When I was young and my sister and I would ask our Dad, Alva Beesley, to tell us a story he would agree to do so and we were thrilled. However, he always picked the same story to tell us as long as we were growing up. It goes like this:
“I’ll tell you a story of Jack and Orie and now my story’s begun.
I’ll tell you another about their brother and now my story is done.”
I was blessed last weekend to spend some time alone with my Dad in the front seat of my car during a trip that was to take three hours. Pamela and Irwin were along for the ride in the back seat but Pamela was sleeping and Irwin had on his headphones listening to his vibes. It was as if they were not there! My Dad is now pushing 80 years of age and it is hard to think of him as elderly. It’s emotionally impossible for me to even think about him not being here. In fact, just the thought of my dad’s eventual passing makes me tear up and my heart ache terribly. So, I try very hard not to think about that day’s arrival.
As I was driving the car on a trip that was supposed to be approximately three hours (but ended up more like 4 hours because of all the unexpected stops) my mind went back to all those road trips from Peoria, Arizona to Beggs, Oklahoma to see my Grandparents Beesley. Those road trips always left us with memories that I now treasure as an adult. For instance; there were no seat belt laws and the back window always had a ledge beneath it large enough for a sleeping child. In addition to the sleeping compartment, the cars had large back seats with no bump in the middle. To keep the fighting and scuffling down to a minimum on these two day trips (if my Dad stopped to sleep at night) one of us four kids would get the honor of sitting in the front seat with the parents. There was always a disagreement about who would get to sit there next!
There were no iphones, cellphones, ipads, tablets, laptops, or dvd players then. (Shut-up with the old jokes Irwin!) We had to rely on imagination and coloring books. I couldn’t read in the car without getting sick so reading was out. We always packed a bag with toys in it so we could play together in the back seat. I remember playing hours and hours of the “dot-to-dot” game with my siblings. These trips were about 18 hours of driving to our Grandparents in addition to another 18 hours of driving back home. I never boarded an airplane to take this journey until I left Phoenix for Tulsa to attend Oklahoma State University at 17 years of age. My parents simply could not afford to fly with four children at that time in their lives.
Along our trip we would have to travel though the Salt River Canyon. It scared the living daylights out of me too! I’d do everything I could possibly do to try to be asleep during that portion of our trip but for some reason sleep escaped me during the Canyon. The roads were narrow with little or no shoulders at the that time and single-lanes. 18-Wheelers would back up the traffic for miles until drivers could get in a passing zone to pass. However, the passing zones were few and far between because of the winding roadways that bordered the steep cliffs where we could plunge to our horrible deaths!
Every night for a week prior to and just after our trips I would experience nightmares of us missing one of those hair-pin curves and plunging down the Canyon. I just hated everything about that Canyon and as a child I wasn’t seeing any beauty in it either!
Mom would pack bags of food for our trip. Looking back on it I wonder how they ever afforded to take trips at all. Dad was the Pastor at the Peoria Pentecostal Church of God. The church was small and often times there was not enough money in the offering plate to pay much in the way of tithes to the Pastor. Those tithes are how Mom and Dad paid their bills. The church didn’t provide medical insurance either. To make ends meet my parent both worked additional jobs. My Mom, Ruby, worked at Grubers’ Sewing Factory in Glendale, Arizona (later it became Spring City Knitting Company) while my Dad worked at Southwest Pipe & Supply. He drove 18-wheelers and flat-beds on day runs to deliver pipe to construction sites.
When we stopped for the night at a hotel/motel I think of those places differently as an adult than I did as a child. As a child it was just a place we stopped to sleep. However, being on a very strict budget, and when I say strict I mean the eagle on their coins were having to stretch so far they were screaming, these were the cheapest hotel rooms we could get. It was “back in the day” when hotels were often not the high rise buildings they are now. They were long, narrow rectangular buildings that would have three or four buildings housing several rooms in lines around the office, with the office in the middle or on the end of one of the buildings. They had neon “Vacancy/No Vacancy” signs so you could tell from the road if they had a room available for the night. They also often times had the price of the room on the sign. There was no “World Wide Web/Internet” on which to research the best deal and reserve a room in advance. (shhh!! Irwin- Yes the car had rubber wheels!)
