The Trip to Explain a Lifetime Part 1
“Honey, it’s mom. Call me when you get this.” I hit end on my cell phone and returned my attention to the meeting I was in. I was in a rush to get out the door, eager to get on the road to Dalhart, TX with my dad. Dad and me were picking my brother up in NoWhere, OK, halfway to Texas as soon as I could shimmy out of work. I finished the meeting and immediately called mom back, curious as to what her strange tone of voice was about. “Hi honey. I just thought I’d let you know that your dad left his suitcase at home. I’ve already called your brother and he’s bringing some extra clothes for him to wear until he gets back home.” Chevy Chase, was already parked at my house anxiously awaiting my arrival, an hour from my mom’s house… in the wrong direction, with no way to retreive his suitcase.
I dashed out of the office, my stomach filled with anxiety knowing that I’d spend the next two nights sleeping in a strange bed away from my husband’s pillow and my darling little cat. I was unsure of what the trip would bring to my life. I’ve always been curious about the small town my father called home. Hours have been spent daydreaming about this Texas town that raised such a curious man. A strong, intelligent, passionate man who I’ve shed many a tear over and laughed a millions laughs.
Twenty-eight years of hearing stories about the great Rock Island Railroad, the dusty small town where memories ingrained themselves on my father’s mind, it was coming at me full steam ahead. I grabbed my overnight bag and camera and loaded the car waiting in the driveway. “You wanna drive?” dad asked. “Sure!” I hollered as he tossed me the keys.
The drive to Oklahoma was quiet with my dad, the original Chevy Chase, sitting beside me blowing fuses left and right trying to plug miscellaneous gadgets into the car’s cigarette lighter. Finally, giving up on the Garmin GPS, we took to the highway at breakneck speed with an old-school map. We had places to be. George Strait blared through the speakers singing Amarillo By Mornin and A Love Without End, Amen. We made it to Oklahoma by mid evening and met my brother. While there, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and scoured the city of Nowhere, OK for a Radio Shack to repair the burned out fuses in the car’s cigarette lighter. There was not a Radio Shack to be found, so we continued our trek to Texas with blown car fuses.
The three of us rolled into Dalhart around 0100 Saturday morning. Dalhart is a town in the Panhandle of Texas. It has a population of 4,000 and is closer to the capitals of six other states than to its own. Dad bragged that Texas is so large, that if a baby were born in Dalhart during the wagon trail days, the baby would be in the third grade by the time it reached El Paso. Dad hadn’t been back to his home town in 30 years and things had definitely changed since his last visit. We decided to drive around town a bit before checking into our motel. It wasn’t long before we hit Main Street and dad said, “Boy! Drag Main! Drag Main!” I think everyone has memories of dragging the Main Street of where they grew up, but the memories for my dad were bright as can be. Dragging Main Street reminded me of the Ron Howard film American Graffiti. We dragged the six blocks of cobbled brick roadway at 30 mph, but Dad was mostly silent, obviously locked into earlier memories.
The next morning we woke early and downed coffee like it was a lifeline then hopped in the car. Our first mission of the day was to see the house that grandad built, the house that my father called home for the first part of his life. It wasn’t long before we’d crossed under the railroad tracks seperating the town and made our way into the old neighborhood. Immediately we passed the old Rock Island station, which is now owned by Union Pacific. Dad explained that, during its heyday, Rock Island Railroad was a railroad which boasted 8,000 miles of track in 14 states. It went bankrupt in 1984. The depot was where both my grandad and dad worked. We stared in amazement at the depot and the area where once the depot’s supporting buildings were. The buildings were now in ruin and overgrown with brush.
Suddenly, Dad told us to turn left because we had arrived at the street housing his childhood home. The house was soon right in front of us. The three of us were silent for a moment, taking in the house and its surroundings. There was the house: the one my grandaddy built with his own two hands, and the very large barn behind it; that barn was big enough to house two locomotive engines. To this day, my dad is still confused about this big barn… The story, is that the barn came from somewhere north piece by piece but dad could never figure out how it got to Dalhart, TX let alone in their back yard. The field behind the house was where dad, along with his childhood friend, Hue would shoot their bb guns and sling shots.
The stories started flowing during our tour of the town. Dad told stories about his father, how he would drive 120 miles to and from work each day to keep my mean grandmother happy. I heard stories about grandmother that made me cringe, stories I’m sure my dad would rather have left a distant memory… but he found the courage to purge it all. He told us stories about the (abandoned) haunted house in the woods, where, one night he waited at the top of the stairs with a flashlight pointing up from his chin to scare those friends behind him. He scared his brother so bad that he jumped from an upstairs window and hurt his back. His brother still has back problems to this day.
When dad was 14, he and his buddies paid an 18 year old friend to purchase beer for them. This was the first time my dad had drunk alcohol and he blacked out from its effects. He woke up the next morning in the county lockup beside an old man who was in jail for writing bad checks. As in any good home, dad had to start working that summer to pay his fines to the city. He began his working life at the Dalhart Texan, the towns only newspaper which boasted a circulation of 300. He made his way to the construction grain elevators and then finding work driving tractors and ranching with area farms and ranches.
Soon, we found ourselves back on Main… but not to drag Main this time (because believe me… we did plenty of that!)…
This story brought to you in part by my dad. He’s an excellent writer and cleaned up my act. Part 2 coming soon to a Delta Whiskey near you!