Fourteen hundred miles, four days, countless car hours and one funeral later, Baltimore has never looked better. We got back Tuesday night at almost 11 p.m., and I’d never been happier to see man-high mounds of snow and ice.
The 700-mile drive there was astonishingly trouble-free. On Saturday after ballet class, we drove 425 miles in seven hours to Huntington, West Virginia. The kids were super-excited that I had found a hotel with an indoor pool. The 275-mile drive in about four hours Sunday landed us in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in time for a late lunch and a huggy Valentine’s Day reunion with my Lovely Bride. Riding up the elevator after we arrived, I pointed to the children and myself and told her “We’re your Valentines. No flowers or candy. Just us.” Understand what a risky maneuver this is for a husband. But she loved it.
I’m a control freak, and we really limit TV in our house, so as long as I was the sole driver, I held the borrowed portable DVD player in super-reserve for when I ran out of books, crayons and chewing gum. I figured if I got the thing out – aside from wasting 20 minutes of drive time setting it up – there went the ace up my sleeve.
I let the kids pick the gum and then doled it out one piece every hour or so. And thank goodness we had a 5-1/2-hour CD of “Little House on the Prairie,” but after four discs out of six, we had to switch to music and books for awhile. I only had to take away the art supplies box once, but it came during a nasty confluence of: (1) mountainous West Virginia driving, (2) snow accumulating on the interstate, (3) my ears plugged up from the altitude and a cold, (4) kids squabbling and (5) Lovely Bride on the cell phone (which I used with an ear bud).
I’m amazed at the strength I managed to find during this journey. But on the other hand, I’m not amazed at all. I had no choice. No-one else to administer snacks, manage books and CDs, help navigate, discipline children or help decide whether to detour through southern Ohio to avoid a snowy West Virginia forecast. A control freak’s dream. But after having a wife on travel for a week, no so much. My wife, sometimes a nervous flier, does the same thing when she travels by herself. When she’s in charge of booking the flight, renting the car and getting to the airport on time, she’s much calmer than when we do it together.
When it was time for the funeral on Monday, I gave the children a stern lecture demanding their best behavior ever. They know a funeral is a special church service for someone who has died, and I told them children aren’t normally allowed to go. We didn’t take them to my 90-year-old grandmother’s funeral last August, but a family friend babysat, so we had the option. This time, not so.
I’m amazed and proud to say our squirmy 4-year-old redhead and inquisitive 6-1/2-year-old rose to the occasion. As the family was ushered into the church from a side entrance, Carla held onto Granddaddy’s hand amid minor confusion over who would sit where. She stayed with him in the front row, while Eddie, my wife and I went to the next row. I told my wife that if Carla let out a single peep, I’d snatch her out of that service before she knew what hit her.
But the kids did beautifully. With no crayons, no books, no toys, no nothing. Carla sat on Granddaddy’s lap the whole time, raining happiness and distraction onto Grammy (it was her brother who had died).
Afterwards, I just about went to tears myself telling them how proud of them I was.
Then the questions started:
Carla: “Is Uncle Riley in a caution?”
Daddy: “Well, no, sweetie. You mean a coffin.”
Eddie: “What’s in that little box?” (The ashes were in a container half the size of a shoebox.)
Daddy: (out of earshot of Carla) terse, general and honest explanation of ashes left over after cremation. After my Granny died last summer, we talked about how we don’t need our bodies anymore after we die.
Driving home on Tuesday, my wife and I realized that 700 miles in a single day is our absolute maximum. With two 30-minute meal stops, it took almost 13 hours. Watching “Finding Nemo,” “Monsters Inc.,” “Schoolhouse Rocks!” and listening to “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White helped, but the best part was that I got to see my Lovely Bride for the first time in a week. In the 60 miles between Morgantown, West Virginia, and Frostburg, Maryland, harrowing snow almost forced us to find a motel for the night. But the lure of getting back to our own beds kept us going.
And as usual for any late-night drive, the children fell asleep less than an hour before we got home.