Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Traveling with Dad


One of the many bad things about taking a trip with Dad is that my successful and competent brother is usually at the end of it.

We pull up in the driveway at my brother's home, at the vacation spot, or at the hotel, and we both know what's about to happen.

"He's going to ask about the trip," I say.

"I know it," Dad says.

"We don't have to tell everything we know."

"We can't lie," he says.

"'How was your trip'" isn't a real question," I say. "It's like 'How are you'. The answer is supposed to be 'fine.' You could have a bone sticking through your flesh and you're still supposed to say 'fine.' We'll just say, 'Fine. The trip was fine.'"

Dad just gives his universal grunt that can mean “That‘s the funniest thing I‘ve ever heard,” "You're my child but you're an idiot," “I‘m proud of you,” or “Well, gee, if that isn‘t a bone sticking right through my flesh”-- it's all in the context. But most commonly, as in this case, it means, “I’m not going to tell you if I concede or not so you can’t argue with me any more about it which means I win.”

We go inside where hugs are exchanged, and then my brother gets a fixed look, sort of inhales as though bracing himself, and says, “So. How was the trip?”

“Fi--”

"Well," Dad begins, "we went through Knoxville twice."

"That's a given," my brother says impatiently. "Pam always goes through Knoxville twice."

"Yeah, but this time she tried to take us to Chicago."

My brother turns his interrogation-eyes on me. "Pam, do we need to review our geography? Is Chicago between Tennessee and Ohio?"

"It is when she's driving," Dad answers for me, so I don't even get a chance to attack my brother for his insulting pronoun usage. I've had enough of this treatment.

"I'm not the one who put us in reverse on the interstate," I say.

The eyes cut back. "Dad??"

"We were missing our exit," Dad explains.

“Missed,” I say. “We missed our exit. That exit had come and gone.”

"And who was giving the directions?" my brother asks, knowing darn well.

"The directions were bad," I say, which throws it back at him. Then we launch into the same old argument about whether or not his oft-repeated directions to “just stay on I-71” make any sense whatsoever when you have to keep exiting and keep exiting I-71 in order to stay on it, which is not an easy thing to keep up with and is in fact an affront to reason and to those of us with a sound ethical system.

Since certain members of this family are stubborn coots, we never make any head-way with this argument, so we have to start bringing up previous offenses. Okay, so I have occasionally misplaced the interstate when I pull off for gas; at least I’ve never tried to follow a line that I drew onto the map. ("There has to be road there," Dad had insisted. "It doesn't make sense that there wouldn't be a road there.") I may sometimes see an unexpected fork in the road ahead and have to wake Dad in the passenger’s seat by shouting, "Quick! Which way is the Atlantic Ocean?" but at least I have the use of both arms and can turn my head. And what about that last trip before he got his cataracts fixed when he insisted we were safer with his driving despite it being pitch-black dark in a pouring rain with I-71 running off in all kinds of different directions.

"Do not exit here; there is no exit here," I'd shouted as we headed off into the dark unknown.

Traveling with Dad is so stressful, seven or eight or eleven hours into it we’re both shell-shocked and in need of silence. We pull into the driveway and finally, blessedly, come to a stop. Dad turns off the engine, and we sit in silence.

"Well . . . that was an uneventful trip," I comment.

"We can't lie," he says.

"You make me crazy in my head," I say.

"I know it," he says, opening the car door, and since I can’t risk his blabbing his version of events without me, I sigh and hurry to catch up with him.

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