We nearly left Dad on the kitchen ledge as we set out this morning, Mom, my two sisters and I, on Day 1 of our road trip from Indianapolis to Montana. In our flurry of packing the rental Toyota Sienna, making sure we remembered all necessities for our two-week adventure, we almost forgot the most important passenger. I was the last one heading out the door when I spied the small brown box on the ledge. Inside the box was Dad inside a plastic bag inside a gold, cylindrical tin.
Used to be he couldn’t wait to flee suburban Chicago each summer on our annual pilgrimage (usually to the West). A month of camping, hiking, boating, and most importantly—for him at least—fishing was the tonic for pastoring to needy and demanding congregants. It was the one time each year I didn’t have to share my Dad with half the Christian population of of our town.
He would spend a few hours meticulously packing the Chevy station wagon the night before (and for all I knew spending weeks earlier retrieving all the camping and fishing gear from storage and airing it out). When Vacation Day arrived, all he had to do was pack us five kids into the car at first light and drive off silently, compass point prominently displaying the Big “W.”
Instead of behind the wheel, on this, our final journey, Dad takes his place in the compartment between the two front seats. We said a short prayer in Mom’s driveway before leaving on this overcast day, cool for August. We asked for traveling mercies just like Dad had always done for us in later years. The grey skies reflected a tinge of heaviness in our hearts.
Later, as we crossed into Illinois, I grew nostalgic for my home state of origin, having left it 32 years ago for the Big W, with never a desire to return. For several minutes, I am overcome with a need to reconnect with my childhood home. Puffy clouds suspended from a smattering of blue sky seem to bounce off the tops of a windmill forest near Champaign-Urbana. It’s a different age, an age of power demands undreamed of in the 1970s. As we drive across the prairie, I check my iPhone for email. Forty years ago I would have been flipping through a mini book of Bugs Bunny comics to while away the time. In place of Dad’s country music, we now listen to a podcast.
Near West Branch, we see signs for the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. Mom and Dad had driven past a handful of times over the years. “We always said sometime we’d stop,” Mom says, “but we never did.” We take the exit and head for this National Historical Site where we stroll through the peaceful grounds beneath mature canopies of oak, maple, and basswood. As we’re leaving, Mom says, “There, Jim, I hope you enjoyed that.”
And we know he did. Tonight, we stop in Cedar Rapids.