Recently, my family and I traveled to the Black Hills, a 365 mile drive across the state. I always look forward to the trek though I’m not sure why. I’ve made the drive many times, and not much has changed. I stop at the same places I did with my parents years ago on summer vacations.
As a kid, I liked to pick up brochures at rest areas, and my dad indulged me. In South Dakota, rest stops look like teepees, and I thought that was cool. Dad never minded stopping, and Mom never drove. If she had, we would have blown through the state in our Chrysler LeBaron like a black streak of lightening. But a stop with Dad was memorable. He made eating sandwiches at a dirty picnic table fun, recounting the previous miles with stories and jokes. The hours didn’t seem daunting at all the way Dad told them.
I was happy to get out of the car, away from my older sister and brother who monopolized the backseat. Always trying to catch a few Zs, they didn’t have a lot of patience for people who weren’t as interested in sleeping as they were. But there were too many things to look at—mostly the sweaty pamphlets accumulating in the backseat. Even though I knew I wouldn’t go to half of the attractions, I liked reading about them. And Dad was happy to get more.
When we came upon a brown road sign, I would get excited because I knew it signaled something important, and chances were, Dad would stop. I wasn’t particularly fond of history and in fact don’t remember the accounts of most of the places we went. But I do remember stopping and reading signs, walls, and plaques. Gazing over the prairie, the Missouri river, the Badlands, I thought they were interesting because he did.
Truthfully, I don’t remember much of our vacations. Fragments and souvenirs come to mind: a pink cowgirl hat, a Sioux Indian headdress, the feel of the spray of Old Faithful Geyser as I watched it with my mother. Knowing how hard it is, as a parent, to plan a family trip, I wonder at the fickleness of my memory. I chide myself. Who am I to forget the important stuff? Then I think of Dad. He would say this is the important stuff.
How easy it is to forget. To fill our schedules with activities until all we remember is how busy we were. Yet what I remember of summer vacation is stopping—and my dad, of course, whom I miss every day of my life, but especially on Father’s Day. It’s the perfect day to stop and consider the important stuff, and people, like Dad.