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Making Time For A Smile

Note: First there was the awful news out of Connecticut, followed by the sobering analysis of Ricochet’s Founders. Then came the devastating news of the death of Ricochet Member Kennedy Smith. t has been, by any standard, a rough go of it here at Ricochet lately, though it occurs to me that sometimes good news happens for a reason too, and this might be a good time to share some. Herewith, something written Saturday evening before the news of Kennedy’s passing had reached me:

I’m sure there are better ways to start the morning, but none of them spring to mind at the moment. It seemed The Almighty Himself had taken a personal interest in orchestrating daybreak, first by delicately running His fingers across the dark underbelly of large and forbidding clouds, leaving long, luminescent streaks of pink and red to match the glow of the rising fireball sun just beneath the horizon. Next, He set the thermostat at a bracing 45 degrees, which felt refreshing as I walked back to the truck with a mug of freshly brewed Columbian coffee and a danish. What could be better? Only one thing, actually, and that would be to have my Dad with me on the road for Christmas.

And who says Christmas prayers aren’t answered? For there, walking beside me, telling stories taller than either of us, was Dad. He’s been on the road with me for just a few days now, and we’ll spend Christmas on the road together, keeping the economy moving and keeping each other laughing. Why, just a couple of days ago, he decided to say a light-hearted blessing over his morning coffee, but the words got wrapped around his teeth the wrong way so that he wound up concluding, “In the name of Father, the Son, and the Holy Goat.” His coffee might have been blessed, but mine was blasted through my nose.

Today was a perfect day for a drive. Our load assignment is taking us from Albany, Georgia, clear up into the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. We started the drive listening to Pete Fountain playing “Just A Closer Walk With Thee.” Soon, the Saints started Marching In, and we helped. I played percussion on the steering wheel while Dad played first and second arm rest. He said that when he was a kid, he would take a pair of spoons and turn the old radiator heater into a mean sounding percussion section. I wasn’t sure if he might have been embellishing things just a bit, but Dad has a way of putting a person’s mind at ease. “I cannot tell a lie,” he said, adding, “they come in a package of a half dozen.”

Then there were the stories of Dad and his childhood friend, Arthur. Arthur actually went on to become my sister’s professor at the nursing school at McNeese State, but prior to that his mischief knew no bounds. There was the time that Arthur and Dad put on a couple of little beanies with propellors on top and went for a drive in Arthur’s mother’s 1949 Studebaker, sitting low enough in the seats that it looked like a couple of elementary school children driving down the road in Lake Charles. I believe the police were summoned. I don’t know the name of Arthur’s mother, other than Mrs. Adams, but I’m pretty sure she couldn’t have been pleased the time that Arthur had Dad try on some of her underclothes and then chased him down Enterprise Boulevard just for giggles. By this time in the conversation, Dad and I were locked in a battle of “one-ups,” trying to top each other’s stories. So far, we’ve determined that Dad leads me in running down the boulevard wearing ladies’ unmentionables, and I lead him in scaling the dome of the courthouse and the steeple of First Baptist Church. And that was before we got to trading military stories.

In Charlotte, someone in a little black compact car thought it would be mad fun to split the difference at a split in the interstate, jumping from one section of highway and crossing the median before proceeding sideways directly in front of my 18 wheeler while coasting to the shoulder. I pulled the rope for the air horn so hard that it’s a wonder it didn’t cut my fingers off. The driver turned 32 flavors of pale. It was a close one. In no time, however, he had shrugged off his near appointment with the coroner, and was back on the highway speeding and weaving in and out of traffic. If ignorance is bliss, this guy must have been near orgasmic.

Charlotte traffic can be a challenge, though it provides a nice warm-up to the more hostile motoring environments of the northeast. It also provides a nice excuse for soothing music, which I found thanks to the Pandora application on my phone. Soon we were listening to Classical Christmas music, singing the Hallelujah Chorus with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and getting lost in some of the most beautiful piano arrangements to be found. Thanks in large measure to Dad, I’ve developed a love of classical music, though I don’t always understand the terms or formal structures of the art.

“That’s contrapuntal,” he said at one point. “I thought it was Bach,” I said only half-joking. I knew something of the counterpoint that Bach employed, but this contra-something or other term was new. If I understood Dad correctly, the two terms are actually related, with contrapuntal describing what happens when seemingly opposing independent components of a melody weave together and resolve themselves in the overall composition. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major (which opened Bill Buckley’s show Firing Line) would be a good example. Then came the impromptu versions of Christmas Carols that a few truckers began singing over the CB. But I probably shouldn’t quote them. I remember this one from years ago, though: 

Oh little town on Christmas Eve, how busy are thou tonight.

Thy stores don’t close till 10 o’clock, thy streets are thronged and bright.

The merchants are tired and cranky, the merchandise is junk.

The little dears are all in tears, and Santa Claus is drunk. 

This morning, Dad found the moccasin slippers he had purchased for our trip. He’s found them a few times, come to think of it. Alzheimer’s robs him of the ability to remember where he placed things only a short time earlier. The good part, as he reminded me, is that he keeps discovering things like his slippers for what seems like the very first time. The bad part, I asked? “The humiliation of feeling like an idiot,” he said very plainly. Ah, but here I disagree, because I grew up with this gentleman as a parent, guide, mentor and friend. If he’s an idiot, we should all strive to be as idiotic as possible. A career in the ministry, a multitude of lives touched for the better, a veteran, a man of education and accomplishment, a person with the most infectious sense of humor I’ve ever seen, a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, and someone who is giving Alzheimer’s more of a fight than it reckoned for while explaining musical concepts and recalling the joys of driving down the road in a Studebaker while wearing a beanie with a propellor on top. Now THAT’s the kind of person I want to be related to.

I’ve no idea what roads we’ll travel between now and Christmas, but I’m pretty sure it will be an adventure as we laugh, sing, play “one-ups,” and give thanks for all good things to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Goat. Stay tuned …