98: Heart Strings

98: Heart Strings

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Heart Strings

To a father growing old nothing is dearer than a daughter.

~Euripides

Every year of my childhood, our family of six would take a summer vacation. Over the Sacramento River and through the Idaho woods to our grandmother’s house we’d go.

Trips were simpler then. No itinerary, no restaurants, no motel reservations, no travel kits or GPS units dictating the miles. Just a few old maps, historical landmarks, rest sites and Burma-Shave signs marked our route along the highway.

We were a large family on an educator’s budget so we packed our own food, slept in the car while our parents drove through the night, or stayed at the welcoming homes of our relatives for reunion family fun from the West Coast to the Midwest prairies of North Dakota.

Travel may have been simpler then, but the packing ritual of the family station wagon was not. My father planned the placing and stuffing of camping gear, coolers and suitcases, cramming the luggage rack, every cubby and space beneath the seats. There was a method to the madness, but only my father understood the logistics.

The car sat ready overnight as we all tried to sleep until the 4:00 AM start time. The loading of our family into the car was no less strategic than the astronauts strapping into their seats before they are blasted off into space.

The back seat was loaded first. My sister, Dawn, sat in the center with her feet on the hump of the floor that could get uncomfortably warm. My brother was on the passenger side, his scouting experience earning him the official map-reading position of authority. I was on the driver’s side with my feet on everyone’s flip-flops, activity books, comics and magazines. My youngest sister, Tammy, was in front between Dad and Mom, in a seat with her own play steering wheel, horn, blinkers and all. My mother sat with her feet on a cooler filled with the chicken she had fried, boiled eggs, rolls, fruit, celery, chips, and salami and cheese sandwiches.

Before my father got in the car, he checked us all for safety and comfort and then did something my fourteen-year-old heart will never forget. In a gesture of respect, love, and appreciation for my self-taught ability, my father handed me my guitar in its stiff cardboard case, and helped slide it behind me on top of everything else, into the perfect pocket he had created for it. It was a safe spot, protected from roughhousing and direct sunshine, and it was easily accessible for me to play.

How understandable it would have been for him to say that there was no room for that big awkward thing or that it was a bother, or that he didn’t want to hear that “noise” through the whole trip. But that wasn’t my dad’s way. He packed it, guarded it at gas stops, encouraged my song writing and sang along as I struggled to strum the right strings.

Now, I’m the one packing the car to drive my dad and mom to vacation at our lake cabin. My husband and I built the cabin with my parents’ comfort and my mother’s wheelchair in mind. Every year, I load the car to its last inch. When I can’t find room for another thing, I slam the trunk, always relieved when I hear the soft thud of a job well done and not the clanging sound of overloaded resistance.

Ready to go, my father helps my mother into the car. Even though it’s painful for him to bend his knees, my father insists she sit in the front.

One time, my father stopped before getting in the car.

“No room for this?” he asked, pointing to my guitar case left in the entryway.

“Not this trip, Dad,” I said, trying not to show my disappointment.

I locked up the house while my father struggled to wedge himself into the crowded space allotted him. I backed out of the driveway and we headed the three hours north.

When we pulled into the dirt road of the cabin, I parked and hurried to help my mother out of the car and into her wheelchair.

After making sure she was comfortable inside the cabin, I went to unload the car. It was only then that I realized that my father wasn’t on the deck taking in the blue beauty of the lake. He was still sitting in the back seat.

“Cindy, can I have a little help here?” he laughed. “I’m kinda stuck.”

Puzzled, I went around to his side of the car and saw what the problem was. There, on his lap, for three hours, without a word of complaint, he had held my guitar, wedged between his knees and the back of my seat. He was in obvious discomfort.

I hurried to move the front seat forward so I could pull the guitar case out.

“Dad, you didn’t have to do that!”

“Sure I did, Cindy. I always make room for what’s important to me, and what’s important to me is you.” He winced as I helped him up and out.

Stretching his knees before he could walk, my father looked out at the lake and breathed in the piney air. He smiled, despite his pain. “I’m grateful that you make a place for us here.”

“Dad, I always make room for what’s important to me,” I repeated his words to him, “and what’s important to me is you.”

~Cynthia M. Hamond

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