Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Road Trip

This weekend we drove the grandkids home--a fourteen hour round trip. As I see it, grandparenting incorporates the opportunities to share some family values and some memories. I believe grandparents are the keepers of the family memories.

As we passed a particular area, I pointed out a shopping center and mentioned it was the beginning of a memorable road trip to my grandmother's funeral. The kids were full of questions. My grandmother died when their mama was a small girl so this particular story wasn't part of their experience, but this opportunity allowed me to share some life lessons with them in story form.

The year my grandmother died was not a good year at our house. My sons and I worked at the Waldenbooks warehouse every night as book packers. Our shift started at four p.m. The hunk worked down in New York City--a two hour commute each way--and arrived at home around six p.m. That left a two hour gap when the girls were alone, but my older daughter was about twelve so she watched the younger one until the hunk arrived home.

One night, a Thursday night, my supervisor called me to her office and informed me I had a phone call. Only in the direst emergency were phone calls allowed. It was eight p.m. My daughters were on the phone, in a panic because their dad had never arrived home. While we were talking, the older one said, "Wait! There's a limo out front."

A few minutes later, the hunk got out of the limo--on crutches.

After a quick discussion with my supervisor, my sons and I went home. My husband had fallen over eight feet from a scaffold at work when it collapsed. The initial diagnosis was a badly sprained ankle, with followup at an orthopedic specialist to follow.

Friday was taken up with making arrangements for his orthopedic appointment. Then the hospital in the city called with a revised diagnosis of a fractured ankle. More calls to the orthopedic office. And then a family member called to say my grandmother had died.

We lived in New York. She lived in Indiana. Once again, I was torn between two responsibilities.

My best friend stepped in and volunteered to make sure the hunk made it to the orthopedist. My second son and older daughter offered to travel to the funeral with me so I wouldn't be alone while my older son and younger daughter stayed with the hunk. After a hasty oil change and fillup of the gas tank, we headed out for the long drive. By my calculations, if we drove straight through, we would arrive with about two hours to spare.

A little over an hour later, we had the first clue that things were not going to go well. The radiator sprung a leak. I pulled into a small shopping center with a K-Mart and McDonalds. My son lifted the hood and we all stared down at the steaming radiator, wondering what to do while water and antifreeze poured out on the ground beneath the car.

A trucker parked in the lot came over and suggested we buy some stop-leak, a product that might possibly help seal it if it was a small leak. So I went into the K-Mart, purchased the stop-leak and some gallons of water plus anti-freeze and returned to the car. We had to wait for it to cool off. While we waited, we grabbed dinner at McDonalds.

When we returned to the car, the second disaster happened. I slipped in the antifreeze and fell down, soaking my "funeral" outfit in antifreeze. I had packed sweat pants and sweat shirt I planned to travel home in. While my son dealt with the car, my daughter and I went into the rest room in the K-Mart and I cleaned up and changed clothes.

When we came back, the trucker pressed a twenty dollar bill in my hand--"Just in case", he said--and went back to his truck. We all got back in the car and started out once more. We stopped at every single rest stop and added water. It was a long arduous trip.

I should probably mention I was driving a small bright yellow Ford Fiesta. It was quite distinctive and hard to miss if you were looking for it. Evidently, a lot of people were keeping an eye out for us as the trucker had shared our story over his radio. At every stop, we were approached by people asking us if we needed anything, if we were hungry, if we needed money...

It was an overwhelming demonstration of the compassion of total strangers.

Twenty two hours later, we approached Gary, Indiana. I stopped to call for directions to the funeral home though I already knew I was too late for the funeral. My cousin informed me they were "waiting" for me, since they knew I was on my way. I found the funeral home and parked in front, tired, grieving, and realized I was dressed quite inappropriately for a funeral so I sent my daughter in to let my dad know we were there.

He came out at once, hauled me out of the car and escorted me in--inappropriate clothes not withstanding. In the hall way, my family--aunts and uncles and cousins--were lined up. One after the other, they hugged me and told me how glad they were to see me. Now for reasons I won't discuss here, I had spent much of my life feeling like an outsider in my own family. Yet, moving from one person to the next, exchanging hugs and words of welcome, for the first time in my life I knew without question that I belonged.

And that's why I attended my grandmother's funeral in my sweat suit.

Afterwards, we went to my cousin's house, for dinner and she presented me with a birthday cake. It was my birthday--something I hadn't even thought about.

We stayed overnight and headed back home. To my surprise, many people approached us on the way home, checking to see if we needed anything, if we made it to the funeral in time, if we had enough money to make it home.

When I finished my story, my granddaughter observed, "Everything turned out better than you expected."

Yes it did. Like most of life.


A quick reminder--tonight is the monthly chat at Love Romances Cafe. See the box in the upper right hand corner for details! I look forward to visiting with you!


  1. And now I'm in tears...That's not something that happens a lot.

    My older brother was a trucker, and that sounds so much like something he and his friends would have done.

    And what a wonderful lesson for you granddaughters.

  2. Angels come in many forms, even truck drivers!

    Awesome story, Anny...