Monday, March 28, 2011

The Bumpy, Muddy Back Roads of Life

We came the long way home from church yesterday.  It got me to thinking about exactly why I like the back roads so much.  I think I owe this trait to my dad.  

Daddy was a complicated man, very stern, strict, ruled the roost with a fist made of iron--the only feelings he was open about were the negative ones.  Only a few things made him happy and one was taking the long way or the back way, or back roads or dirt roads...

I can remember the carefree way he looked as he had his arm crooked at the elbow resting on the open window of the car door--the other laying across the top of the steering wheel--the breeze blowing his closely cropped black hair.  He was handsome man, and, I thought, looked his best when he was happy.

And relaxed he was when he was scanning all the fields and meadows with his sharp eyes for wildlife..and he trained us to do that, too. 

It would depend on the time of year as to what he'd tell us to watch for.  "Oh, this is the time to watch for the wild turkeys!"  I still scan the sides of the roads for wild life at dusk or daybreak--although I wasn't much help to him before I got my first pair of long-overdue glasses in the fourth grade.  

"Oh, looka that, willya!"  He'd exclaim as he would top a hill and see a pastoral meadow in the little valley below.  "Ain't that pretty, Helen?" he would say to my mom.  

I know my mom--who had already had a long day to that point, was probably thinking "Would you get there, already instead of taking forever with your wandering!?"  

But it didn't deter him, he had to follow those roads and relive those memories--it didn't really bother him that the baby on Mama's lap was crying, hungry, wet, or stinky or all three!  

Whenever we went "up north" as Michiganders often do, (we went  mostly to visit family, as my parents were both from "up north") we took the back roads daddy knew as a kid and he would take to pointing out landmarks along the way.  

"My dad and I painted that house."  Or, he would say, "Over there is where I got my first deer."  Lots of stories would follow if we could hear them over the back seats of the rumbly old station wagon and the bumpiness of the washboard of a dirt road.

Sometimes, he would pull into the driveway of a childhood friend,or  
a distant relative and stop in "real quick" to say hello.  Those visits were rarely quick, delaying our arrival at our destination even more!

I try not to cause much consternation with my wanderings...just ten or fifteen minutes difference on the way home from school or church if there's nothing pressing we have to get home for.  

When we are on a trip, I like to allow at least a little time to turn off the major highway to see a little of the "back country"...where the real beauty lies.

I guess I just can't help it sometimes, I do think a little about my daddy now and then, and today it came to my mind that my daddy has been dead for 15 years now, just last week was the anniversary of the day he died.

I could travel the back roads with my daddy, if it was just him and me, I would ask him a lot more questions and try to get to know this stern man a little better than I did.  

I was always so scared of him that conversations with him never came easy.  I always waited for him to talk and I don't recall a "visit" with him as a child or a young adult.    

You could say our family lived in the bumpiness of a back road, not a smooth highway, with nice stripes painted on the edges and down the middle.  Daddy made life bumpy in lots of ways.

When I grew up and had my own kids, if my dad and I ever found ourselves in a room together, it was kind of an uneasy feeling, like neither of us knew what to say--so not much ever got said.  

I think now that I know him a little more now...simply by having lived more of my own life, I think I would use some humor as a little hammer to knock away some of that concrete wall he carried around himself--that one of sternness-- and do a little bit more digging...learning, knowing.

I guess now I would tell him, if I could, that back roads aren't really that great when you just look straight ahead, you really have to look from side to side and sometimes strain your eyes to see what's there that's really, truly beautiful.  

And I would say that in spite of all the hard times, that he really did teach me how to enjoy some of the simpler and really important things in life.  

All the while I know you can never go down the bumpy back roads of life without some dust, gravel dings, or ugly mud getting all over -- all left to clean up later.

I told him before he died that I would do my best to remember the good things, and I have, I can name many of them.  Like a rough and craggy, ordinary rock, you can turn it and see something different on each side...examining it with time, you can see the beauty there--it has many sides to see.

My dad had a good side to him, but he wasn't an approachable person.  Sometimes, life--like those old roads--was just a mess...muddy, bumpy, dusty and some days were just outright ugly.

Looking back, I can see he gave me some valuable things whether I realized it or not: a sense of adventure, fearlessness, a fierce belief in God and country, good hard work, looking a person in the eye, having a firm handshake, keeping your word, not living life in debt, not being afraid to speak up and say the truth, to know when to break some of the rules...

It just took me a while to see the beauty through the dust we were kicking up.  

I find that it's him I think of the most while I wander those back roads.  

And I wonder, is there someone he was missing when he drove down those winding hills of home, too?


Nancy C said...

Some people just come out of the womb angry -- my first husband was/is that way.

Such a waste of precious living. Sorry you had to grow up that way.

~from my front porch in the mountains~ said...

What a lovely piece, Joni. Thank you!
xo, misha

Debbie said...

I'll bet your post hits at the heart of many today as it has me. For some reason, I couldn't get your pictures to come up so I can only read your writing which was so good it didn't need pictures. My parents divorced early in my life and my relationship with my dad was often strained. I loved him also, and I miss him. I've started blogs about him and just couldn't get it done. Maybe I will yet.

★Carol★ said...

This brought tears to my eyes, because I often feel like I never really knew my Dad like I wish I had. He grew up with a mother who beat him, and he always swore that he would never lay a hand on my sister and I, and he never did. I admire him so much for breaking that cycle.
I love the back roads too, especially when we go "up north" to Wisconsin for summer vacation. It's where both of my parents grew up, and I could happily travel those dirt roads for hours at a time, but unfortunately my husband is too impatient for that. This summer, I'm making the time to travel those back roads, with or without him!