The Code of the Road

The Code of the Road

From A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul

The Code of the Road

Blessed are those that can give without remembering and take without forgetting.

Elizabeth Bibesco

As the daughter of a truck driver and a secretary, I grew up knowing my mother far better than my father. As a young child I was “Daddy’s little girl,” but then I hit those teen years and my relationship with my father no longer existed. He had spent most of my life on the road, leaving before 4:00 A.M. and arriving home well after my bedtime. By the time I was old enough to stay up past 9:00 P.M., I was no longer Daddy’s little girl, I was a teenager. Now we were strangers—I didn’t know him and he couldn’t have known me. It was almost as if one day he went out on the truck, and, when he returned, I was 13. It took me years to understand that he had no idea what to do with me. He didn’t know how to handle a teenage girl with crazed hormones and a big mouth. The little girl who adored her daddy was replaced by a horrendous teen who liked nothing better than to have the last word in every argument. And so began a lesson I will never forget.. .

I was a rebellious teenager with big dreams and an open mind. During the hardest parts of my life, I believe my mother sustained me. When she attempted to guide me, of course I fought every inch of the way. But she never let go—she held on for dear life, and finally I outgrew those raging hormones and outrageous behaviors. It was during this time that I learned an important lesson from my father. A lesson of strength, love, honesty and kindness.

One evening he returned from another day on the truck, probably delivering cargo to Brooklyn, the Bronx, Harlem or Philadelphia. He told us how that afternoon he was on the highway and saw a woman opening her trunk to take out a spare tire. He stopped, introduced himself and proceeded to take over the task of changing the blown-out tire. While he jacked up the car, the woman told him how grateful she was for his kindness. She said people’s fear of crime in urban areas often dissuade local people from stopping to help one another. When Dad finished changing the tire and returning all of the equipment to the trunk of her car, she offered him a $20 bill for his help. He smiled at her and said, “No need. I have a wife and a daughter who just started driving, and my only hope is that if ever one of them breaks down on the side of the road, someone honest and friendly will stop and do for them what I just did for you.” He said good-bye and headed back to the 18-wheeler he had left with its motor running on the shoulder of the road.

This was a side of my father I didn’t see often. Instead, throughout my life, my Brooklyn-Italian father nonchalantly taught me the rules of the road and life through loud funny stories shared boisterously with his trucking buddies at family parties. Through the laughter, I heard explanations of “on the road” safe places to sleep, where to eat, definitions of respect, honesty and hard work, and “blue collar” survival. I was 24 years old before I realized how much I had really learned from him.

In 1992, I moved from my parents’ New Jersey home to an apartment in eastern Kansas, where I worked as a volunteer for a civil rights organization. During those three and a half years I traveled almost continuously. One day, the 12-year-old daughter of a friend suggested we head to western Kansas to join the “Walk Across America for Mother Earth.” As a firm believer in recycling and saving our environment, I agreed. The next day I borrowed my

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