The Maps in my Dad's Head

“A parent worries, when he won’t be around,” Dad says every so often.

“I’ll be fine.”

“But, you know. A parent wonders who you’ll ask. How you’ll figure it out?”

“I can figure things out. I can look things up. You know. Like GPS.”

But, Google still requires analysis. Analysis requires experience.

Last week. . .

I spent Friday night hoping for the six inches of snow the meteorologist had promised again. Dad had said, “No.”

Out the slit eyebrow windows facing south across our yard, I squinted in 6:00 not yet morning light. I wasn’t sure. Maybe the snow was deep? I still hoped. Finally bundled, I turned the slippery knob and tugged open the door. My heart hit the cement steps before my dog’s paw. I saw barely an inch more than the night before when I had driven home. I had little excuse to not go to the elector training, a yearly requirement to assist with voting in my township.

Soon dressed in turtleneck sweater and triple socks, I dumped a couple of chocolates into my bag. “For courage.” I smiled.

“Yeah, right,” Dad snorted, “Take County J.”

“But it’s always bad.”

“Nah. It’ll be slush. You can take it all the way.”

He seemed confident, but I turned on Google Maps in my car anyway. I didn’t want to “screw up” as Dad would say. I also didn’t want to admit I needed a little more clarification to get to a location with a well known route. In his head, he wasn't just seeing that route, but the interlacing roads of the entire township. The Google map also selected J so I turned the car left out onto the semi slippery road. Our road usually left little room for error, but no one came in the opposite direction as I made my way to the first stop sign. I waited for the string instrument pluck of an artificial voice to begin.

“Turn left onto County J” or something like that the voice said.

The road wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. Still, I relaxed enough to turn the radio station up and let the Saturday program pump out oldies my dad and I used to sing in the car. I followed County J until its final curve and then followed it some more to an easy left.

“Turn right onto Lather’s Rd,” the phone instructed.

That couldn’t be right. Dad had not added any other road. I hadn’t asked any further questions. What was I supposed to do? Trust that my dad would have given me all the details or obey the instructions of satellite’s and Internet. I turned right. I was wrong.

The road will get better, I encouraged the one set of tracks down the middle of the road. I could see a small car up in front of me. Maybe it was fine. I could still be right. I let the lyrics to Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, one of my dad's favorites, be an omen for better things. The curving one lane bridge through a subdivision sped up my heartbeat. This must be it. My destination must be close. I paused at a stop sign and my two wheel drive chugged to get the vehicle started again over the crusted snow and ice.

Some road names echoed with details I was sure my dad had mentioned somewhere, sometime before, but none connected me to my destination, much less any helpful memory. The next road and the next turn were never "it". As familiar tune after familiar tune sung through the speakers, the roads never met each other. I adjusted the radio volume all the way down and tried to steal more glances at the phone. I didn’t dare stop for fear my tires would not work the car free again. Somehow I found myself on a road labelled “Turtle Town Hall.” I passed by a new complex with an American flag flying. I glanced at the phone. 1.3 miles, it read. I wound by an electric station 0.5 miles and up a final hill.

I heard, “You have arrived at your destination.”

I absolutely had not arrived. I slid slowly over the top of a hill. To my left was a lone house with the garage door open. Outside a man was snow blowing his driveway. Should I stop? What if I couldn’t get started again? I could call my dad. No, of course I couldn’t. I asked my dad questions all the time, both silly and serious. As his daughter, it’s my right.

“How many inches of snow? What is it like outside? Where is the (fill in the blank here)?”

Still, I didn’t want him to be right, all the time. If he was, then what was being an adult good for, if you’re never not a child? And the answers I was really worried about, he never answered, almost as if it would mean we were closer to a time when I couldn’t ask him.

“What happens when I blow a fuse? What happens if a pipe freezes? What am I going to do with 80 acres?”

In a slushy intersection, I braked and retyped my destination into the search bar. Maybe I should erase it. Maybe I should look up my home address instead. I was already a half hour late. I took a deep breath and waited for the map to re-calibrate. Sitting in the middle of the intersection, I couldn’t determine which way I was supposed to go. I rolled forward and looked. The map turned. I put the car in reverse. I tugged the steering wheel gently left and began to drive.

I watched the mileage left to go increase. Damn it. I needed to turn around. Grateful for an early riser who had already plowed a long driveway, I arrived quickly again at the original intersection. The map returned to the first position. I continued forward. This time I was careful. I checked the changes in the map frequently. I did arrive at my destination. It was a place I had passed many times coming from the opposite direction, the one we always took to arrive at annual fireworks celebrations, parades and ice cream spots.

By the time I went home, most snow and ice had melted. The drive on County J was smooth and easy the entire way. I noticed Lather’s Rd. roll by. One more road, I grit my teeth. If I had waited, trusted, just one more road, I would have avoided anxiety and dangerous, uncertain detours. But, the real lesson is the one that forces me to more readily admit my own gaps in the understanding of his experience tested by time. There is reason to unfold each page, to decipher the tracing across the maps in my dad’s head.

“A parent worries, when he won’t be around,” Dad says every so often.

Me too.

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