Memorial Day Weekend we found ourselves with 3 graduation parties to attend on Sunday afternoon. Two were on my Dad's side of the family and were out of town. The other was in town for one of the hockey players we followed this year. Tough decisions were made. The boys begged to go to the hockey player's party. We knew it was going to be expensive to put gas in the truck, and combined with the money in the graduation card, and stopping for dinner we knew it was going to add up to travel. But, ultimately we decided to take my dad to his niece's oldest son's graduation because so much of my dad's family would be there.
My dad grew up on a farm just a dozen miles away from the town of New Salem, North Dakota. The population of the town might be a couple of thousand people, but what its most famous for is Salem Sue. Mention the town with the world's largest Holstein Cow that you can see from the highway, and most people know what you are talking about around these parts.
Growing-up, we felt like we traveled to the ends of the earth to visit there, when in essence it was about a 4 hour drive. But for Dad now, its a little far and we don't get to go quite as often as we'd like. So we seized the opportunity to drive my Dad to see his brother, my uncle, and lots of cousins and their kids. We felt it was the right thing to do.
Besides, I admired how much of a trooper my Dad was just to desire to go. It was only about an hour and half drive and we took the big Suburban so he would ride comfortably. We grabbed his walker and took extra tanks of oxygen. While the boys watched movies his eyes were glued to the window watching the farmers work out in the fields all the way to Jamestown. It was a beautifully sunny day and the colors were vivid against the blue sky.
We walked into the small church where the reception was held. Dad had to manage some steep steps to get inside and I could see him wince with each step, but his smile outshone the grimaces when he walked into the room. He was greeted with surprise shouts of joy from every direction. Everyone was surprised and thrilled to see him there.
What none of us had counted on however, was that the others were close to leaving. They had all caravanned to the reception and were anxious to get back to New Salem. We managed to visit for about an hour before they had to leave. We parked my Dad next to his brother Marvin and let them have a good chat. I think we all know that any time they are together may be the last time and we all grabbed our cameras for a few photos. You can see my Dad gesturing, in the middle of his conversation, as I took his picture. A few of us taking photos was not going to get in the way of talking with his brother.
We left shortly after the others. We brought him home and he thanked us. I didn't think much more about it. A couple of days later he called. Could he come see us? Of course he could. He drove over in his tired old truck with the rusted bed. He was tired out as he had gone to the senior center with the guys for lunch and he had gotten groceries that day. When you are 79, that is a big day! He sat on the couch chatting for awhile. And then he pulled out his wallet. He had also gone to the bank. He wanted to pay us for the gas and to help with the money we had put in the graduation cards.
Now my Dad has relinquished the checkbook to my mom. To my knowledge he gets very little money to spend freely. And he is just not a spender anyway. I've seen him use rope to hold up his pants and duct tape to cover a hole in his shoe. And it doesn't bother him in the least. He is very easy to buy things for because he buys so little for himself.
So when Dad pulled out his wallet I was a little surprised to see he pulled out a wad of bills. 5 crisp 10 dollar bills. He slowly counted them out and then handed them to me. "Dad, what is all of this for?" I asked him. Gas and money for the cards hadn't amounted to 50 dollars. "And where did you get all that money?" "Well," he said, "Every time I get a check from you or your brother I put a little of it away for a rainy day. I figured this was my rainy day. That ride to Jamestown was so nice. Gosh I enjoyed just sitting there and looking out the windows at the beautiful countryside. And then to get to talk with Marvin and see his whole family. Gosh that was nice. It was just the best day, one of the nicest I've enjoyed in a long time. So you take this and give it to Rick."
My dad has always had this ability to reduce me to tears. Do you know what he could do with that money? The medication it could help pay for? Or the new shoes, the new coat, or the cane or batteries for his hearing aid he could buy? Or maybe a nice dinner out sometime. Or tickets to a baseball game. These are the things that my brother and I envision he would do with money we've given him for father's day or on his birthday.
But he is always teaching me the important lessons. Fifty dollars to me is a pair of shoes. A dinner out. An indulgence for myself. But for the man who seemingly has very little? I think he would have given anything in trade for the experience of spending a Sunday afternoon with his family. He would have given all of his money, for the very things I take for granted every day. With a lump in my throat I gave my Dad back all but 20 dollars. I don't want to diminish his desire to contribute and feel good about being able to do so.
He still didn't want me to give him so much, but really, he had given and has always given me more than he'll ever know.
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