a few feet while he was dumping a load of dirt. I had to stand on the gas and clutch, work the gear shift and wasn’t tall enough to see over the dash.  One day I drove into our neighbor’s fence. Dad and I spent hours repairing the fence before our neighbor arrived home. This is the only time I can remember him handling a situation this way. Dad and I still chuckle about how Mr. G. never noticed the fence repair. These days whenever Dad’s truck or a tractor needs to be moved around his property I ask him to do it.  If we have the time, I jump in and we sneak in a few laps around the block. 

At 16 years of age, a few months after I started driving, I got a speeding ticket. I was running late for the start of a parade and was the girls’ drill team commander for my high school junior reserve officers training corp (ROTC).  As taught, I took a backroad hoping to save a little time. Oops! My age and the nature of the ticket required I appear in court. To my surprise, Dad wanted to go with me. He asked me to wear my ROTC uniform. He thought it might help me make a positive impression in court. He still values a tidy appearance and tucks everything in to everything.

Dad met me at the court in our small downtown. We parked on the street, walked in off the sidewalk and stopped.  If my memory serves me correctly, there was just a few feet between the front door and a wall-to-wall partition of fancy wood. Looking up, there sat a small old man in a black robe. We were the only ones in what appeared to be a one-room courthouse. Dad was right, the Judge noticed my uniform and asked me about it. I explained the circumstances of my ticket and apologized. Dad was also in uniform wearing a shirt with his employer’s business logo neatly tucked into trousers with a belt.  He obviously made the most positive impression but not necessarily because of his appearance. I recall the judge asking him if he had taken off work to be with his daughter in court. The judge gave me a warning with six months probation. The ticket never went on my record. I was a fast learner.

Dad and I were recently in an accident where another driver drove into the back of us on the freeway. Thankfully, we were not injured. Dad told me I did well handling the moment. After dropping off my car for repairs, we took off in the rental car and stopped for lunch. I was delighted when Dad took out his wallet and paid for our meal – in cash.

 

Stock photo ID:870902952 Cindy Shebley

 

The Beachcomber

Dad is barefoot wading in the water at our local beach. It is his newest favorite pastime in any weather to walk, collect rocks and shells, and watch the shorebirds and surfers. The other day he said, “Get your children and grandchildren down here on the beach. I wish I had gotten myself out there on those boards when I was a younger man.”

It hasn’t always been this way. In fact is has been a lifelong process. Dad has naturally been a fit muscular guy. He looked great without a shirt and in swim trunks which he wore without hesitation. Yet in our early teens my sister and I noticed he didn’t wear shorts. We talked with him about it and finally persuaded him to try the popular cutoff jeans around the house. He liked them and has worn shorts since the 1970s. But our job wasn’t finished. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that we convinced him to wear sports socks with his shorts. We reminded him how great his legs looked. Who knew it was that easy?

This past spring Dad arrived for an extended stay with us in southern California. During our regular walks on the beach he was always high on the dry sand wearing socks and shoes. Invariably he would get wet even though he tried not to. Then one day after watching us remove our shoes, he spontaneously took off his sneakers and socks and joined us along the waters edge. Now he loves it! Then another miracle happened. We bought him a pair of flip flops to wear with his shorts on the way to and from the beach. He loves them! We found a light weight pair with a soft toe insert and we stay nearby to avoid falls. But he really does great with them. It only took him until age 82.

We go to the beach every few days. If not he asks when we can “go to the water”. Dad fills his pockets with shells and rocks every beach walk. He displays them on trays and looks at his collection every day. If you visit us he will bring them out to show you. He has so many rocks we created an outdoor space for them in the garden. Dad especially enjoys the colored rocks and rocks with holes. He is particularly fond of a Chestnut Cowrie he found. We recently purchased a seashell identification guide for him.

Yesterday we packed our lunch and beach chairs and set ourselves right in the tide. He laughed as the water washed up around our feet. Then we watched the sanderlings scurry and the pelicans diving for fish. We combed the beach for shells and sand dollars. Dad has expressed many times how much he enjoys our time on the beach. We treasure it! But our work is not finished yet. We are still practicing knowing the difference between sand dollars and sea gull dollars.

Oops!

Go West Young Man

Tonto Natural Bridge, Arizona

Dad moved our family west in 1964. We settled under the shadows of the Superstition Mountains in Apache Junction, Arizona when I was just four years of age. Western novels and movies have been a lifelong source of enjoyment for Dad until a few months ago. He has read every Zane Grey novel and owns a complete collection. Then added Louis L’Amore to his library. Last year he made the effort to read the complete collection of Louis L’Amour in sequence. It was the last time. Although, he stands and admires the books sometimes touches them. I remember Dad taking us to the Round Up Drive-In movie theater to see John Wayne in Red River and when Blazing Saddles was released. Over the past few months, books have become difficult to read and western movies with the “shoot em up” as Dad describes it, seem to bother him. Bookmarks are a challenge to keep in place and while he was on page 122 one day, the next day he would be on page 90.

