In a town with one red light there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment. There was Smith’s, or to the locals, “Smiss”, the grocery store, but even if you were really taking your time and got stuck behind somebody’s grandmother who was shopping for a family reunion, you could see the whole store in less that ten minutes. Come to think of it, I’m not really sure what entertainment means. I suppose that it’s what you do for fun whenever you are caught up with all the chores at home. So when all the grass was cut, or there were no pecans left to pick up, Dad would take us what he called Rambling. It was Dad’s form of entertainment. Essentially, my brother Zach and I would pile into Dad’s red Mazda pickup truck and drive around back roads for the better part of the day.
It was always a surprise to go rambling, not something that we worked up to, like fishing, but something that could be done rather quickly when you discover that you’ve found time, but not made time. I never knew where we were going, although I was relatively certain that we’d stop at the store to get a cold “drank”. Dad would get a Pepsi, Zach a Dr. Pepper. I would get a Grapico. We’d set in the truck and enjoy our drinks. After the policeman pulled Dad over because he saw one of us standing up right next to Dad, we had to start wearing our seat belts. Being the youngest, I had to set in the middle with both legs hanging over into the passenger floorboard, so as to be out of the way of Dad shifting the gears. I remember being really worried about learning how to drive as I watched Dad press the clutch and shift the gears in that little truck. How was he so coordinated? How did he know when to shift them?
“You can listen and the motor will tell you when to shift the gears.”
I would do my best to listen to the motor through the hissy static of the AM radio broadcasting the Braves game. I was so intent that I would hum along to the pitch of the engine as he accelerated through the gears after stopping at a lonely stop sign on some back road. I was mesmerized by Dad’s ability to drive with only his thumbs.
There were various destinations although I don’t recall guessing, I was just along for the ride. We’d often go to the Logan Martin Dam and climb across the guardrail to peer down to the rocks amongst the stench of dead fish where the men cast out into the churning water hoping for a catch. There was an old man there named Mr. Bird. He was always there, but if he wasn’t fishing, you might as well pack up your tackle and go home.
Sometimes we went to visit a distant relative who removed an oxygen tube to take a drag on a cigarette. I only remember these people because Dad took me to see them. They would have never been able to make it to the barbecue at the next major holiday. But I remember them, if only faintly through the eyes of a child. They’re gone now, and I wonder how many stories with them.
We would visit ancient cemeteries so Dad could point out where a great grandfather was buried. I could barely read then, but I wish I would have taken better notes. It was interesting to see the graves of people who had been born in the 18th century. Dad taught us proper cemetery etiquette: don’t holler, and don’t step on anyone’s grave.
We ate a few times when we went rambling. I remember going to Jill’s restaurant in Leeds one day. Dad came walking back from the counter with two ice cream cones half a foot high. Ice cream with your Dad. If that’s not entertainment, I don’t know what is.
Through rambling, Dad immersed us in the art of looking out the window while you’re riding in a car. He taught us how to spot a Red Tailed Hawk, and where to look for a Great Blue Heron. It’s still a thrill to be able to point out a herd of deer on the side of the road, or a redbird on a fencepost. You can always tell when you’re riding with someone who never did any recreational riding. They won’t appreciate your superior observations skills, and will usually complain about watching the road, or make some remark about traffic before looking back down at their phones.
I go rambling sometimes with my two kids now that Sarah is letting them both ride in the truck. We drive slowly by the waterfall, neither of them can argue that it’s not on their side since everyone is on the same row. Wes usually rides in the middle with his feet over in the passenger floorboard so I can shift gears. I’m still a little wary of these new automatics. We’ll get some ice cream and I’ll point at the hawks.
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