My parents visited me for a couple of days recently because my dad had appointments with the cardiologist. They are in their early 80s, with some health problems but still active, capable, and very much themselves. They still live on the farm where I grew up.
We had a good time while they were here, and for some reason I was reminded of a time years ago when I visited them. It was not long after I had moved to Rapid City, and my two kids were still young. This was in the early spring, probably at Easter.
The night before we were to leave for home, there was a heavy rain. The next morning I had to drive five miles of gravel road to get to the highway. This is in the south central part of the state, where mud is real mud—heavy, sticky gumbo. It builds up on your boots till you’re six inches taller and walking like John Wayne wearing Ginger Rogers’ high heels. When it dries, you have to chip it off with a chisel. Once my sister and brother-in-law got thoroughly stuck in my parents’ lane. A year or so later, they had some work done on the car and the mechanic had it up on the hoist. He asked them, "What’s that stuff stuck under here? Concrete?"
This was what I had to drive through. There was gravel on top of it, but I knew if I slipped off onto the shoulder of the road I would be in real trouble. I was a little worried about getting through with my little Datsun station wagon, but I loaded the kids into the car and started out. We slipped and slid a few times, but we made it.
After I got home, I called to let my parents know we had gotten home with no problems. My father happened to answer the phone. I said I hadn’t had any trouble getting through the mud. He chuckled and said, "You didn’t know you had a guardian angel following you, did you?"
After I left, he had gotten into the pickup and driven a half mile behind me all the way to the highway, just in case I slid off the road and needed some help.
My dad is not someone who says, "I love you." He doesn’t fuss or get emotional. Yet what he did that day said, "I love you," as clearly as if he had shouted it.
More clearly, in fact. He could have told us goodbye with big, warm hugs and said, "I love you"—and then stayed comfortably in the warm house with another cup of coffee. Instead, he put on his coveralls, went out to the pickup, and drove five miles through the mud to the highway and five miles back. He was there behind me just in case I needed him.
Last week, while my parents were here, I took them to the doctor’s office and the other places they wanted to go. They can get to my house with no trouble, but they aren’t comfortable driving in city traffic any more than they have to. The morning they were to leave, I drove my car to the clinic and they followed me. When my dad had seen the doctor, they started for home. It’s easy enough to find the way—straight up Fifth Street, all the way through town to the interstate. I knew they wouldn’t have any trouble.
Still, when they pulled out of the parking lot, I waited a minute or two and then pulled out behind them. Staying back far enough so they wouldn’t notice me, I followed them part way through town, until I knew they were well on their way to the highway.
It really wasn’t necessary, but it felt like the right thing to do. I was there behind them just in case they needed me.
That’s just a little something I learned from my dad.