Feeding four kids on a small budget must have been a real challenge. It seemed like my brothers were always hungry too! However, we knew that for that car to stop at an eating establishment two things had to be occurring; (1) the fuel was about all gone, and (2) Dad was finally hungry. Dad wouldn’t want to stop once we were rolling. He combined all the necessary stops into one stop if at all humanly possible. If us kids needed to go to the bathroom we didn’t find an exit and stop at some nice bathroom, he pulled to the shoulder! We would then stand between two open doors and do our business on the side of the road. Mom made sure however that every time Dad had to stop for gas every one of us kids made a bathroom visit. Oh…and often times the bathrooms were on the outside of the gas station. It required getting a key from the cash register attendant. You’d get the key and walk around to the side or the back of the building to enter the bathroom. (Yes Irwin-there was plumbing and running water!)
I remember stopping at one particular restaurant once in New Mexico that had hamburgers the size of a small dinner plate. To small children the size of these burgers was awesome! Breakfast was always the main meal we would eat on the road. Being a truck driver during a large portion of his adult life, Dad always stopped at the truck stops where the food was cheap and the portions were big. I remember one trip before which my brother, Chuck, found a dog and brought it home. It was a breed of dog that my Grandpa Beesley in Oklahoma had wanted so Dad and Chuck decided they would bring the dog on our trip to give it to Grandpa. Joyce was hungry and as the baby was always asking Dad, “when are we going to stop to eat? When are we going to stop? I’m starving!” Of course you know kids, they want something and they consider themselves being starved, or at least mine do! It didn’t matter if my little sister had eaten a peanut butter sandwich an hour earlier she was starving. On this particular trip she had said it so many times that she finally said, “I’m so hungry I could eat this dog!” About that time the dog got sick and squirted it stomach contents all over her and my brothers in the back seat! Suddenly, she was no longer hungry and at the same time that car made a quick, sudden, unplanned stop!! Mom cleaned them up with a spit bath (we hated those) and some clothes out of the trunk. Oddly, nobody really cared to put the dog back in the car…but we did! We didn’t stop for food for a while after that explosion (ha!) but nobody seemed to WANT to either.
And who can forget the invention of “Choc-Cola?” Back then chocolate milk was sold in gas stations in single serving cartons. Joyce always chose to have the chocolate milk when we would be able to get a drink as dad was filing the car with gas. Dad on the other hand always had mom get him a Coca Cola. (Yes Irwin-it was Coca Cola back in the day ,8 not just “Coke.”) Back then, Coke came in a glass bottle that we would get a return deposit on when we gave it back. It was like selling the empty bottle back to the stores. People talk about recycling as if it is a new thing when we were doing it back then! Hey…we recycled when recycling wasn’t cool!
Joyce was the youngest and the therefore it took her longer to drink or eat than anyone else. It seemed like at any restaurant we might stop she was the last one whose food arrived to the table and we were always waiting on her to finish to be able to leave. This particular trip Dad had drank as much of his Coca Cola and Joyce asked if she could have it. He gave her the go-ahead and she poured the Coke into her chocolate milk. About fifteen minutes later she was hurling on the side of the road! From that moment on we always referred to the drink as “choc-cola”. Trust me folks, it apparently isn’t anything you’d want to try~ ha!
There was also a bit of rowdiness from time to time in the car. Probably more than I want to admit. The boys, Chuck and Randy, would begin arguing and my Mom would tell them to quit. They continued! She would tell them if they didn’t quit they were going to “get it!” The “get-it” was her saying to them, “stick your face up here” meaning on top the back of the front seat. Then, she would lift both her hands in a clapping motion and smack them on both sides of the face. Mom would also take a turn in the back seat because she was so cold blooded while Dad was not and as such ran the air conditioner on high that she was freezing cold. She would allow Joyce and I to sit by the windows and she would try to nap in between. We would see she was asleep by the open mouth! Sometimes we would drop things in her mouth and looking back on that it was not hilariously funny like we thought, it’s a wonder we didn’t kill her by causing her to choke to death!
Once we got Mom in between us Joyce and I often took the opportunity to lay a “love-fest” on her. A “love-fest” was us licking our lips until they were covered in spit, then we would kiss her all over her face in a surprise attack. She would try to get away from us but we were in the back seat of a car, two to one odds! There wasn’t an escape route to be had under those circumstances. She would scream and beg Dad, “Alvie..make them stop!” My Dad would do as she asked and quietly and in a jokingly calm voice say, “You Girls Stop.” And we would – we were darn good and ready to stop! Looking back on it, my dad was always the fun parent. He had that privilege because poor Mom was always the parent having to take care of discipline. He just simply wasn’t interested in being a disciplinarian. But don’t for one moment think he couldn’t control his children if he wanted to do so. One look from Dad was generally all it took to stop us in our tracks. And…not just any look either. It was “THAT” look, you know, the “kid you better cut it out now!” look.