As we transition to trying audio books and watching more country music videos instead of westerns, I reflect on Dad’s love for Arizona and everything cowboy. On special occasions he wore the hat, jeans, boots and a Bolo tie. He even had a holster and a pistol. Dad hiked and explored all parts of the state climbing all over the Superstitions, and into Geronimo’s Cave. He took us camping at many lakes along the Apache Trail and throughout the White Mountains and taught my sister and I how to fish. Then we learned how to clean and cook the fish including eating a delicious crispy tail. He eventually purchased property near the Mogollon Rim for family getaways. On some adventures, Dad drove his 1947 Ford pick up truck on steep mountain roads. We were scared half to death as we looked down the steep sides of canyons while he bumped along nearly impassable roads.

Shortly after moving to Arizona, Dad turned a 1956 Ford into a desert buggy. We would spontaneously head out for adventures turning off a dirt road in the middle of what I thought was “nowhere” only to come across an abandoned homestead or “ghost town”, as Dad would call it. One childhood memory includes images of my mother and sister and I walking through an old cemetery in a long forgotten town and seeing three snakes within a matter of minutes; a rattlesnake, a king snake and a red and black coral snake. We weren’t frightened as Dad and Mom had taught us about all the desert creatures like Gila monsters, snakes and tarantulas.

To spark Dad’s love for Arizona and enjoy his adventurous spirit, we recently drove to the Tonto Natural Bridge. We reminisced about the friends and family we had shared the bridge with in decades past. We hiked short trails, watched wild Javelina and then went to lunch at a vintage cafe not far from the Zane Grey cabin museum. I thought we might visit the museum. When I asked Dad, he shrugged and said it had been moved from its original location. He then ordered a big slice of cherry pie which he did not share. I thought to myself, “Cowboys must really like cherry pie.”

Zane Grey Under the Tonto Rim

Made in America

Infants foot stamped with text Made in USA

Dad is one of about 23 million “Silents” in the United States. This group of United States citizens now known as the “silent majority” carry a mix of values formed by the Great Depression and World War II. Fewer children were born during this time between 1928 and 1945. Dad’s father was self-motivated delivering milk and eggs with a horse and wagon. His mother ran the home and worked factory jobs. From the stories Dad shares, both his parents were a part of his life every day. The family lived on a small farm and sustained themselves with the bare necessities. Dad learned early in life that hard work, honesty, and saving his pennies were the key to success. He was rarely without a job of some kind beginning at a young age. He willingly worked the family farm and helped other farmers seasonally. Later working in local garages and some light construction with friends if that was all he could find. The family owned only American made automobiles and tractors. In fact, everything in Dad’s life at that time was made in America.

My “Silent” spoke up recently when he noticed some of the labels on his clothing. Dad requires some assistance selecting clothes so I lay them out on the bathroom counter for him. The plan is to drop dirty clothes on the rug for me to pick up later and to put on the clean clothes. Lately the two get mixed up and I check on him more frequently. One evening Dad took a particularly long time getting dressed so I tapped on the door asking if everything was okay. It wasn’t. Dad had his long sleeve dirty shirt tied around his waste and nothing else on. He was staring at his clean briefs holding them up with both hands. As I peeked in, he said, “my underwear are made in Vietnam!” I responded, ” Oh, well they will work better if you put them on.” He did. A little more time passed so I cracked the door again. “My tee shirt is made in Honduras!” “Gee Dad, aren’t you cold? Let’s get that tee shirt on.” He did. Then as he put on his flannel pajama bottoms, he said, “these are made in Bangladesh! Maybe I should join a nudist colony.” We laughed all the way to the laundry basket. Dad picked up a pair of pants from the laundry and checked the label. He looked at me and said, “Nicaragua. Next thing you know newborn babies will come with labels on them from the countries where they were born.”

Just before we turned out the lights at bedtime that night, Dad said, “I’m glad I am made in America. I said, “Me too Dad, me too.”

God Bless the Road Rebel

Dad has always been a “car guy”. Nearly every story he shares begins with a car, truck or tractor and then as the tale unfolds I learn about family history. During his teen years Dad and some of his friends started the Road Rebels club. The purpose of the club was to share a common interest and learn more about automobiles through hands-on experience. The father of one of the young men owned a garage where meetings were held. Dad enjoyed it so much he continued to wear his Road Rebels leather jacket for years afterward. One Sunday morning, as the story goes, the family was running late for church. As he ran out the door Dad grabbed his favorite jacket. Dad and mom settled into the last row pew just in time for the service to start. When it was time for the offering, the Deacon was short an usher and gave Dad a tap, asking him to help. Dad willing assisted in collecting the offering, moving row by row up the aisle to the front of the church for the blessing. As the congregation prayed over the collection, Mom looks up and sees in large white letters R O A D R E B E L S across Dad’s back. I never heard anything more about the jacket after that Sunday. Since then Dad has worked on many automobiles and enjoyed restorations. Industrial and truck engines became a significant part of his successful career. What I appreciate the most is that Dad taught me how to maintain my own car.

