It’s amazing how life and time can just seem to get away from you. With everything from job searching to medical emergencies, time seems to really just fly by sometimes. Late last week, I got an emergency call from my wife telling me that her mother had been put into the hospital and that we needed to get to the hospital as fast as possible. This is no easy task because her parents live about nine hours away. We quickly backed some bags and got on the road, not getting there until about 11:30 Friday night. My wife was, understandably, on the phone for most of the drive with family and friends, either getting information about her mom or giving information to others. Thankfully, her mother pulled through and is improving. When I’m driving and not talking, particularly when I’m traveling long distances, I start to think about things like past trips or my family. During this drive, particularly because of the circumstances surrounding the trip, I started to think about my grandfather.
My grandfather died just over two years ago after a long and very difficult time of illness. Thanks to years of smoking, he suffered from COPD, congestive heart failure, and a host of other illnesses that made his last years on this earth hard and painful. It’s not something that I like to think about, but I do enjoy remembering the better times with my grandfather. The times when we would go on nature walks, travel across the country, or just work on projects in his garage. These are the things that bring a smile to my face and help me to forget about how difficult life can be.
I have been very fortunate in my life to have traveled so extensively. My first cross-country road trip happened when I was six-months old. Since that first trip, I have traveled to 44 of the lower 48 United States. I have also traveled overseas to the UK, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Israel, and Jordan. As you can tell, I have a bad case of the travel bug. I wanted to do a series of posts to try and find out where my obsession with travel came from. My wife will tell you that if I could travel for a living, I would. It’s not just a passion, but an obsession! The first part of this series is dedicated to my grandfather.
My mom has told me that from the very beginning, my grandfather and I were always close. She’s told me stories about how, as a baby, I would be crying in the middle of the night and she wouldn’t be able to get me to stop. On those nights, my grandfather would drive over from the neighboring town, take me out of her arms, and, according to her, I would almost immediately stop crying. When my dad passed away from cancer, there were two people who took it upon themselves to teach me everything a “man” should know. One was my uncle, the other was my grandfather. We would do woodworking projects, change oil in the car, and go fishing. However, the one thing that really brought us joy, was traveling.
One of my earliest memories of traveling with my grandparents involves this old 1970’s motorhome that they bought before I was even born. This thing was a boat (I believe that if there was a flood, it truly would have floated) and my grandfather loved to be behind the wheel, guiding it down the road to the next adventure. There were times when my mother and I would join my grandparents on a trip across the country to all different places, but there were also times when my grandparents would (to help my mother) take me on vacation for a week or two. Throughout the years, we traveled everywhere, with the last trip with my grandparents being to visit my grandfather’s brother in southern New Mexico my freshman year of high school.
During these trips my grandfather taught me a lot. One of the most important things that I learned involved not rushing. Whenever we traveled, my grandfather always made a point to stop at each of those old historic markers that you see along roads. While other cars were flying by on their way to their destination, we were on the side of the road, camcorder rolling, with my grandfather reading the historic marker. As a kid, this seems like no fun, but the older you get, the more important you know that those times are. This is a lesson that I’ve taken and used in my life as a traveler. Wherever we travel (my wife and I) we are never in a rush. Travel is all about enjoying not only the destination, but the trip to get there. He also, as my mother did, taught me that nobody is the same and that you should always respect and appreciate the different cultures that you encounter when traveling. That’s another important aspect of travel for me. When we travel, we see so many other vacationers going to the easy places to eat (i.e. McDonald’s, Burger King, Olive Garden, etc.), but that is not travel! Traveling is looking for those little local places to eat and relax. I have always lived by the mantra of “travel like a local.”
A few days before my grandfather began to fail, I had spoken with my mother about cancelling a two-week cross-country road trip that my wife and I had been planning for months. My grandfather knew about the trip and was so excited for us, even providing some ideas for places to visit. My mother, uncle, and even grandfather told us not to cancel, but to keep the plans. When he passed away, my wife and I told my mother that we would cancel the trip, but she told us that we couldn’t. She told us to take the trip (which was scheduled for two weeks later) and make some happy memories during a very difficult time. We did take the trip and made a lot of very happy memories, while also thinking about how much fun my grandfather would have had. We even joked that he was taking the trip with us because he could finally travel now, since he didn’t need the oxygen tanks or wheelchair anymore.
The last night that I saw my grandfather alive is one that I remember very vividly. We knew that he was failing and didn’t have a lot of time left. Each of the grandchildren went to his bedside and talked to him, saying goodbye in our own ways. I remember sitting down next to him, leaning over, and saying just a few words: “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me and taught me…it’s meant more than you could have ever known.” He told me that he knew that and I told him that I loved him for the last time. I can say without a doubt that my grandfather is one of the people who gave me the travel bug. He gave me that, but taught me so much more. For all of that, I am eternally grateful.