My father never met a stranger.
We spent this past weekend together here in Asheville, as he and my mother were making a two-week road trip down through the South, seeing friends and relatives on a loop through Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Kentucky before winding their way back home to Illinois, the land of Lincoln and the childhood home of the Poet of the Prairie, Carl Sandburg.
It was the same weekend that my youngest son, Blake, turned twenty.
One of my biggest regrets is that two of the three most important men in my life hardly know each other, as Blake and Eric grew up here in Asheville, more than seven hundred miles away from their grandparents. As they grew older and busier, finding time to make anything more than a quick annual trip back to Illinois to visit their grandparents became harder with each passing year.
And so with Blake living in Washington while he attends Georgetown and Eric living in Salt Lake City working on his doctorate and my parents living in a small town just north of Galesburg, I have become the conduit for information passing between them.
My father has a fascination with what computers can do, but has no desire or need to own one. He was skeptical at first, as was I, of the reliability of either a G.P.S. or a cell phone, but now uses both when he and my mother are traveling, much to our relief. We were sitting here in my office yesterday, seeing what their house looked like from Google’s satellite and trying to explain how Facebook works – and why.
At age 86 and with a sciatic nerve that flares up if he stands too long, my father enjoys sitting and talking. But he isn’t, to borrow a phrase from my mother, a Big Talker. He’s more of a conversationalist. He’ll often be sitting in my Morris chair reading the paper when I come into the room, but will quickly put it down and might well say, “I was just reading about….” And the conversation will start and it always seems to just flow along, taking side trips so often I sometimes forget what it was we first started talking about, but then it really didn’t matter.
We took a drive up the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway yesterday, stopping at the Folk Art Center on our way back to Asheville. While Leigh Ann and I, along with my mother, began wandering down the aisles, silently admiring the quilts, pottery, baskets and tiles on display, I scanned the room checking on the whereabouts of my father. To no surprise he was sitting on a bench, chatting with a stranger, quickly discovering they had both served in the U.S. Navy. While none of the three of us left with anything, my father left having made a friend, and another story to tell.
And Blake – well, he spent his twentieth birthday, which happens to also be St. Patrick’s Day, studying Organic Chemistry for at least part of the day before going out with his friends. And while 66 years and 866 miles separate them, Blake, who has 737 Facebook friends and knows them all, and his grandfather, who before the end of today will have made another friend on another bench at a restaurant or rest stop on their way through Kentucky, share a valuable trait.
Neither remains a stranger for long.
Until next Monday,
Have a great week!