An aging Ford and miles of memories

Some years ago my brother called and, without so much as a hello, said, “Pick a number between 3 and 14.” He meant business, so I picked a number.

He said, “Congratulations, you just bought Dad’s SUV.”

My brother was closing out our dad’s estate. He added a thousand to the number I picked and declared me the owner of Dad’s Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer edition with suede seats, leather trim, 4-wheel drive, power-folding third-row seats, easy liftgate, and moonroof.

To say it was an upgrade would be the understatement of automotive history. Our minivan had a driver’s seat with broken springs, a sliding passenger door that no longer slid and chronic ailments.

“Eddie” was far more than an upgrade. I logged a lot of miles in that vehicle with my dad. Long drives were how he outdistanced grief after Mom died.

One spring we drove to see the migration of sandhill cranes in his home state of Nebraska. It is a wonder of nature, some half million cranes gathering along a thin ribbon of river en route to Canada, Alaska and Siberia.

Thousands of tall, gangly birds with long legs and long necks strutted about like they were high-fashion models of the bird world. They milled around in shallow gray water, stretching their enormous wings and shaking their big bustles of feathers.

Sometimes when I’m driving Eddie, I can still see those sandhill cranes silhouetted against a sinking sun.

Another time we drove to visit one of his brothers who had been sheriff in a small poke-n-plumb Midwest town. Poke your head out the window and you’re plumb out of town. Headed home, we took a short cut on a small highway. For miles and miles, it was a desolate stretch of two-lane bordered by nothing but fields of grain and endless blue skies.

“How fast you think we’re going?” he asked.


“Eighty,” he grinned. “Hard to gauge speed when you’re in the wide open.”

I still hear that exchange in my head sometimes. It was the voice of contentment.

After surgery for the pancreatic cancer that would eventually take his life, Dad announced he was ready to drive again.

“You’re positively certain you have the strength to slam on those brakes if you need to?” I demanded to know.

“I’ve already been driving,” he said. “You should see the long skid marks I left a couple days ago.”

Anything to spark a little outrage from overprotective kids.

Eddie has more than 200,000 miles under the hood now and has made more than a few trips to our mechanic’s garage. But that’s the only thing that’s changed. The Fix-a-Flat and jumper cables are still in the back like Dad had them. First aid supplies are still in the glove box and an enormous flashlight still sits in the storage cubby between the middle seats.

Most importantly, Eddie still slows down for every sunrise and sunset and pauses to watch deer at dusk.

It’s probably time to let go and I will. Just a few more miles down the road.



Lost opportunities lead to lasting regrets

I read the email to one of our daughters over the phone and heard my voice crack.

“Where does he live?” she asked. “Is he close by?”

“I have no idea.”

The email was responding to a lighthearted column I’d written wondering if the grands would still come around when they’ve outgrown the inflatable pool and can’t be lured with Oreos. The column triggered a flood of responses, many talking about the joys of older grands who still greet grandparents with big hugs and even bigger smiles.

And then there was his email:

“I will soon be 96 in a few weeks. I am a widower with grandchildren in their 40s. My great-grandchildren range from 12 to 17. Two thirds of them live within a few minutes from me. The rest are a few hundred miles away.

“Granted, they are all busy people, doing meaningful things.  They are happy and healthy and for that I am very grateful.

“As the years go by, the distance between us gets wider.

“I am not looking for, or asking for, anything. I am not seeking accolades from anyone. But it would be nice, as well as comforting, in my older age to know that they care or even think of me. I guess the word I am trying to say is respect. Is that asking too much?

“I rarely see or even hear from them. I make excuses to myself, but it grieves me.  They, especially the great-grandchildren, are growing up and I am not in the loop. That is sad! Very sad!

“At this stage of my life, what else is there to look forward to?

“I guess just knowing they are well, happy, and safe, will have to suffice. But, does it?“

You learn of someone else’s situation, indignation flares and you think, “How hard can it be for someone to stop by?”

Then names start coming to mind of elderly friends, relatives who’ve lost a spouse, people I’ve been meaning to call, but haven’t gotten around to it.

Maybe that man’s kids, grands and great grands aren’t the only ones remiss.

Another email poignantly illustrated the regret of letting time slip by.

“Concerning visiting Grandma, when I was growing up in the 40’s and 50’s, we often visited my only grandmother, because that’s what many families did on holidays, and we took virtually no vacations due to the expense.

“Grandmother was born in 1873 in the Reconstruction Era Mississippi, to a Civil War veteran. She witnessed a huge and important swath of American history, and her knowledge of family history was irreplaceable.

“She came to live with us in her 90th year, while I was in college, and on spring break in 1963, I mentioned to her that we should spend the summer getting family history and stories taken down for posterity. She agreed, and her mind was still as sharp as a razor, but unfortunately, she contracted pneumonia and died while I was taking final exams that May.

“Her knowledge of family history was lost forever—one of my great regrets! So don’t wait. Talk with your grandparents and all older relatives while they are able to remember! All life is fleeting.”

Both writers answered that perennial question of what to give the elderly people in your life.

Time. Sweet, precious, wonderful time.


When kids don’t want to go to Grandma’s

We’ve been hearing disturbing warnings from grandparents who are further down the pike than we are. They say, “Enjoy those grands while they’re little. Once they’re older, they won’t have time for you.”

We find such proclamations troubling. We’re hoping it’s fake news. Still, we can’t help but wonder.

We are cutting and gluing construction paper at the kitchen table when I casually ask a 7-year-old grand next to me if she’ll still come see us when she is older.

She looks at me, looks at the pink paper flower I have cut to her specifications, and softly says, “Maybe.”

There is a slight lilt to her voice that indicates we might still be on her radar, but it is also clear that she isn’t going to commit and wants to keep her options open.

Rotten kid.

Just kidding. She’s precious.

If keeping her and the rest of them coming around means we’re still having water balloon fights outside, playing chase and doing cartwheels decades from now, so be it. Neither of us can do a cartwheel now, but maybe it’s time we limber up.

Our standing in the polls with the grands is extremely high at this stage of the game and that is a concern. Such levels of popularity are hard to sustain.

“We need a strategy,” I tell the husband.

“What’s the rush?” he asks. “We’ve got a few more good years.”

He’s probably right. There are 11 grands; the oldest is 10 and the youngest two just turned one.

“They’re not going anywhere soon,” the husband says. “Not only can none of them drive, but a lot of them are still in car seats.”

“Yes!” I yell, pumping my fist in the air.

“Plus, none of them have any income,” he says. “We’re still their ace in the hole for pizza, ice cream and donuts.”

“We may be good now,” I say, “but I doubt any of them will think fun is standing on a chair next to me at the kitchen sink, drying dishes when they’re 15.”

“When they’re older, we’ll do older kid things,” he says.  “You know, take them to a monster truck show.”

“Those things are awfully loud,” I say.

“It won’t matter,” he says. “By the time the youngest ones are in their teens neither of us will have much hearing left anyway.”

“You realize your days are numbered for that game where they sneak up on you and comb your hair all crazy, right?” I ask.

“Moot point,” he says. “In another few years, my hair may be gone.”

“When they’re older, they’re not going to think it’s a big deal to drop pennies into that big 5-gallon glass jar you have,” I say. “What then?”

“If we pass them a few bills and tell them they can keep them, we’ll be fine. And then they can take us out for pizza and ice cream.”

I am once again feeling optimistic.