My parents split up when I was three so I usually only saw him every other weekend, two weeks in the summer and on alternating holidays. This meant that the longest time we spent together was 14 days. Pop was always doing something, fixing something, rigging something and he loved having us kids help him do whatever the project was. Usually we would spend the first week of summer vacation building or fixing something – a dock, a deck, railroad-tie retaining walls, whatever.
At the end of the week or when the project was finished, he would give us both a $100 bill, tell us to hold on to it in case of an emergency and then off we would go to wherever was beckoning him that year. It could be Cape Cod or Disney World, Gettysburg’s or Gatlinburg, but wherever it was, you could be sure there was something weird and wonderful about the place.
Since we drove everywhere, Pop had a way of keeping us from fighting and preventing us from asking every two seconds if we were there yet. He would pay us to be quiet. Well, kind of. He would give us a $.05 for every groundhog we spotted, $.25 for eagles, $.50 for dear, and $1 for bears. We only ever saw one bear on our long drives but we were fortunate enough to run into an enormous heard of dear one year – we were thrilled – Pop, not so much. When we weren’t looking for animals and birds, Pop would alternate between our music (Alvin and the Chipmunks greatest hits) and his collection of Irish folk, Abba, and oldie from the 50s and 60s.
We would stay in a series of cheap motels along the way and then he would show us the sights. He never booked ahead. Every part of the trip was spur of the moment except the $100 bill which we held onto like our lives depended on it. Pop always said that if we got split up, $100 would get us a greyhound home from anywhere he took us. If we didn’t have to use it for the entire trip, we were allowed to keep it once we got home. We always kept the money.
An enormous history buff, if Pop could find something battle related along the way to our destination, we stopped. He made history come alive to us with his stories of rebels and generals, Native American chiefs, and obscure historical facts.
I was thinking about him today because it is his birthday and I was looking at some last minute summer get away options. I learned a lot from Pop, how to love history and adventure, how to fix things even if I have never done it before, how to do basic carpentry and a whole host of other things directly and indirectly. Because of Pop, I’m not afraid to try things I don’t know how to do. Honestly, my husband gets a bit annoyed sometimes, like, “Get a professional!” But I like feeling like I can do things, feeling strong, and smart.
That’s the legacy parents are supposed to leave – not necessarily teaching your kids everything they need to know in the world, or getting it all right,
but that they are enough
– that it’s ok to try and fail
– that life is short, be adventurous
-that hard work pays off
-that knowing history helps us understand our present
-that It’s important to tuck something away in case of an emergency
-and, that whatever “it” is, it’s ok – you’ll figure it out.