Musings and Amusings

In August, 2009 Dad called me from Michigan to say he’d been diagnosed with colorectal cancer and would be undergoing surgery in a couple weeks.

True to Dad’s unassuming stoic nature, he followed up with, “I’m fine. You don’t need to come home.”

I can count on one hand the number of people for whom I’d wholeheartedly sacrifice my life.

Dad is on my first finger.

Circa 1957

Circa 1957

Of course I was going home.

I decided to drive since I planned to stay until we made all arrangements for assistance once Dad was home with Mom. Hub couldn’t take time off work and, even though it had been years since I’d driven from Colorado to Michigan, I was comfortable making the drive by myself.

Looking at the map, I calculated the drive time at about 18 hours. Des Moines makes a good overnight stop with a 10-hour drive the first day and an 8-hour drive the second day, timed to get through the Chicago area during the least congested hours – midmorning.

us map

Source: Google Images

The day of Dad’s surgery, I drove out of our garage at 4:30am heading east towards I-80 with a few truckers intent on passing through Denver before the rush hour bottleneck ensnared their semis. As the sun rose, thankfully it was further to the south with the highway angling northeast, so I avoided having the glare directly in my eyes.

Crossing the border into Nebraska, I thought about James Michener’s historical novel Centennial, which was set in a fictional town in the region I was driving through. Much of the story centered on Native American and pioneer life along the ‘mighty’ Platte River which is formed when the north (Wyoming) and south (Colorado) forks converge in Nebraska, flowing east across the plains.

Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

As I criss-crossed bridges over grassy draws and drove parallel to dry creek beds, I could see the Platte had been humbled by several drought years. Even today, lives and fortunes rise and fall on the availability of water sources – enough water at the right time. Too much, too little, wrong time can spell disaster. In 2009, Mother Nature was stingy with her resource.

One of the allures of road trips is exploring the quaint, the historic, the road less travelled.

That day, I wanted to reach my destination in the quickest, least complicated way. I sought open highway, ubiquitous franchise restaurants and well-placed gas stations. Pit stops for the car or me; a dash into Wendy’s for fresh-brewed ice tea and a fast-paced walk around the parking lot; I arrived without incident at the Holiday Inn in Des Moines around 3:30pm (with a 1-hour forward time change).

holiday inn 1

Source: Google Images

When I say “without incident”, I should qualify by saying there were plenty of tears accompanying cruise control. I didn’t realize how terrified I would be that Dad might die in surgery. Family members would care for him in the hospital; I’d be needed when he returned home, which is why I timed my drive for his surgery day. But I hadn’t anticipated having to make a call on my cell phone from Wendy’s to see if Dad had made it through his operation. That’s one of the hardest phone calls I’ve ever had to make. Thankfully the surgery was successful without complications.

I checked into my hotel room; worked out some stress with water aerobics at the indoor pool; devoured salad, grilled salmon and red wine at the attached Bennigan’s; scrolled through emails and was asleep by 9pm.

Remember Jack Bauer’s countdowns in the tv series 24?

The following takes place between 6am and 7am …

Comments on: "The Time I Was Mistaken for a Drug Runner – Part 1" (38)

  1. So beautifully written Sammy. Great that your Dad got through surgery without complications. Will we be hearing what happens between 6 and 7 a.m?

  2. Yes, good to hear about the surgery. Great post 😉

  3. An intriguing title! Can’t wait for the rest of the story … good to hear that your dad made it through the surgery.

  4. “OOH, this is going to be good” was my response to your title… and it’s a cliff hanger, yet! Staying tuned….

  5. OK, you’ve got my attention Sammy. I am glad to hear that the surgery was successful. I’ve those roads a few times (the Iowa portion more often than others) so I can picture the road. I don’t know how you made it through Nebraska alone (I hope that isn’t where the title comes from). You’ve dnoe a masterful job of building the suspense. Hanging on for Parts 2 through (n).

    • 🙂

      Thanks! I fear my title is the best part, but that’s the plight of writers, eh? Our own worst critics.

      I was thinking of your Ames trips while I wrote this and knew this would be familiar terrain for you. Let’s see if it’s a familiar experience :-).

      Three parts – can’t seem to edit these stories enough to get them down to one or two posts. Meed a bigger eraser!

      • When I moved to Seattle in the late ’70s, we drove from Ames to Cheyenne and I thought Nebraska would never end. I haven’t been mistaken for a drug runner, but I’ve had some interesting travel. Cant wait for the rest of this story.

      • Yup, that’s Nebraska! Although now that I’ve traveled the corridor annually for last 6 years, i see and appreciate distinctions in each of the states. I-80 has really become “the road home” for me as each year I wonder if both Mom and Dad will be there for next year’s visit.

