Get away from the familiar, go on adventure with a parent or both. Being in unfamiliar territory may lead you to some unfamiliar conversations. (A)
Today my boss at work lost her mother to a heart attack. While her mother had been sick and her family knew it was a matter of time, there is really no such thing as a “good time” to lose a parent. I have been blessed with wonderful parents. We don’t see eye to eye on many things – they are very conservative, they don’t believe in throwing anything away, and they are socially unconventional at times (okay, I am too, but in a somewhat different way, lol). However, they are also very generous, compassionate, and the most honest people I know. They couldn’t lie if they tried and that is a profound rarity.I have four siblings, so while my parents took the best care of us they could, they didn’t have time for much one on one time. As I grew up, I found myself always running, searching, seeking for something different. I was the first kid to move away from home and the first to move to another city. But now, as the years pass and I understand more, I reach out to my parents more and try to connect. But deep conversations are often difficult since we have such different ideas about things…
Yet I have been lucky enough to have the chance to get away for little adventures with my mom a couple of times and with both parents on at least one occasion in the past couple of years. It is in sharing these small detours from our paths when we have connected with shared laughs, triumphs over tribulations, and stories of moments of our lives.
One such adventure was the unlikely occasion of helping cleaning out my grandmother’s house after she died to get it ready for sale. Mom and Dad had already traveled to Lexington, Nebraska where she had lived and I took the Amtrak out to meet them for a few days. Of course the train didn’t make many stops in Nebraska, so they had to meet me in Holdredge at 2:30 in the morning on a Sunday. When I arrived, they told me that we were going to take that day as a fun day before we got to work. So we drove to Kearney, stopping in a cornfield to look at the stars. My dad pointed out various constellations until we decided that a farmer might shoot at us, not knowing what we were doing there at 3AM. We found an all night diner by the highway and had breakfast at 3:30, then drove around town for awhile until we found a church. The three of us slept in the parking lot until the earliest mass, grotesquely contorted as comfortably as we could get in the cab of the pick-up truck. Bleary eyed and stiff we staggered out after church and hit the museums.
First was the Archway Museum, a monolith spanning I-80. Inside were scenes of travel across the plains ranging through history from the Mormon Trail to the Transcontinental Railroad to the Lincoln Highway. It was a fascinating tribute to the lure of the open road and how people go search for a better life, for adventure, to see what is over the next horizon. Now it seems the era of the American road trip may be over, what with the rising costs of fuel and increase in computerized everything and inward looking anti-social city mice. As we looked at the exhibits, we exchanged anecdotes about our own travels: my father’s parents went on road trips to as many states as possible when he was a child, my mother’s family moved from small town to small town in Nebraska, and I just wander wherever I can to SEE what is there. I am truly an American in the regard of my travel lust and curious wandering soul.
Oh but this is a great land with expanses of every sort of terrain and people; from grizzled farmers and church bells that play Christian songs every few hours, to colorful Somalis uprooted from their native land and traveled to the Nebraska wasteland to work in meat packing plants, to city living Puerto Rican poets and free thinking crazy artists, to Native American guitarists playing reggae and blues in Chicago bars, to Carribeans running barber shops and hanging out laughing loudly on the sidewalk, to Hispanic war veterans trying to eke out the American dream in an urban landscape, to young couples in the suburbs trying to raise happy children in safe neighborhoods with backyards; all the way to hard working parents/ grandparents/ aunts/ uncles/ cousins struggling to do the right thing and make a better life for themselves and their families – yes, all the way to restless and ever searching me. What an amazing place this USA is!
Our second stop was the Museum of Nebraska Art where we saw both grand realistic paintings and splashy abstracts. There were amazingly detailed wood carvings and woven rug/ felt artwork of great beauty and care made by someone’s mom. My favorites were the pastoral paintings with the gold light of early morning or a summer evening. I love the gold light; it reminds me of the warm days of my carefree youth – playing outside until it got dark, ignoring mosquitoes and chiggers alike in favor of just “five more minutes” of imagined worlds and laughter with those who had yet to meet trouble some dark day. Even now when the gold light spills across my walls, I see the backyard of my parents’ first house and can feel the scratchy crab grass on my legs if I think about it hard enough.
Our final museum stop was “Trails and Rails” where we learned about the trains and homes in Nebraska. At least two of the houses built in the 1800′s were still lived in until the 1980′s, one of which never had running water added! They also had a Smithsonian exhibit on the roots of American music – bluegrass, country, gospel, blues, folk, zydeco, polka, tejano, klezmer – and short bios of the talented artists who made each style a part of American heritage. It made me feel more connected to the land as a musician – this IS an important job and there is no reason to give up the faith!After this fun filled day (that ended with a children’s movie about special agent hamsters), we finally went back to Lexington and slept.
For the next two days, we worked on replacing gutters, painting ceilings and indoor trim, sorting, sanding and primering the outside windows. During this time we talked quite a bit about relationships, my parents’ childhood travels and cars owned by their families, how they lived, what they did for fun. I gained a new respect for Mom and Dad: they are very hard workers (8AM to 2AM every day) and in spite of their spats, they are completely faithful to each other and always there to help each other. They are willing to do hard, dirty work until they are exhausted with a minimum of complaint, they are strict but devout in their religious beliefs and pray wherever they are, whether or not anyone is looking. They are good hearted souls, creative people, and much more willing to go on an unconventional mini-adventure than many of my other friends!
Short or not, these trips are worth it – for as I learn more and more about life, I realize that there are definite aspects of my parents that I want to grow up and be like.