There is something about being in a car that makes me think of my Daddy. So many of my favorite and most memorable moments happened in a vehicle. Today is his birthday and for the past few days those memories have been front and center in my mind.
My first memory is when I was about 9. For some reason my Dad had a rental car and he thought it was the perfect size for me to learn to drive in. He let me drive that thing all over the neighborhood, but I don't know how much he thought about his choice of driveways for me to turn around in. My friend's dad just happened to be a highway patrolman and that was the house he picked for me to turn that car around in! Thankfully we went undetected.
I've shared this memory before. In fact, Josh shared it at my Dad's funeral and I thought I was going to have to crawl under the pew. There was a summer that I went to work with my Dad everyday. Every.single.day. He was a nursing home administrator and I loved going to work with him. I would hang out with the activities director and polish ladies fingernails or play BINGO. Anyway, I was about 10 or 11 that summer and I will never forget the ride to work one morning when my Dad said, "You know, when you have sex, you have babies." I contemplated opening the door and rolling out in James Bond fashion, but I didn't. I just nodded, even thought I'm pretty sure I really did NOT know that and we rode in uncomfortable silence. Thankfully, there would be books at school later that explained things a little more. :)
Most of my memories riding with my Dad happened in middle school. We would listen to talk radio, college football, Pearl Jam and the Beatles. He would act silly and sing, "That's Just My Baby Daddy". It's why I am such a well-rounded person. :) We would talk about politics and sometimes our opinions differed. Because you know, I knew so much at 13. It was one day that we were riding together that it came on the news that there had been a bombing in Oklahoma City. That was when he told me, "People just make choices."
Before too long it was my turn in the driver's seat. My most memorable moment in Driver's Ed with Roger Strickland happened while I still had my permit. I was driving with my Dad in the front seat. Two of my friends were in the backseat and we were going to a birthday party. The gift was up on the dashboard and somehow, it slid off and fell. Like the seasoned driver that I was, I immediately bent down to pick it up. Bent down, y'all. Like stuck my head down in the floor board. During this time I may have accidentally run us off the road and within an inch of our lives and a telephone pole. My Daddy said some choice words and my friends and I started breathing again. We made it to the party. I never put a gift on the dashboard again.
Just a couple of years later, tragedy would touch our family. I was working as a junior counselor at a girl's camp in North Alabama, 12 hours from home. My Daddy came to pick me up unexpectedly and I learned that my 6 year old cousin had died in an accident. My Dad had driven the 12 hours straight there to get me, and we had to turn right around and make that trip again. Eventually my Dad needed a break. It was my first experience driving on the interstate. I don't know who was more afraid. I'm not sure how much rest my Dad got. It was a long, life changing kind of trip.
Soon it would be time for me to go to college. I drove myself. And Josh, who slept the whole way. I rolled down the windows and sang the Dixie Chick's "Wide Open Spaces" the whole way there. (That was when you could listen to music without choosing a political party. :) My Daddy followed. For a year and a half anytime I made that trip back and forth he would make sure I had gas, the oil was changed and remind me to lock my doors and not pick up hitchhikers. I know it killed him to let me make that 5 hour trip by myself, but I needed to. He will never know the confidence and independence those drives grew in me.
Just when I thought my days of riding with my Daddy were over, he rode with me when Josh and I made the move to Mississippi. Josh and his Dad were in the moving truck, my Dad was with me in the Jeep. I know he thought we were crazy. We've pretty much accepted that everybody we knew at the time thought we were crazy. :) I had just a week earlier graduated from college and gotten a job. We were moving into a house we'd never seen. I don't recommend doing that, by the way. It turned out to be a 100 year old farmhouse and I had serious concerns that Old McDonald's farm of animals may have actually lived inside it. I'll never forget the next day, after all of our stuff was unpacked, Josh and Dandy and my Daddy left. I was going to get the house in order while Josh finished his last week of work. As they pulled away from the house I was determined to be strong and independent. The truth was I had never wanted my Daddy so bad in my life!
The next week I traveled to Jackson, Ms. to take my test to be licensed as a social worker in Ms. I had gotten a job, but I couldn't start it until I had that license. I was only going to be able to take it one time because it was expensive. It was a high stress situation. Of course, I got lost. The test was actually given at the community college my Dad had graduated from. I called him to get directions and he started talking about all the different places and things he had done. As soon as I heard his voice, I was calm and even peaceful as I felt like I was driving through an important part of my Dad's history.
I am so thankful for these memories and many more. I didn't realize until I wrote them out how many of them were sad or traumatic or hard. I don't think of them that way. I think of them fondly because I had my Daddy during those times. I still miss my Daddy the most when I drive. I still feel the closest to him when I'm behind the wheel. When his favorite songs come on, I don't know if I want to cry or sing along. Sometimes I do both.
Just about a month ago I got my lunch and went to a little park to sit and eat. I left the radio on so I could listen to Rush Limbaugh and ran my battery down. Josh had to come rescue me. You should have seen the look on his face when I told him what I was listening to. Who would've ever thought listening to Rush Limbaugh would bring someone peace? :) But, that's what I did, in the car with Daddy.
This is how I like to remember my Daddy. Driving and being silly.