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.
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.
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.
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).
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 …