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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Matters Familias - Road Trip

Last Friday I was at the gallery, not working but waiting on customers who mostly didn't come.  I'd had visitors all morning and late into the afternoon. I'd been wanting to work on an article, but there was just no doing it that day.

At about 3 p.m. my father dropped in, and as I was talking to him I looked down and noticed my computer's battery was running down and I only had about eight minutes' time left. My power cord had died.

I have a story due this week, so I freaked.  I jumped up and announced that I had to go to Baton Rouge, a two-hours' drive away.  I had to get there, pronto, and pick up a power cord.  There was no time to call and wait for another cord to arrive in four days' time.

My father has this fear of me traveling alone.  And even though I know it was the very last thing he wanted to do, he insisted on driving to Baton Rouge with me.  It was the first time in many months that we were enclosed alone together, and forced to keep each other pleasant company.

In his old age, my father has started to obsess about certain things -- the river and its floods being paramount on the list.  He's worried about climate change and tells me on a daily basis that all the birds have disappeared.

"I've only got four hummingbirds this year," he says.  I never see anything in the sky anymore.  Look!  Do you see a single bird?  Where have they all gone?  And the toads.  We used to have scores of them at the house.  I never see them anymore."

I looked into the sky as we drove down Highway 61 at 70 miles an hour, and I had to admit I didn't see a single bird.  But the weather was threatening to storm, and I thought perhaps that was the reason.

Then after a few minutes, I saw a single, large buzzard flying across the road ahead of us.

"Look, I said.  "A buzzard. See?   The birds aren't gone."

And then my dad -- the atheist, the cynic -- said, "Look at that. So it is.  A buzzard. Bless his little heart."

A buzzard?  Bless his little heart?  Who ever uses the terms "buzzard" and "bless his little heart" together?

It was one of those tender things that he says so infrequently that it made my heart ache for him.

A little while later, he spied a crow flying over the field.

"Look at that crow," he exclaimed.  "God love him."

And I suddenly had a lump in my throat that I couldn't seem to swallow.

When we got to Baton Rouge, I realized I took a wrong turn and was lost.  This is one of my dad's biggest fears, and I kept waiting for  him to blow up while I called Tommy on the phone and asked him to get directions.  It was rush hour in Baton Rouge, and I found myself reverting to my Los Angeles driving skills where a half-second's delay would enable me to dart into other lanes of traffic.

"Am I making you nervous?" I asked my father.

"No," he replied.  "As long as you're the one driving, I'm fine.  There is no way I could do this," he added.  "Getting old is hard.  I couldn't drive like that for the world.  You're a good driver, Elodie," he said, and I felt good in the way I felt good as a child and he told me I was pretty.  A warm sense of nostalgia came over me.

We made it through Baton Rouge and I traded in the old cord for a new one.  On the way back to Natchez, I detoured off the road and took him to see the shining, golden spectacle that is now a bridge joining St. Francisville to New Roads, built in a panicked rush ahead of the flood.  Before the flood -- for years before -- the only way to get across that river was by ferry.

He loved it.  He loved the bridge; he loved the scenery; he loved remembering what had changed and what had stayed the same.

And I loved him for it.  Fiercely.  It was a good day.  I'm thinking I might need to destroy this new power cord.  Just for  love.