As an adult we have taken trips with “grandpa” all the way to South Carolina from Oklahoma to see my nephew, Brian marry his sweetheart Tiffany. Durring the entire, as we would travel over each AND EVERY bridge, my Dad would say, “Dirty, Muddy, River.” The boys would crack up every time. I don’t know if they were cracking up because they thought it was funny or because Grandpa was aggravating Grandma with every bridge crossed. And believe me; Grandpa loves to aggravate Grandma!!
Dad was always a quiet man who rarely said “I love you.” It was just too mushy I suppose. But he showed his love to us kids in so many ways. His patience and understanding with us and his allowing us to just be children was two of those ways. He could approach me and say, “sis, hug your ole dad’s neck” and I would step in front of him, hug him, and then blubber like a baby, tattling on myself! He just had that way about his nature.
Sunday during our trip I noticed my Daddy’s hands. They are drawn and somewhat deformed. They are old, wrinkled, and look painful. They no longer stretch out like mine and they have scars from years of work. I have seen my Father outdoors working on his cars, our cars, or his grandchildren’s cars, and his tractors, lawnmowers, and other things. He will slip and his hand will get gouged our cut and begin bleeding. If it had happened to me I’d be crying and complaining about being hurt. But not my Dad! He would wipe the blood away on an old oily rag and continue his work. I’ve seen him get up at 3:30 a.m. to go to work to provide a full day of work to his employer at times when he didn’t feel like crawling out of bed. He did this to take care of his family. He didn’t have benefits like paid sick days, holidays, or vacations. He worked hard and he taught all his children his great work ethic, which I need to say my mother taught us as well.
Sitting with my cousins yesterday at lunch I thought about my dad. They have lost both their mother and father, my aunt and uncle. I can’t imagine the pain of doing so. I see my boss, Leisa, every time her dad crosses her mind. Her tears well up and that loss is still so painful. Last night as I went to bed I was thinking about the time when I will lose my Father as well. It’s inevitable and part of the circle of life. I pray my children, nieces and nephews, and my grandchildren get many more years with Grandpa because he is a true treasure. His love has always been unconditional. His belief in God and following God’s word has always been something he taught throughout our generations. He is the essence of doing what’s right in spite of what other people do. He and my mother have been a great example to our family and have been the very cement that bonds our lives.
Our Heavenly Father I am sure will open his arms and embrace my Dad when that day comes. Until then, I’m going to be grateful for every moment he lives and breathes. Several years ago after numerous heart surgeries and stints being put in his heart, his doctor, Dr. Ross, met with his family and advised us that “he is on God’s time now.” It was heartbreaking to hear. He has lasted years beyond that day but this weekend he told me something that again was painful to hear. When I asked him how he’d been feeling he advised that he has been having some rough days. He shared with me that there have actually been days as of late that he wasn’t sure he was going to make it through. In spite of his pain and illness he continues on. I’m so blessed to have him, as is the rest of my family. His health is to the point that my Mother is fearful of getting too far away from the house with him home alone. They both have a cell phone but half the time can’t find them, so in case of an emergency the cell phone isn’t going to do a lot of good!
I am taking a moment today to thank God for the gift of my Dad. I love him so deeply that I can’t even explain it without tears filling my eyes rendering me sightless. He has touched so many lives as a minister, a family member, a friend, and as a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Without my parents’ guidance, teachings, and unconditional love I would not have had the strength or endurance that my life has required at times.
My Dad has been a fantastic grandfather too! He loves those grandkids and great grandkids beyond imagination. From the youngest to the oldest, they adore Grandpa! He has shown the same love to his step-grandchildren and his foster grandchildren as he has shown to his biological grandchildren. He is truly an example of a lifetime of unconditional love and self-sacrifice and it shows in his body.
I am so blessed that God loved me so much he made him MY dad and my children are wealthy beyond understanding that he was their Grandfather. While they were growing up the boys would say or do things that I didn’t like but couldn’t seem to get them to stop. At that point I would simply say, “why don’t you tell Grandpa about that” or “lets just see what Grandpa says to that” and they would stop doing it! He is that kind of Grandpa, the kind that if you thought you’d disappointed him it would break your heart.