Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Final Legs...FINALLY

Arrived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, November 29th, 2 A.M.
Jeep Odometer: 194,889
Trip: 3,880

I drove out of Texas on a wimb (sp?)—a wimb of Faith. After getting my oil changed in Austin, I stopped at the gas station across the street to fill up for a long drive to Santa Fe. I pumped. I paid. I got back in the Jeep. But it wouldn’t start. I tried again and again, but no luck. So I walked back to the oil change joint, told them the news, they acted surprised (I wasn’t), and they drove me over to check it out. After the mechanic tried several times to start it, with no success, he offered to call a tow truck to haul it back over to the shop.

“Let me try one more time,” I said. I tried and it turned over. The check engine light was on.

“You can take it, or we can bring back over for a diagnostics check,” he said.

I wanted to go. I want to say “F it” and ride, but I erred on the side of caution.

After an hour of drinking bad coffee, reading even worse magazines, and wondering what the hell the Latino family next to me was talking about, a mechanic came around the corner as I puffed on a cigarette. I followed him to the back where the Jeep was running with four guys standing around it.

“So what’s the word?” I said.

All four of them just looked at me with no answer. Finally, the head guy spoke up. “We don’t know. The check is bringing up nothing. I’d love to just tell you something and work on it, but I can’t.”

Twenty-six years and eight months later and I finally met the first honest mechanic of my life. It must be a Texas thing.

“So what does that mean?” I asked.

“It means you can take it as is…if you wish.”

I shrugged my shoulders, as if saying, “Okay, I don’t have any other choice,” and I got back in the saddle.

“Have a safe trip to Colorado,” he said, and patted old Charlie on the hood as I waved and pulled away.

So I pulled away from Austin around 2 P.M., roughly four hours past my original plan. A recurring theme in my life. Like this blog—17 months in the works.

I knew I’d run out of daylight much quicker than I wished. But when the sun is heading west over Texas in the late fall, it looks as if it will never set.


It sets.

And it gets awfully dark when it does. If I can provide any bit of advice from my Odyssey, this is the most logistically important: GET GAS EVERY CHANCE YOU GET. Especially in west Texas on I-10. It’s IMPERATIVE! There are 100 to 150 mile stretches between gas stations. And the one I found, the gauge on the Jeep eerily close to “E” wasn’t attended by anyone. If I didn’t have a credit card I would’ve been screwed.

All through the night I rode like Cassidy and Sundance, leaving no trail behind…unless Hail Marys leave a trail (not sure), because I said more than I could count. I was never scared. Honest. I can truthfully say that that was the most dangerous drive of my life, and I was never scared. You can’t be scared. If you are, you won’t make it. Or, you will, but you won’t realize how unbelievable it is to be alone with God, your safety and wellbeing entirely in His Hands. I believed and He answered. I showed no worry and He rewarded me. I believe the Bold of Faith are always blessed. And I can say that from experience. I just wish I could say that I’m ALWAYS Bold of Faith.

Probably the most unsettling moment of the leg was a stop I made just south of Roswell, New Mexico. As I pulled into a gas station, somewhere around 2 A.M., a full contingent of Banditos were gassing up their motorcycles. I had seventeen hundred bucks cash in my pocket, but I had a beard that nobody, I repeat, nobody F’s with. I believe a man’s physical size is irrelevant if he walks with conviction, wears a beard like a lumberjack, and carries a look in his eyes like he’s wanted in several states for murder. That, or I looked like a broke homeless man who lived in and out of his Jeep. Either way, it worked.

I pulled into Santa Fe early in the morning and found a room at the Motel 6 just off of I-40. I carried my valuables into the room, brushed my teeth, and called it a night. I spent almost 14 hours, 11 of which were in the pitch dark, driving across the southwest, and I was beat. I slept like a baby.

I have to admit, as sad as this is to me, I have since lost my trip log and atlas. Therefore, I cannot remember the exact time or mileage for the final two legs of my Odyssey. I can only hope that I left both somewhere that someone picked it up, looked at it, and grew inspired to do the same. However, 13 months later, I will recount the last two legs of my Odyssey the best I can.

I woke up in Santa Fe just before noon, checked out of Motel 6, and ate breakfast at an I-Hop. Then I gassed up and hit the New Mexico road, west by northwest, with Colorado on my mind. I can honestly say that New Mexico is one of the most beautiful states in the country. I used to always think it was just a barren wasteland of brown. But I learned that it possesses colors like I’ve never seen anywhere else.

I crossed the New Mexico/Colorado border in the late afternoon hours. The Rocky Mountains were mine for the taking, and I had no other choice but to belt out John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” as best I could. Be grateful you weren’t there to witness it. It was a butcher job at best.

I went as far as Durango and checked in to a Super 8. I went into town, sat at a Starbucks, and made a last ditch effort to find a Telluride residence on Craigslist. Nothing was giving. I would have to just drive into town the following day and find out in person.

