Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Evening Drives

Thinking more and more about my dad ...

When we were living in Hiram (Aug 1956-Aug 1966), my dad reached his fifties. It doesn't seem like much of an age these days (when 50 is the new 15), but he had outlived his own father, who had died when Dad was a teen, and, of course, Dad had seen Death in all its horrible guises during World War II. I began back in Hiram--though I could never have articulated it--to realize that Dad was feeling older. And definitely mortal. (He'd already had kidney stone surgery on both kidneys--back in the day when the surgeons cut you from bellybutton to spine: He had a circle of scars around his middle.)

I watched Dad slow down, watched him start taking it easy. TV. Naps in his chair ("Just resting my eyes," he'd say). Less physical exercise--not that "working out" was something that men in his generation did. He looked at me kind of cockeyed when I began jogging in the late 1970s, sometimes 8-10 miles a day, but usually 4-6. When we'd visit them in retirement out in Cannon Beach, Ore., I'd go run on the beach, and while I was gone, Dad would rest his eyes.

After some mini-strokes slowed him down even more, Dad would go to water therapy in the morning--eagerly so. My mom told me it was because he liked to look at the women. I'm guessing they didn't mind looking at him, either.

Anyway ... back in Hiram. One of the manifestations of his new--what?--tranquility was his fondness for taking evening drives with my mom. And because they both loved what they called "soft ice cream," these drives frequently terminated at a frozen custard stand, often up in Burton, where my folks could get maple cones. Which they adored. Younger brother Dave and I often went along. (Where There Is Ice Cream, Kids Will Go.)

But the desultory, soft-shoed driving of my dad drove me crazy. I was in high school. Getting my own license. Riding around with friends who, unlike Dad, saw the pleasures in speed. Dad would creep up to Burton, just about 12 miles due north of Hiram on Ohio 700 with a little jog to the left on Ohio 168.

Dad seemed to see some virtue in 25 mph. Dave and I (and even Mom) would sometimes complain about his testudineal (like a tortoise--I love it!) progress, but Dad would take a puff on his pipe and wax eloquent about the farmland, the evening sky, any wildlife we happened to see, the family fellowship--all the other things that annoyed the hell out of me as a Snotty Adolescent. I wanted ice cream! Not yet another tour of northern Portage and southern Geauga counties.

I'm seventy now. Nearly twenty years older than Dad was when we went on those dawdling drives up to Burton.

And now Joyce and I, after supper, often take a testudineal drive over to Aurora (via the back country roads) or to Kent (ditto), admiring the farmland, the evening sky, any wildlife we happen to see. Our family.

I'll end with this: Dad earned some slow evening drives in his later years. Grew up on a farm. Depression. World War II. Korea. Three (sometimes snotty) sons. He taught the regular academic year. He taught in summer school. An ordained minister, he filled in at various pulpits around the area on Sundays. He stayed in the Air Force Reserves and retired a Lt. Colonel. My life, by comparison, looks, well, uncomplicated.

I of course regret the grousing I did as we drove north those Hiram summer evenings more than a half-century ago. And I would like one more drive with Dad so that I could tell him so. He would smile. Puff on his pipe. Cut his speed to 23. And ask me if I noticed that hawk on the telephone line.

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