After a road trip that included an 838-mile day of driving — from Elmira, N.Y., to Dodgeville, Wis., to be more precise — one would think that my father would want to do plenty of relaxing upon our arrival back in Worthington a few days ago.
But relaxing is not how Dad — who marked the big 7-0 milestone on Monday — rolls. Sure, he’s a pretty mellow dude on the surface, but if the wheels aren’t turning in his head about something, then he’s up to some kind of work.
I’ve had this view of my father for a while, and spending a few days with him in the car and then back here with my wife and kids sharpened this perspective somewhat. I must stress that I by no means intend to cast him in a negative light, as we enjoyed some wonderful time together that I imagine both of us will treasure for a long while. Vacation, though, is approached by my dad in a way that’s not quite the same as his oldest (and comparatively less ambitious) son.
We departed from an absolutely terrific McGaughey family reunion in Killington, Vt., on Monday the 18th, stopping for a couple of hours for lunch with my mom and brother before continuing onward about three or so hours southwest to Binghamton. I hadn’t been back to my college alma mater in 22 years, and let’s just the say the place has been virtually transformed since then. There’s no shortage of new residence halls, the student union seems like a completely different building … and yet, there was still a sort of “coming home” feeling to the experience. After dinner at an old restaurant at which I’d enjoyed middle-of-night meals in an earlier era, we pressed on another hour to so to Elmira, where we rented a room at the somewhat questionable-from-the-exterior Mark Twain Motor Inn, which turned out to be just fine despite the Bates Motel vibe.
I’ve already veered off track a little bit, but Monday’s travels set the stage for a full day Tuesday that included breakfast in lovely Corning, N.Y., and — many, many miles later, bed in a Super 8 a few miles outside of Madison, Wis. Dad did the last four hours of driving or so, but it was I who was more or less delirious by the time we pulled over at around 12:30 a.m. The goal has been to have a reasonably short drive to Decorah, Iowa, on Wednesday morning, then make it back to Worthington in time for supper later in the afternoon.
In short, that mission was successful, plus we had a delightful (if a little brief) Decorah stop. We made it home, we relaxed — for a little — and crashed.
The next day started with some more relaxation, as Dad and I enjoyed some good coffee and good company at The Lantern in Sibley before returning. It wasn’t long before he was up to something, though, as we made the first of what turned to be many visits to Ace Hardware. Grace was interested in having a fort in the backyard, and Grandpa was determined to find a way to make it happen.
That project turned out to be a minor investment of time compared to Dad’s second area of focus. He had sent us a fairly advanced (or so it seemed) weather station for Christmas that somehow sends all kinds of readings (temperature, wind speed, precipitation, humidity, barometric pressure, etc.) from outdoors back to your computer. He’d said he’d set it up for us when he came to visit in February, but one — of course — doesn’t set up outdoor weather stations in Minnesota in February.
The main thing I took away from the weather station setup was this: There were several reasons for Dad to throw in the towel, yet he persevered. The manual was horrible, pieces didn’t fit together properly, weather data occasionally stopped transmitting for one reason or another … but in the end, the bloody thing was up and working, and it’s still functioning a week after he left. I wish I had a tenth of the acuity needed to make such a thing happen.
But that’s my dad — it was his vacation, and he was our guest, yet he served us extraordinarily with a fort and weather station. And wouldn’t you know, he even found the time at night to drink wine with us AND read both a short novel and a book of Langston Hughes poetry? Meanwhile, I was looking at my iPad, going back and forth between rotten Twins games and various social media. Perhaps I could be using my spare time better?
What a guy you are, Dad. Thanks for being you — and cheers to the birthday boy.