When I woke up the following day, what was supposed to be my last on the road, it was cold as hell. I can remember that distinctly. It was the kind of cold that makes breathing a painful task. I looked at my atlas and wrote down the last directions. Then I put my things in the Jeep and I started cutting north through the teeth of the Rockies.

When I finally got to state route 145, forty miles south of Telluride, I stopped at a gas station. That was the moment I realized I was in the wild of a lightly developed wild west. The gas pump was one of those types that has a revolving ticker and nowhere to pay with a credit card. So I went inside, where an older guy in blue jeans and a flannel shirt attended the counter.

“I’m going to fill up on pump two,” I said.

“Okay. Go ahead,” he said.

“Do you want a credit card or a hundred-dollar bill to hold until I know how much it is?” I said.

“No. I can’t run, but I can shoot,” he said. He was dead serious. No chuckle or laugh followed. I’m absolutely convinced he had a shotgun loaded and ready to roar behind that counter.

So I filled up, paid, and turned up 145 North to my destination. If you ever get the chance to drive into Telluride, Colorado, on a sunny winter day, from the south, do it. Don’t think about it. Just do it. You will be very glad you did. Granted, if you drive a 1995 Jeep Wrangler, there will be times you think you’ve pushed your luck. That moment will probably come on descent from Devil’s Pass. It’s the only time in four years of owning Charlie that I thought she was going to explode. It sounded like Tommy Lee was trapped under the hood with nothing but his drumsticks and an eight-ball of cocaine. Also, certain moments come back to you in an instant, like the moment a mechanic on Cape Cod said I should look into having the brakes worked on. He said it wasn’t imperative, but he also said it 4,000 miles earlier, nearly at sea level, not 10,000 feet above it.

Obviously nothing tragic happened. Unless you can describe the panoramic sprawling snowdusted mountain views as tragically beautiful. I can. It’s one of those views that, in looking back, makes me think I can die peacefully one day, knowing I have it locked in my memory somewhere.

I pulled into Telluride around 11 A.M., and I had driven through it by 11:05. And that might be a liberal estimate. It’s THAT small of a town. But where it lacks in size, it makes up for in personality. I was there. I had made it. Home sweet home. Or so I thought.

I will forever hold that day and night close to my heart. I will never feel like a failure for leaving it behind. Maybe, perhaps one day, I will experience more than 24 hours in that little ski town atop the world, but it just wasn’t in the cards that time around. In the short time I did spend, I made several friends, drank good beer, an even better margarita, and I met, possibly, the love of my life. Man she was a doll. I teamed up with half a dozen locals in a losing effort on Trivia Night, lost my winter gloves, and fell wearily to sleep, utterly lonely for the first time in a long time.

My decision to continue west the following morning was probably initiated by a myriad of factors.
1. I was so hung-over I vomited profusely, first in my hotel room, and then on the side of the road as my head pounded. And I never vomit after drinking. I’m not 16 anymore.
2. I had absolutely nowhere to live, and the only hotel room I could find was $100 a night.
3. I had nowhere to work. I could have found a place, I’m sure, but I was a little more concerned with the place to live part.
4. Panic. The funny thing about having money, as opposed to not having it, is the fear that is born, paralyzing your spirit to live in exchange for living not to lose the tiny little monetary treasure in your bank account.
5. Loneliness. I knew I would make friends. I already did. I’m probably the best guy I’ve ever known at making friends. Seriously. I haven’t met a person yet that hasn’t wanted to be friends with me. And I say that with humble honesty.

Looking back, however, the factors that initiated my spur-of-the-moment change in plans were God’s Way of telling me where I really belonged—with my brothers.

On the 20 hour drive from Telluride to Los Angeles, only stopping for gas several times, I convinced myself I was doing it for “career” reasons. It was time to finally use my college education to make money. And where else was a better place to use a Professional Writing and Multimedia Production degree than Hollywood? I still believe that. However, I now know that wasn’t the reason God wanted me in Southern California at all.

I pulled into the back parking lot of Cliff’s office in Hollywood just after midnight. I was tired. I hadn’t eaten a thing besides an apple all day. I was probably delirious from staring at the road for almost a full day straight. And I wish I could say that I knew I’d made the right decision the moment I first saw Cliff’s face. But life doesn’t work like that. No matter how hard you try to turn life into a movie, and I have countless times, it’s not. I wish I could say I knew I made the right decision the moment I first saw Matt’s face, but I can’t. I knew I made the right decision countless times over the five months I spent in Los Angeles. Because that’s where life is real—those “in between” moments. That’s where reality always surpasses anything you can dream up in your mind.

