My Father and I recently drove across the country. Adventures ensued. In this, the epic roadtripping extravaganza, I have been getting to know myself and my dad on a whole new level.
For example: Who the heck knew I would have such an extreme and irrepressible desire to put my feet in all large famous bodies of water? Not me. But there we were, in Nebraska, driving past and over and beside the Missouri River a whole bunch of times and I suddenly knew that I would never be satisfied with life again if I drove past that river and left the state without putting my feet in it!
And so my long suffering father walked with me over a seriously charming suspension bridge that started in Nebraska and ended in Iowa. He took pictures while I stood over the state line and shouted with glee, and he hiked down a dirty and dusty unfinished, concrete half-poured type of parking lot area down to the banks of the Missouri. He smiled indulgently while I burned my feet and danced in the smelly wonderful waters of the river. He even held my shoes while I washed my sanded, dirtied feet in a fountain over on the Nebraska side.
Before we continue, a word about said fountain. This is the kind of fountain that is actually a bunch of jets shooting up from the ground in only semi-predictable ways. This floor of shooting water (also known as pure joy, hello!) was occupied by a whole heap of little people, surrounded by a whole heap of big people yelling things like "Jimmy! Don't hold your sister in that water!" Or, " It's time to go home and have a nap now!" Guess which sphere I chose. Absolutely I played with the little people. Only I was really a big person, and the other parents surely thought us an odd duo. Dad was my big person, standing on the outside of the circle, but instead of telling me to come in for a nap or to stop drowning my sister, he informed me that I am the sort of person who will inevitably find trouble, always. This observation might have had something to do with the fact that I was standing over one of those spraying holes trying to aim the spray at a small child with my foot but only really succeeding in getting wet while dad dodged my circle of potential wetting. It is perhaps one of my more cherished memories involving my father. Ahem. Tangent over.
The adventure continued on a freeway somewhere in Iowa when I decided once again that I would never be satisfied with life if I drove past the Mississippi river without putting my feet in it. So when I yelled, "Dad! Do I take the Davenport exit?" he said dryly "I don't know." But then dug out a map and confirmed that I should take the Davenport exit, like a champion. And then he smiled indulgently once more while I climbed up and over the levee to put my feet in the river, saying as I sort of bouldered my way down in flip flops, "Just don't kill yourself, okay?"
And I said, "Please! I'll be fine. Mmm. Except the rocks move."
And then I put my feet in the river and slipped on a scummy rock, like a champion, and thought to myself, "That really hurt. But shut up about it cause dad just told you not to kill yourself."
And then we were driving across Illinois some more and I realized that my foot was sticking to my flip flop with some sort of wetness that felt a lot like blood. And there was this long stretch where we were holding still cause a Semi had a couple tires explode, and I lifted my foot up and saw the gash. Yep. It was blood.
"Oh Good! So you know how you told me not to get hurt? well..."
"Outstanding." said Dad.
(The important thing to remember is that Dad never ever uses this word with real intent. There is a scale for dad's verbs when he uses this word. It starts at "tease" and ends at "wither" or "destroy". But this was the mildest use of "Outstanding" I've ever heard from his mouth. What a pleasantly small and concern-filled reprimand!)
The next body of water I had to put my feet in was Lake Michigan, of course. Of all the things to do in Chicago, we skipped the bean and the L train, instead paying twelve dollars to park by the pier and go play in the water with a sliced open foot, while dad stood on the beach in his dress shoes and smiled from behind the camera some more, and found yet another fountain to wash all the sand off, which was a blessed thing, cause then sand was all in the gash and that felt less than stellar.
(When I told my sister Erin about the plan to continue wading in various iconic bodies of water regardless of an open wound, her immediate response was, of course, "Hhhhaaaaa! Parasites!" Raise your hand if you are surprised. It doesn't even matter that there's an internet between us, I still know with a perfect knowledge that nobody even twitched.)
By this time it was pretty settled that I was gonna put my feet in all the big waters. So we went to Cleveland and got lost for a while finding Lake Eerie. This is when we were sure that we have a gift for ending up in the bad spots of town. Like, dad made me lock my door and we weren't even parked. So that was fun, but then we got un-lost and I climbed down the boulders again.
And this was the point where dad said, "If you go down there, you're gonna get wet."
"Of course I am. I'm gonna stand in it."
" No, I mean wet. Wet, wet."
And I said, "Psh! No I'm not!"
So I got down and was sitting there basking in the absolute perfection of that sunset over that ginormous lake, and I got distractified. Who could blame me, right? Apparently, the huge wave that splashed me all over. Dad told me so. But he was nice about it and got in a car with me, which sounds easy enough but was actually a significant sign of love and patience. Have y'all smelled Eerie water? I didn't exactly smell like a botanical garden is all I'm saying. Dad simply smiled indulgently and drove on.
And then we went to Niagara Falls. And I didn't so much put my feet in that one. But I did get the best picture of Dad in my whole life. And I saw Canada and took pictures of it for Daxx. And Dad, seemingly disturbed by the unusually high level of coupleness going on there, had this gem of an outburst:
"Is this supposed to be romantic? Niagara Falls is some honeymoon destination, right?"
"Yeah! This is where-"
"Mark and Amy came on their honeymoon here! I just don't get it. Why is it romantic? Why? Why?"
Continuing on, I put my feet in Lake Ontario where Dad also smiled indulgently and let me play in the sand and take pictures. That was pretty heavenly. We walked around the docks and I made a sand ball while I was squshing it in my fingers (cause I am very texture oriented. I wonder where I got that, Erin.) which I then did not throw at my father in spite of ridiculous temptation. Mostly cause I made dad pinkie swear me before we left that we would still be friends by the time we ended this trip, and it would have been bad form to sabotage such an arrangement when I made it in the first place. That being said, I mourn the loss of that sand ball joy which was never experienced.
Thus ended the escapades in major bodies of water. I can rest easy knowing that I have bacteria spanning seven states safely tucked inside the now- healed Mississippi gash on the bottom of my foot. The tales of adventuring are not completed, and I realize now that I may have to write a whole lot of individual posts for a long time coming if I want to tell the whole story. But this part of the story is my favorite. The part where Dad smiled indulgently, where I learned that my dad thinks I am distinctly unique, the kind of person that was inevitably get splashed. I learned that he is okay with that, and may even offer to hold my shoes. He will tell me not to get hurt, but he'll let me climb down the levee. And if I get hurt anyway, he'll find bandaids and wait for me to put real shoes on before trekking down to Niagara falls so I don't have to keep limping around New York looking for a bathroom. He'll absolutely let me figure stuff out and take perfect care of me at the same time. He will ask me if I want to stay, and hug me goodbye before he leaves. He may even install a GPS in my car so he can still take care of me via technology while I am figuring some stuff out some more.
Dad is a good sport. I love the indulgent smile even more now than I ever did. I think of it every time I see that empty picture frame, and smile myself knowing that it will soon be filled with a picture of my dad, smiling indulgently in the pouring rain next to a Schenectady sign.