My parents, Rich & Florence were married for 62 years. Mom died when I was almost 54 so my knowledge/observations/opinions were based on approximately 50 years of my life. Now I’m pushing 70 (wow, that’s even hard to write) and have witnessed various marriage/relationships observing other couples, friends and family during my life. But my parents long marriage remains in the top spot for one of the most unique.
How their marriage fared during the first 15 years from what I saw was kinda happy/normal. The radical change came after they lost their middle kid Larry in a freak accident in 1958. My sister got married in 1960 so I was basically an only child after that. Mom and Dad slowly drifted apart, he flourished, she became an introvert.
Mom gave divorce some serious consideration after losing Larry. She actually talked about it to me several times before I hit my teens, but Dad never considered it. The loss of Larry ended up saving Dad. He became an enthusiastic believer/born again Christian. He made a radical change. Mom however suffered with some depression. They still took vacations, ate out regularly, went to church together twice on Sunday’s, but a lot of it was for outward appearances.
After the first 15 years of my marriage, we moved to eastern Iowa. Five years later we moved another 350 miles east which added a new wrinkle to their unusual lifestyle. They developed a quirky competition with each other. I almost typed “over us” but it really was a competition about our kids.
Seems like the farther away we lived, the more there was at stake. When we moved to Michigan, Shannon was 16, Joshua was 12 and Adam was 8. It wasn’t as if the kids forgot their grandparents when they didn’t see them for a few months like when they were babies. Mom and Dad somehow got into this odd competition over the kid’s attention and affections.
When we lived closer to them I can understand their visiting us at different times. Mom might have a day off during the week and wanted to see us. But after we moved twice as far away and they had both since retired, they continued this odd way of visiting us. Bragging rights after returning home. Embellishing the stories of their adorable grandchildren. Don’t know why.
Dad always had an ulterior motive. Don’t get me wrong, he loved my kids and tolerated their parents, but driving to Michigan meant one thing-a speaking engagement (preaching) at the prison. Utmost in his mind, he planned and timed his visits accordingly. Still, he always had a great time attending whatever sport the kids were participating in while he was staying with us.
Deb, one of my friends from Rock Valley remarked recently on a blog post she was surprised my Mom (in her 60’s at the time) drove back and forth to Mayo Clinic by herself. I thought heck that’s not half as bad/dangerous as driving to Michigan, which I think she did at least a dozen times.
Mom just wanted to be with us. She wanted to fill Dad’s head with wonderful stories, conversations she had with the kids, repeated verbatim. Where we went shopping or out to eat. Her trips were scheduled more by seasons. She didn’t want to travel 750 miles (by herself) when the weather was dicey.
Just off hand I can come up with 3 instances during their solitary trips back and forth to Michigan where something very serious could have happened. Two instances involved Mom and her 4 cylinder Fords, driving back to Iowa. She had stopped for a meal, gotten back on the interstate when she realized she had not put on her seatbelt. She pulled off on the shoulder, stopped and belts herself in. The semi’s are whizzing at 70 mph plus, practically blowing her little Escort over. Mom, being courteous simply puts on her left blinker and pulls out on the interstate. Goodness she could have been killed. There’s never a long break in traffic to squeeze back in, but she should have shifted that little 4-banger a couple of times while driving on the shoulder and getting up a little speed before trying to ease back into the sea of cars and semi’s. Her little Ford was totaled when she was rear ended by an 18 wheeler. Mom was unscathed.
These trips back and forth from Iowa to Michigan were before cellphones, Mapquest, Siri, and GPS. She might have had a paper map in the car, but that was it. There weren’t many ways to actually get lost though once she made it from our small home town in northwest Iowa to a major interstate. Unfortunately Mom was born without any directional map app. When she made it to I 80 East, she stayed on that until she got to 94 E, which brought her right to Jackson.
Driving back through Chicago was hectic, yet not all that bad if you just made sure you were still on 94 W and didn’t miss the 80 West signs. Which she did. Completely. She hooked a right before she came to the 80 west exit (also a right turn) in the middle of Chicago traffic, which happened to take her to Wisconsin. Well she had never been to Milwaukie before so there’s that. She lost a couple hours both ways before getting back to 80 West.
Dad had a much better sense of direction when he traveled. We had moved to North Muskegon so Dad’s dangerous trip was after I 80 turned into 94 east. He didn’t continue on it as long but veered north along the east side of Lake Michigan. On this fateful trip he was about 25 miles south of us when he stopped. His feeling was he might have accidentally passed the North Muskegon exit and gone too far already. So he stopped at a “party store.” A mini-market of sorts, with gobs of junk food, beer, pop and usually gas if you need it. (Or get gas after all the junk food). He wanted to stretch his legs anyway and ask someone how far off he was from his final destination. So he casually saunters up to a couple guys holding an animated conversation in a pickup truck in the parking lot. Dad taps his knuckles on the passenger window. Both guys are talking and studying the lap of the passenger. Naturally Dad looks down too. Passenger is holding a huge handgun. And Dad just startled the living shit out of both of them.
Luckily none of the three panicked and cooler heads prevailed. Gunslinger slowly rolls down his window. Dad, not looking in the dude’s lap anymore says, “ah-hi. I might be lost. I’m going to my daughter’s in North Muskegon and think I might have passed her exit already. Do you know how far away I am?” Helpful gun owner (or at least the one in possession of the gun) replied, “No sir, you haven’t gone too far. You’re still about 20 miles south of the North Muskegon exit, and it will be on your left off 31 North. Have a good day.” Dad said, “thank you for your help. God bless you both!” (Holy shit that could have turned out badly. Thanks a lot for that one God).
When I think about some of these scary events, I’m in awe of God’s grace, watching over my folks as they tooled along, all alone on some of America’s busiest roads. And these are just the stories they bothered repeating. Heaven knows, there might have been other instances they didn’t dare talk about, for fear I would not let them drive out of Iowa again. If I’m being practical I suspect there might be a conversation between one or all of our kids concerning our traipsing around through the states. But not yet. Nooooo. I’m way too young and a far better driver than 75% of the yahoos on the roads these days. Truth. Of course it’s not my driving I’m concerned about, but those unpredictable yahoos, right?