        Contemplating a “Heartland” series featuring each state. I contemplate a lot of things. What actually gets written and published sometimes surprises even me 🙂

  6. Nothing beats a long solo car ride for introspection. Unfortunately, when we’re taking it to see a loved one in trouble, it’s much more challenging. I was in your shoes this past summer. Glad the surgery went okay.

    • You are so right, Carrie. That mission changes the nature of the trip considerably. I remember when you were taking care of your mother and your difficulties with her days in the hospital.

      I intend to write about my Dad this winter. One of the posts will be about his illness, recovery and medical care.

  7. Oh lord – I can relate to this post. My drive was much shorter at only 8 hours, but the angst was the same – with the tears and long hours alternating between deep thought and mindless numbness.
    I too am looking forward to the next instalments of this story.

    • I sympathize with you, Joanne. Mindless numbness is an apt description; I called it fog.

      If we’re fortunate to have elder relatives, we’re also facing this scenario in one form or another. Last month we made a final trip to Texas to say our goodbyes to Hub’s 90-year-old Mother. Even when “it’s time”, it is still a difficult journey.

  8. HEY! Not fair not fair not fair. I want to know what happened. Dang you gurl.

  9. Love the idea for a series (stealing)! I’m looking forward to the next posts! Reading about your drive, I feel so grateful that I was living in the same city as my folks when they started to fail. I’m happy to read that both of your parents are still alive and well.

    • Thanks! Steal away!

      Sometimes I can’t figure out how to condense into one post, and I have a self-imposed word limit of 700-ish because today’s readers have limited time or short attention spans.
      I’m fortunate a couple siblings live within an hour of my parents, but there are always tradeoffs between one long, intense visit and being able to swing by for an hour.

  10. Sammy, you, like Jack Bauer of ’24’ took me through an emotional roller coaster and left me anxious for next week’s episode. Except this is real life, and I am glad your dad made it through surgery, a great first step. I hope we get some more good news. But I know life isn’t always like ’24.’

    An aunt who helped raise me (after my mom became a widow when I was twelve months), passed away a few years ago from colon cancer. It was the most heart wrenching experience of my life, watching this wonderful woman go. We had many conversations prior to her passing, with her telling me to accept the outcome, that she lived her life already (she was 77, hardly old enough in my view). She had tried to prepare me every each way, but it didn’t work. Only years later, the sadness diminished a little, outlasted by the good memories.

    Great post, Sammy. I smiled at the mention of Dad being counted on the first finger as one of the people you’d do anything for.

    • Oh Silvia, I’m so sorry for your loss of beloved aunt and for you never knowing your father. Cancer of any sort is a tough opponent, and I can only imagine how hard that was for you. You are so right that you lost her way too soon. What was her name? Did she live in Romania or US? Did she have children ?

      i just lost my Aunt Kay at 92 – I think Mom and Dad might outlive all their siblings.

      I will write later posts about Dad, Mom, aunts & Uncles. It’s a big brood! Dad is doing very well at age 89 and no cancer indicators in blood tests. I’m so thankful We still have him.

      This is a silly series – the drug running part -quite overdramatized for the occurrence, except as you say, when our own anxieties and fears make things real.

      I figure it’s good writing practice, though – trying to throw in enough details and drama to make the ordinary interesting.

      Thank you, always, for your support.

      • Not silly at all — and yes great practice. I love real-life stories. My aunt’s name was Mary — I called her Mom. She lived in Romania, but came here to visit us many times. I have great memories of her. That’s life. Those things, thankfully, get easier with time. Sorry about your aunt. No matter how old they are, they only go once, so it’s hard. Look forward to more of your stories!!!

      • Thanks, Silvia. I have such curiosity about your early life in Romania and transitioning to free wheeling California! I’m glad you have such fond memories of Aunt Mary.

      • Thank you, Sammy. Will write more about it, at some point. 🙂

      • That will be great. I truly love the family stories and relationships.

  11. By UK standards that’s such a long drive, Sammy! Especially alone and with all that anxiety. I was holding my breath. 🙂

    • Yes, Jo, it is! In some ways we are 50 countries under one flag because it isn’t just geographical differences. Each state has its own beauty and personality.

      I look back and wonder how I made the drive by myself, but at the time there was no question I was going. We all have episodes like that. I don’t often invoke religion, but there are times when God keeps me company and that day was one of them.

      Thank you for reading.

  12. […] alarm chirped at 5:30am. I made coffee; dressed in yesterday’s clothes; snacked on a Clif bar and drove out of the Holiday Inn parking lot at […]

  13. Nice writing….I felt as if I were right there with you

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