Leaving Good God was exciting for several reasons but mostly because April and I were back together, in the same car, heading in the same direction. We waved goodbye to the edge of the world and drove down the highway.
It is amazing how quickly a drive can be when one is part of a we. The miles flew by and we spent the time talking about anything and everything. I told her about my brother and how his life had presented some challenges and that he has taken a great move in the right direction by graduating from this school. She told me about her grandparents and how they lived in a small town in Kansas called Kanarado…and yes, it is right on the Kansas-Colorado border. I spoke about my mom’s inability to stay with a single career for more than three years and she told me about her mom’s inability to separate herself from puppets. It was a going to be a long ride and we were loving it.
We passed back through the state making our way across the flat plains to the rolling hills and eventually hit Kansas City where I turned north on I-35 and silently told Harry thanks.
The drive from Kansas City to Minnesota is an easy one. It is divided nicely by achievable goals like two hours to the Missouri Iowa border, one and a half hours to Des Moines, two hours to the Iowa Minnesota border and one and a half hours to the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. It’s a nice drive and spending time talking with April made it even nicer.
But I was getting more anxious as we got closer to our destination. Not only was April getting ready to meet my family, but she was getting ready to meet my whole family, my Dad, my Mom, my Brother, and my Sister all in the same room. My parents had had a rough divorce when I was younger and a rocky relationship during my childhood. My older brother and older sister, although willing to admit that they loved each other, had a relationship that only two siblings aged 15 months apart can have: nice one minute, clawing each other’s eyes out the next. I wasn’t sure what to expect from any of them and I was pulling April right into the heart of the situation.
I was also anxious because I didn’t know where I was going. That’s right. Mister “trip planner” did not get his mom’s home address before leaving and I didn’t know her phone number. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I set out on this trip but it wasn’t anywhere near rational. My plan was to get into town, look up her phone number in a phone book (gads, just writing that gave me serious pause), tell her where I was and have her give me directions into the large twin city metro area and right to her front door step.
There were two problems with this plan…that is two additional problems on top of the three hundred and twenty that I just mentioned: 1) it would be about 1 am when we were to arrive; and 2) it was snowing. The kind of snow that makes one hunch their shoulders and put one’s face about six inches from the windshield in order to take advantage of the shrinking, non-frosted section of glass. We had been driving in that snow from Des Moines and instead of taking just over two hours to make it to the Iowa-Minnesota border, it had taken a little more than three. At our current rate of travel, we would probably be arriving around 3 am and I was seriously regretting my lack of planning so I just stared out of the window at the white, frosted landscape.
There wasn’t a lot out there to watch: the snow covered highway fence with large flat fields of white behind, the occasional semi truck’s head lights in the opposite lane, and two cars that had been gaining on us for the better part of twenty minutes. They eventually pulled behind and April, taking her turn behind the wheel and being a smart driver, had stayed in the left hand lane were the snow had been worn away by the cars ahead. The two cars behind us decided to throw caution to the wind and pass in the more snow packed right hand lane. As they passed I looked at the drivers. The first was a middle aged man with a heavy beard in a silver VW GTI hatchback. The second was a twenty something girl, with red hair in a silver VW Fox sedan. They got about twenty feet in front of us when I sat bolt upright and said “APRIL!”
“That’s my Dad in the front car, and that’s my sister in the Volkswagon!”
“My Dad. And my sister. Right there.”
“Why are they in different cars?”
“Um…I’ll explain later. Let’s catch up.”
So we did. All of us were a little shocked and surprised, but I made my introductions when we stopped at the next gas station. Dad and Shelley were cordial and gave April a nice welcome. We talked long enough to figure out that Dad had the same ideas for contacting Mom as I did. We decided the best course was for us to convoy into the twin cities and give her a call no matter what the time. We all climbed back into our respective vehicles and set off into the frozen landscape.
It took April about five seconds to get to the real question.