Dad is a NASCAR fan. Over the years I would often buy him tickets to races as birthday or Father’s Day gifts. He would always take Jim; his best friend of more than 40 years. They had a great time and every year gave me a detailed accounting of their day at the raceway. Lately, I have been recording the races for Dad to enjoy in shorter segments during the week since he doesn’t sit through a full-length race anymore. Dad loves it if someone watches the race with him so I sit nearby and get computer work done during the race. Imagine my surprise when I started a race for him today and he said, “This is the same one as yesterday.” I reminded him that yesterday we watched the end of a race in Atlanta and this race is in Miami. He said, “It can’t be. Its the same drivers in the same cars with the same numbers.” I wasn’t sure what to say and replied, “Yes Daddy, that’s how it works. There are quite a few races in a season.” Dad then inquired, “You mean all they do is drive around in circles for hours?” I said, “Yes Daddy.” Dad continues, “and they spin out and hit each other and roll over?” I nodded yes. Dad shakes his head and says, “That can’t be good for those drivers.” I said, “We hope they don’t have accidents but sometimes they do.” Dad jumps up and exclaims, “Stupidity!” Although still bewildered, my brain is finally catching up to the moment and now I’m trying not to laugh. I asked, “Who is your favorite driver?”, Dad says, “All my favorite drivers are dead.” I told Dad we could turn the race off if he didn’t want to watch it. He said, “I want to watch it. ” I asked him who he was rooting for and he said, “Jimmy Johnson”. Dad is enjoying the race and even laughing at a few comments by the announcers. I haven’t told Dad Jimmy Johnson is retiring this year. All I can say is, “God bless the Road Rebel!

Grand Canyon – Light and Laughter

Photo by Daughter

Dad and I went to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We went because he did not remember having been there and always wanted to go.  While we were waiting to check in to our cabin we decided to hike the Bright Angel Point Trail. The trail starts near the lodge and winds along sheer drop offs with dramatic views of the canyon. While we were hiking, Dad began to tell me how much he “hated this trail” sharing he hated it the entire time he helped build it. I was surprised but just listened. He explained that it was cold and snowing and he and all the workers feared they would slip and fall. I encouraged him to walk away from the edge and we continued along the trail. I asked him where he lived when he was working on the trail and he told me he drove to work from his home every day. He lives more than eight hours one-way from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. He also told me a good friend of his, one he worked with for years at his primary profession, quit after just one day. He was adamant about his experience, so I just hiked along with him in his moment. Along the way we stopped for a few sips of water under a shady rocky overhang.  At this same stop was a couple visiting from India. Dad told them in great detail how he built the trail sharing how the stones were placed along the edge and about the dangerous work. The couple listened to his story with interest and became excited to meet him. I just stood there quietly watching and listening. After all, my mission was to give Dad a happy visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We had a wonderful evening watching the light sweep across the canyon at sunset and a glass of wine with dinner. Our cabin was just 20 yards from the edge of the canyon. We slept peacefully under the pines with a fire in the stone hearth. We woke early to watch the sunrise and enjoy the changing hues as much as possible. Just one day – a few hours together as father and daughter to be remembered…or not. A few days after we returned home, Dad called me and said he needed to apologize. I said, “Dad, you never do anything you need to apologize for.” He said, “I never built a trail in the Grand Canyon.” I said, “well, there is a couple in India telling their friends they met a guy that did.” We laughed and laughed. Dad still remembers our trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Sometimes we look at the photographs together, talk about how beautiful it was, and laugh about our adventure.

Photo: National Park Service

“A short trail leads visitors from Grand Canyon Lodge to a viewing area at Bright Angel Point. Looking east, hikers can see Roaring Springs Canyon, a major tributary to Bright Angel Creek and the source of Roaring Springs. Deva, Brahma, and Zoroaster Temples are visible to the southeast. To the west is The Transept, a large tributary canyon of the Grand Canyon. The Colorado River, however, is hidden among the multicolored buttes and rock outcroppings that fill the Canyon’s depths. Along the trail are displays of marine fossils and crinoid fossils that illustrate the evolution of the landscape and life through the millennia as revealed in the exposed layers of the Canyon.”  Bright Angel Point

The Funnies – Together

Smokey Stover – One of Dad’s favorite comic strip characters.

