It Gives One Pause and a Little Tug

Dear Will:

Earlier this month my father turned 83. My mother’s 80th birthday is in about 10 days. So imagine my excitement when they told me they had decided to take a trip to Turkey. Their plane left this morning.

My parents enjoy traveling, but Turkey was never really on their list. However, when my sister’s husband, who works for the military, found himself assigned to a military base there, my parents’ vacation priorities shifted. Flying to Turkey is the sort of thing that parents do, apparently, especially when there are a passel of grandkids involved. Even when you’re in your eighties.

As you well know, that bond between parent and child is a strong one, not typically muted by passing years. Consider, for instance, that my sister Susan was born over 40 years ago. She has long since “left the nest.” Meanwhile my parents are really beginning to show their age, having fought battles with cancer and strokes and even a couple of knee replacement surgeries. Given those facts, it’s not hard to construct a pretty good case against this trip. Believe me, I tried. But even though my father acknowledged that this trip probably wasn’t the best idea, they would not be dissuaded. Their course was set and their cause was clear: One of their babies—and that baby’s babies—couldn’t make it home for holidays (much less Sunday dinners), and they didn’t want to wait any longer to hug and hold each one of them and admire the refrigerator art of a my sister’s five children.

That tug of affection across generations is an eternal verity, a manifestation of the ineffable bond linking son to father to grandfather and on. Even before the days of Christ, Malachi spoke of the hearts of fathers turning to their children, and the hearts of children turning to their fathers. It is that selfsame spirit which leads the curious to embark on a passionate search for ancestors, the resulting family tree branching back into history a dozen generations or more. It’s an amazing phenomenon.

I’ve had all of this on my mind lately, and not just because my elderly parents are traveling half-way across the world when they might be better off sitting on the sofa and watching the NCAA Tournament (my Bruins are in the Final Four!) You see, just last week I received via email an electronic copy of my wife’s genealogy and discovered that someone, by some means, has traced her heritage back into the 1500s. That’s over 400 years worth of family foliage, a staggering amount of research and a humbling glimpse of one’s past. As I stared at the screen of my computer I was in awe:

Christopher Worrilow – Born, 1579, Haughton, Staffordshire, England; died in 1605 [so young!], a year or so after his son John was born. He and his wife Margery died on the same day.

Wouldn’t you love to know how they died, and who raised little John, and the answers to half a dozen other questions? I don’t even know where to begin such an inquiry, but I do know this: The Internet has now made it possible even for a hack like me to tinker with family history. (You should check out familysearch.org—wow!) At any rate, it does give one pause—and a little tug—as eternal forces compel us to try to pull together our families across continents and cultures and many generations.

PW

Vacation Was a Gas

Dear Will:

A couple of weeks ago my family and I returned from a vacation in southern Colorado. We enjoyed a week of rafting, horseback riding, soaking in hot springs, hiking, exploring ancient ruins, and lots of driving—2,300 miles worth. We had a marvelous time, but as you would guess, by the time we finally pointed the car toward Orange, I was ready to be back in my own home.

So it was that we found ourselves, rolling down I-40, trying to take our minds off of the road. As we approached Havasu City, I remember noticing a Pilot station selling gas for “only” $2.39 per gallon. “Pretty good deal,” I thought—which will tell you all you need to know about what I was paying in and around Durango. As I drove past that exit—the last before we crossed into California—I discovered that I was running low on gas and would need to stop.

(Those of you familiar with that stretch of I-40 can probably anticipate the rest of this story. Having never traveled that stretch of road before, I was not so fortunate.)

When we got to Needles, I took the first exit and pulled into a Union 76 station that was charging $3.09 for a gallon of low-grade unleaded. “I’m not paying 3 bucks for a gallon of gas!” I exclaimed as I drove right through the station without stopping. Assuming that the first exit would offer the most expensive gas, I got back on the freeway and tried the next exit instead.

“Three-nineteen! I’m not paying $3.19 a gallon. This is ridiculous. We can get gas in the next town.” Once again I got back on the freeway without refueling. I looked at the gauge and concluded that I would have plenty in the tank to get me to Fenner—only 38 miles away.

Not far down the road the low-fuel indicator came on. I was averaging 17-18 miles to the gallon, so now I was worried. I had my whole family in the car and the in-dash thermometer indicated that it was 122 degrees outside. I imagined my wife and children baking in the unrelenting heat while I shuffled up the road, gas can in hand, in an ever-growing state of delirium. The desert stretched before me, blank and unforgiving, and the word hubris pounded over and over in my head. Somewhere nearby a lizard laughed. Hysterically.

We came over a rise, pushed onward by the last few drops of fuel in the tank, and finally saw in the distance evidence of what we thought must certainly be Fenner, California. As we drew nearer, however, the highway was pinched down to a single lane. Road construction. “Just watch,” my wife said. “With our luck the exit will be closed.”

It was like some kind of sick joke. The exit was closed. As we drove past the exit and saw the gas station—tantalizingly close, but unattainable—I gnashed my teeth and berated myself for my pride and stupidity. If I were a swearing man, I’d probably have felt a little better right about then, but not much. The next town was almost 60 miles further west.

Quickly I saw what I must do: At the first opportunity, I broke several traffic laws by driving across the median so that we could head back the other direction (there was no construction activity westbound) so that I could get to Fenner. We limped into that gas station, hot and relieved . . . and gladly paid $3.59 for a few gallons of gas.

PW