“So why are they in separate cars again?”
“The short answer is that my family likes to make car travel as difficult as possible.”
“We have some time. What is the long answer.”
The long answer was that as long as I could remember, travel in my family was a complicated series of events and potential difficulties that always ended up with the answer “well, I guess you’ll have to take your car and I’ll have to take mine.” Most of the time these trips were to church or my grandmother’s house and for some reason, one of the drivers was always forced to run errands either before or after. It was supremely aggravating. This particular trip had my sister wanting to stay with my mom for an extended visit while my Dad had to get back to St. Louis after the graduation. The multi-car treks used to bug the crap wads out of me when I was younger, but now I just let them live, mostly because I’m married and they no longer involve me.
We drove a bit longer and eventually made it into Minneapolis around 2:30a. After a quick call to information and another to Mom, we got the directions and pulled into her place around 3a. I introduced April to my brother, Jody, and to Mom. He gave her a hello and Mom greeted her only the way a southern woman who lives in Minnesota can. “Well, I’m soh glad to meet cha. Ya’ll come on in.” Round o’s with a southern drawl is quite a combination.
We caught up and laughed a lot and eventually made it to bed. I was tired, glad to be stationary and loving that my family had finally met the girl of my dreams.
The rest of the visit went off without a hitch. My Mom and Dad were very civil and Shelley and Jody were on their best behavior. They all loved April and she, apart from being a little nervous and not quite herself, fit in quite well. Jody’s graduation ceremony was nice and we were able to view some of his work on display. All around it was a very nice couple of days but the week had come to an end and April and I needed to get back to school and our busy lives of being absorbed with each other.
We packed the car, said our goodbyes and headed south on I-35. Once again, thanks Harry.
The trip back to Lawrence was even better than the trip up. We were relieved to have met the families and survived, mostly. The snow storm that had plagued us on our trip up were long gone and the sun was out. And we were really digging each other.
We crossed back over the Minnesota-Iowa border, past Des Moines and found ourselves about thirty minutes from Missouri just after dark. Our conversation was fun and I was in the middle of a story about why I picked a silver Toyota Corolla instead of another car that I wanted when we heard a loud bang and the wheel on the car started shaking violently. April threw her hands out to her sides and braced for the explosion, but I recognized the problem right away. I had simply blown a tire so I continued my story, because who wouldn’t be riveted by why I picked the Corolla. I slowly pulled the car to the shoulder and turned off the engine.
I have to take a break in the story to explain why I recognized the popped tire right away. Along with my family’s skill in trip planning and vehicle convoys, we had a talent for catastrophic vehicle break downs. It didn’t matter what condition a car had when I entered our family, it always contracted some sort of car disease and limped along the entire time we owned them. We were always changing tires, filling the radiator with water, stopping an oil leak or ditching a car on the side of the road. It happened so much that I was on a first name basis the the tow truck guy and he had taken to giving us a discount. I think we were doing wonders for his business. So when the tire popped, it was just another in a long line of car issues that I was trained to handle.
We got out to fix the tire. It was cold and dark and the spare, which on a Corolla is little more than the size of a butt cushion, was very low on air. That tire was my only option so I got busy with the lug wrench and continued with my story while April hung out and watched over my shoulder.
I learned later that this was the exact time that April fell in love with me. She saw what had just happened and the way I had handled it and did one of those mental “who is this guy” double takes. To me it was just another day, but to her I was the first boyfriend that she ever had who didn’t want to scream and claw their own eyes out when something went wrong with their car. And she loved that I had continued and eventually finished the story during the whole thing.
We got the spare and and climbed back into the car a bit frozen. I said “Well, we don’t have a lot of air in that spare and you’re not supposed to drive too fast on them anyway so I’m going to pull off at the next exit and see if we can find a place to get a new tire.” It sounded like a good plan. Until I realized that it was late on Sunday, we were in the middle of nowhere and we had very little money.
[to be continued]