Dad makes almost daily references to comic strips like Smokey Stover which he enjoyed growing up.  The other day Dad said “Cash U. Nutt” and then asked, “Do you remember Nancy?” I didn’t so I asked him to tell me about it. We looked it up on the internet and he was so excited to see the comic strip Nancy. We read a few and chuckled. Then he asked me if I remembered Henry. I didn’t. Dad said, “You youngsters can’t remember anything!”. Here are strips of Smokey, Nancy and Henry we found on the internet with Wikipedia excerpts describing each. I think we will make reading the “funnies” a daily activity. Enjoy!

“The puns and “silly pictures on the wall with various items hanging clear out of the frames” was the feature that provoked the most reader mail, according to articles and interviews with Holman. The cartoonist often visited the syndicate office to pick up the puns which readers suggested for the walls. He called these items “wallnuts”. For example, a picture of a fish opening a door is labeled “calling cod”.[2] The panels of Smokey Stover regularly include sight gags, mishaps, absurd vehicles, and bizarre household items, including oddly shaped furniture, clocks, vases, headwear, cigarette holders, and telephones. Framed pictures on the walls change completely from panel to panel or feature the subjects literally jumping out of the frames. The strip also abounds in nonsensical dialogue, non-sequiturs, and puns.”

“Comics theorist Scott McCloud described the essence of Nancy: Ernie Bushmiller’s comic strip Nancy is a landmark achievement: A comic so simply drawn it can be reduced to the size of a postage stamp and still be legible; an approach so formulaic as to become the very definition of the “gag-strip”; a sense of humor so obscure, so mute, so without malice as to allow faithful readers to march through whole decades of art and story without ever once cracking a smile. Nancy is Plato’s playground. Ernie Bushmiller didn’t draw A tree, A house, A car. Oh, no. Ernie Bushmiller drew the tree, the house, the car. Much has been made of the “three rocks.” Art Spiegelman explains how a drawing of three rocks in a background scene was Ernie’s way of showing us there were some rocks in the background. It was always three. Why? Because two rocks wouldn’t be “some rocks.” Two rocks would be a pair of rocks. And four rocks was unacceptable because four rocks would indicate “some rocks” but it would be one rock more than was necessary to convey the idea of “some rocks.” A Nancy panel is an irreduceable concept, an atom, and the comic strip is a molecule.[18]

Cartoonist Wally Wood described Nancy‘s design more succinctly: “By the time you decided not to read it, you already had.”[19]

“Art Baxter analyzed the appeal of the character and the strip: Henry was a strip that was supposed to be contemporary, but it never looked that way. There were almost no modern trappings. There may be cars or telephones, but that’s about it. It always seemed like Henry could always find the coal wagon, horse-drawn ice delivery or a five-cent ice cream cone. There were always shadings of nostalgia in the strip, even when it began in the Depression. Part of that has to do with the fact that Henry’s creator, Carl Anderson, was already an old man in his late sixties when he created the character by accident. Henry is autonomous in The Saturday Evening Post strips. Henry would not pick up a regular cast of characters, all with no proper names, only titles: the mother, the dog, the bully, the little girl, until it became a William Randolph Hearst comic strip. The Saturday Evening Post Henry is similar in many ways to the Little Rascals/Our Gang comedies of the same era. That is children free from the tyranny of an adult presence (mostly): children navigating the world as best they can with the knowledge and experience they currently possess; sometimes getting things right, often getting things wrong, and frequently coming up with solutions to problems unique to their limited experience. Necessity is the mother of invention with funny, surprising results.[4] Later strips of Henry would be somewhat a reversal of earlier themes, such as adults having the last word when Henry and his friends misbehave, or Henry walking around town to see free samples of common household items, then seeing another sign advertising ice cream for expensive prices, to his unspoken consternation.”

It’s just a bucket of golf balls

A bucket of golf balls at the driving range

Dad has lived in the same home with the same neighbors for more than 40 years. When one of his neighbors decided to downsize, Dad snagged a few old golf clubs from the front lawn “free” pile. He called to tell me he was taking up golf and was practicing in the backyard. “I found a couple golf balls around the house!” he exclaimed. Concerned about the small size of his backyard and the six foot block fence, I asked Dad if he thought is was a safe thing to do. He said, “I opened the door of the garden shed for a target. The balls really make some noise when they actually go in.” Pleased that Dad was taking an interest in something new, during my next visit, I took him to the nearby driving range. Since golf was new to Dad, I took him to the pro shop, showed him the practice putting green and we watched a couple of starts from the first tee. He purchased a bucket of balls. We figured out the ball machine together. We had a great time just hitting golf balls. A few days later, Dad called to share he was just returning home from the driving range. He said, “I enjoyed it a lot. But I did get a bit tired and only hit about half the balls in the bucket.” I told Dad it was okay as long as he enjoyed himself. Then Dad shared, “Well, I just poured the rest of the golf balls into a box in the back of my truck. I’ll use them up the next time I go.”