A road trip is something friends do in college, or after. A journey in which memories are solidified in the carefree time of youth, playlists are exchanged and to which the passengers sing uninhibitedly while doing their best shoulder, arm, hand and hip wiggle in a bucket seat. Gas stations are hit up for those guilty pleasure treats or new strange drinks in a 20 ounce bottle and coffee becomes the only tangible lifeline for the late night driver.
But this was not one of those road trips. Here I was, two boys under the age of six in the back seat and my 75 year old father as first-mate on the six hour drive to Brendenburg, Kentucky. My dad loves music but not while we are driving, he likes to talk. He likes to reminisce about each exit or town or “that cow makes me think of a time when I was twenty-six…”
In my youth I rolled my eyes, put a headphone in my left ear and uttered an “uh-huh” or a “wow” at the exact moment that my dad’s intonation asked for it. I was a pro at knowing how to absentmindedly pay attention to my father’s ramblings. But this time was different. This time I made the conscious effort to let go of the road trip mix I had made (complete with Superstar and Eres Tu in order to pay homage to Tommy Boy, one of the great ‘road trip’ movies of my generation), and I even let the earbuds sit in my bags so that I could soak in any and all stories my father was willing to tell. At first, this was difficult, we were near his house so, of course, he had a story or tale to go along with just about every building and block before we got to the highway.
“You see that brick building next to that bank over there,” he would begin, “I was the foreman on the that job in 1987. That year, Jerry Brecker and I worked on my….”
I could feel my instinct kick in to place an ‘uh-huh’ or ‘wow’ in when necessary. But I didn’t. It was a good choice. Instead, I began to ask questions, dig deeper, almost like I do with my fifth graders, and the trip to Kentucky became the Rhuben Pittman story telling audio track. He told me new stories, embellished old ones, and even mixed a couple up in there, I think, to give it some spice. I heard stories about his life as a child, as a teenager, and as an adult that I had never heard before.
The road whisked by as my dad spun tales like cotton candy and I, for once, was the wide-eyed child waiting for the next sugary string. I wish I had recorded them. Stories of military service, of teenage tomfoolery, of flames of his youth and his elder years were dished out keeping the boredom of a long drive at bay and the appreciation for all my dad had lived was high tide.
By the end of the trip I had seen my dad in a whole new light, but had also seen myself in a new light as well. My friends will tell you, that I am an avid talker just like my dad. As I get older I realize that more and more I am telling the stories of my past as they string together along a telephone wire of a city block. I have inherited his passion, a passion to share a story.
As I drove away, I was thankful for the time we had spent together. All those stories, now mine as well. As I looked at my boys in the rear view mirror I could already envision our times in a car a decade later.
“You see that brick building over there? Your grandpa was a foreman on that job in 1987…”