My father doesn’t fly. Obviously he has. Once sitting next to me as a chaperone on a grade twelve grad trip to Edmonton. The slightest turbulence caused groans of possible death. I fly, but if time allows would much rather drive. As a family, Dad and Mom loaded us up in a 1989 Chevy Diesel for a vacation to Disney World. Sixty hours and a six-piece family. I was old enough to purchase alcohol so I snuck a case into the van at a truck-stop – Jarid and I dipping into it while my parents switched night driving duties. The driving gene was passed on to me by each parent, very dominant trait, however mom will gladly board a plane and always offering to buy us flights if in need. Dad pushes vehicles. My 2002 yellow Ford Mustang was more-less his decision, my money. The 1989 Chevy Diesel became my fabled Oceanman. He helped with the purchase of my last touring van, The Whitebear.
In the winter of 1979, He and Mom jumped in her 1976 Chrysler Le Baron and headed to Florida. Meeting with friends, Linda and Vern, the foursome was then set to fly to The Bahamas. Dad taking a month vacation time from his job as a provincial brand inspector and Mom, taking her time as a speech pathologist from the health region. After a few days driving and audible squeal came from the front passenger side that left them in need of a front wheel spindle. At 5:30 pm on Monday, December 31 they found themselves walking back a mile on the Interstate to a small fuel station. Owners celebrating the coming 80’s with liquor and poker in the back. After a declined request for assistance an ex-employee and Good Samaritan offered help. Desperately, Jack and Theresa jump in the front seat of a pick-up and are off to a local wrecking yard. Mom recalls the driving as unhinged. With the needed part purchased, the Good Samaritan installed it on the side of the road and furthered his southern hospitality by inviting the valentines home for supper.
Eager to leave, Mom initiated the idea following their meal around 8:00 pm but with darkness set on the back country hills, hosts, Keith and Nadine, thought otherwise. Dad, one to pack a bottle of whiskey, offered his new American friends a drink of Canada’s finest and left his hat hanging by the door. The whiskey was a foreign as the currency and after sharing a little of each, Mom and Dad made their way to the floor in the living room.
“Jack, see these two pictures here?”
“Yes.” My Dad replies to his host.
“One’s my parents and the other’s Nadine’s.”
“Jack, you see this gun?”
“It’s loaded. If anybody other than the four people in these two pictures come to this door in the night. You kill them, understand?”
Mom kept an intricate journalling of their trip. Her entry for January 1, 1980 reads: “I won’t even record yesterday. Jack and I will remember it forever.”
Thinking through the story I’ve heard since my youth, I put myself on their Interstate. Although I’m headed north to Kentucky, this is the general geography that their Le Baron broke down. Tennessee has a split time zone, where if I’m an hour ahead of home when in Nashville, I’m two hours ahead of home coming out of Chattanooga. 9 pm in Kennedy, Saskatchewan. Dad will just be having a tea and reading the Western Producer. I pull over and give him a ring.
I get him to retell the story about New Year’s Eve 1979. He remembers every detail. Slightly more elaborate than Mom’s version. He is my father. The last couple years have been tough on him between passing the farm over to my brother and sister and becoming reliant on alcohol. Drying out has each of us more open about our love for each other. It’s quicker to resolve the differences and easier to forgive the mistakes. The phone call lasts forty-five minutes and he understands my need to leave like no other. He’d do the same. We excite each other about possibly driving down to Texas with the truck and fifth-wheel in the near future. He did it with his dad when he was my age and is vocal that it’s something he’d like to do with me. He also left for New Mexico at my age – alone and out for a drive. It’s what we do. There are a couple loose ends between us, so we tie them up by simply saying ‘I forgive you’. Done. We express our love for each other and say goodnight.
I pull into a parking lot of a La Quinta Inn & Suites southwest of Knoxville, TN and crawl into the back of the van. La Quinta directly translating to The Fifth, I realize the synchronicity in the Ten Commandments. Number 5: Honour Thy Father and Thy Mother.