No one wanted to do the trip. I have two siblings and they had better reasons than I did to not take the time needed to drive north. My parents loved their trips to Florida for the winter. But, it was clear to all of us that this would most likely be the final time they were able to go. My mother was being taken by a Parkinson’s related condition. Their ability to travel was weakened and eroded daily. It was early April. My sister and I flew down to assist in their return to PA. She would fly my mother back and I would drive with my father north to their home on the mountain. No one wanted my job. It was almost “Tag Your It” and like childhood I didn’t react fast enough.
It was time. My dad and I did the finishing closings on the motor home which we all called the trailer, but it was so much more. We packed up the car. Then it was time to face the unwanted standoff of who would drive. Not one of us thought for a minute Dad would give up the driving…I felt as if we were in for a major disagreement. There was no doubt that next to my mother I was my dad’s favorite, but the independence driving gave him would certainly override my plea to drive. We suspected there was trouble by the dents on fenders and comments of having to put the car in for repairs. And so it was he and I drove out of the drive and onto the freeway.
We stopped for an early lunch. The entire morning drive I had my foot push down into the floor of the car as if it would help. The reality was he was doing fine. He drove at the allowable speed limit and often a little higher. He checked his mirrors often. I soon began to become his child and not his keeper in the car.
My father was not a talker. He rarely held conversation with any of us. He was always the first off the dinner table which was mostly silent until he left and then became a chatter box upon his exit. But, I have fond memories of sitting in his lap as a child when he sketched or leaning against him on the coach as we watched TV. We didn’t talk. I would ask childish question and he would answer succinctly. No long repartee here. Long long silences. I grew to understand if I waited he would talk or tell me something I never knew before. He would let out jewels of stories but not the whole story. I learned to prompt at a very young age. Such would be our discourse in the car.
So the drive continued. We stopped for lunch and I asked if he would like me to drive. It was a courtesy and I never imagined he would say what he did. “Sure if you would like to.” I felt as if I won the lottery. I quickly slid into the driver’s seat before he would change his mind. I-95 from Florida to PA is one of the most boring straight through trips I have made. It didn’t seem like that when my sister and I road tripped to Florida, but it sure did this trip. And then it came. Pine trees lining the macadam. A sign popped up announcing the first of several military bases along the way.
” I spent time there.” What ? No he couldn’t have. It was an airbase. I knew at least my dad was army. What am I going to say? Should I challenge? Should I point out it was an air base? Was he having some type of confusion? I began to panic. From somewhere deep inside came the little girl sitting next to him.
“You spent time there? At this base? What did you do there.”
“We went in to see the planes.”
“Why did you go?”
Then it began, a word here a word there to prompt him for more and the story came out. He was in the military, but his job was to help uncover why planes didn’t function.
“Were they having trouble?”
“They thought they were, but we didn’t find evidence to support it. Probably just bad mechanics.”
I am lost. I have no idea what he is talking about and at first I am sure he doesn’t either. The next base comes into view and he says he was there too. Now I have something to go on. That was the base my uncle, his brother, was stationed at when he was a Marine Flyer. So I prompt, “You mean Gordon was there.”
“No, I mean me.” Now his voice is clipped and I am driivng this conversation in the wrong direction.
“You were at the same base when you were in the army?”
“Why were you at an airbase when you were army.”
” We were sent in to investigate whether equipment was being tampered with.
Woa! Now I am beginning to understand. “You were an undercover operator during the War?”
One word answer- “Yes”
On this long ride and at the end of his years he must have felt he could finally tell me about his role during the war. At long last he could let out he was as important as our neighbor who died, as important as my uncle who served in the Pacific, as important as those who were at Omaha Beach. The difference was that it was silent and remained unknown to the degree that he never spoke in specifics nor of details. It explained the photos of him at a shooting range in Texas, or the one of him skiing in Utah that my mother simply said he was in the army. I never asked for more when I was little.
My parents died within two months of each other. As my sister and I were cleaning out the many things stored I came across a military uniform. It had the red arm band of a MP. I called my brother to see if he wanted it. I was thinking it was his.
“That’s not mine. It was Dad’s.”
“Dad wasn’t an MP.”
“Mary, Dad could be whoever he needed to be during the War.”