It was the nights Cliff and I watched basketball games together, or, I ashamedly admit, The Bachelor…which I still think Brad should have picked Chantel O. For some reason he suffers from the same “Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Southern Belle Obsession” that I do, and that has plagued many a men for the better part of the past three-hundred years. It was the nights Matt and I sat at The Counter, indulging in monstrous burgers and splitting a plate of fries and onion rings. It was the hikes Cliff and I took up Runyon Canyon, philosophizing like two artists, two brothers, always seem to do. It was the late night hangouts Matt and I shared over a couple of brews and the Master Kush. It was the friends I made at Morel’s, and the laughs and fear of the general manager we shared. Really, when it all comes down to it, two things can summarize everything I learned about life in those five months:

1. Nothing, absolutely nothing can take the place of family. There’s just something about blood that doesn’t lie. There’s laughs and moments only to be shared by brothers. There’s more to learn about yourself through your brother’s eyes than anyone else. There’s more joy in one minute with your brother than ten-thousand with your best friend.
2. Anywhere you go, anywhere at all on planet earth, if you are willing to open up, you will make friends and learn new things. One of my favorite things to do, when I say my prayers every night, is to ask God to bless each and every person I’ve ever spent time with. My father once said to me, “One thing you can’t ever say is that you don’t have friends everywhere.” It’s funny how it takes someone else saying that to fully realize it.

And so, there it is, 13 months past due, but completed once and for all. My 2010 Westward Odyssey covered 45 days, 5,200 miles, and crossed 17 states. I climbed mountains and crossed rivers. I slept under blankets of stars and the roofs of all eight of my siblings. I spent time with friends, from Massachusetts to Ohio to Tennessee to Texas to Colorado to California. I held each and every one of my 23 nieces and nephews in my arms. I spent time with my father. What in the world could have been better than that? Nothing. There’s nothing I dreamt up before I embarked on that journey, and nothing I’ve dreamt up since, that even comes close to what I actually experienced during those 45 days of my life. Reality always surpasses imagination. But you can only know that for sure if you really go out and do that which you imagined.

God Bless, Your Brother in Christ,
Anthony P. Vasko

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Leg Ten

Arrived in Houston, Texas November 16th, 6 P.M.
Jeep Odometer: 193,868
Trip: 2,859

Deep in the Heart of Texas, the Eyes of the Parks upon me…

I made it to Jackson, Mississippi the day before, cutting the longest leg of the odyssey so far in half. I knew I was in for a pretty wicked and eventful 10 days when I called Sarah around four o’clock, just after crossing the Louisiana-Texas border, and what sounded like military-conducted bomb testing was, in fact, just Frances, Thomas, Elizabeth and Hannah playing like usual in the backyard.

Shortly after sundown I pulled into the driveway on Graceland, logged my miles, and carried my bag onto the front porch. Frances swung the door open and bear-hugged me, along with Thomas and Elizabeth. Hannah took one look at the grizzly and bearded, unfamiliar man, hung her head in fear, sobbed, and then dove into Peter’s arms. I was 3 for 4 to start, and 10 days ahead of me to warm up to the only Spanish-speaking and only gringo-looking one of the bunch.

The funny thing about visiting Sarah and Peter is that little has changed since they were a couple of co-eds at Franciscan, and I was seeking whatever guidance I could find, entrenched in the forever-lost grounds of adolescence. Of course they’ve grown, and I’ve grown, and their love has blossomed five times over, but the formula of our visits remain the same: I seek guidance and bring humor, they offer support and yield laugh after laugh after laugh, because, I’m sure you know, I’m that funny.

But seriously, there’s definitely a recurring theme on this odyssey—I’m the little brother, and that won’t ever change. So, like Ali and the water-pump, Missy and carving pumpkins, Karen and making dinner and washing dishes, and Diane and dusting off the old gym shoes, I woke up the first morning to yet another task, just a different sister. Sarah says, “I was wondering if you could touch up a few spots on the back windows with some paint. Just two. Won’t take very long.” Of course I agree, and of course I find myself wrapping up the eighth window (scraping, priming, taping, and painting) five days later. It’s all just a part of the gig, I understand, yet I get suckered in from the start every single time. I guess I’ll just chalk it up to all of the little jobs I never got to do for my mother.

In short, here are a few things to keep in mind if you plan a trip to South Texas:
1. There is a leader of the chaos. She reads a lot under a pair of plastic-rimmed spectacles, very respectfully asks for “seconds” at the dinner table, and will be the first one to ‘plead the fifth’ when justice is being sought by the patriarch. She’s a doll, but she’s the leader nonetheless.
2. There’s a cowboy in the bunch. He likes fast cars, books about fast cars and super-heroes, and he’ll surely but slowly find a liking for football—he’s growing up in Texas, after all. And finally, if he says there’s a large June Bug in the room, listen to him, and don’t just tell him to go back to bed and shut the door, the way the grizzly, bearded, unfamiliar man did.
3. If there is a culprit, a master-mind of the plan, don’t look to the oldest or the only boy, but rather, look no further than the one who is the smallest, giggles the most, and defies physics by the way her tiny lungs emit sound the way lightening causes thunder.
4. If you find yourself thinking, “Where did she come from?” or “Is the white girl speaking Spanish?” you’ve found the toughest nut to crack. To answer the previous questions: nature has a sense of humor, and yes, the gringo is the only one who knows Spanish. However, once that nut is cracked, what is inside is well worth it. The giggles alone are worth the cracking.
5. Just pick her up. It doesn’t matter if you’re her mother, father, or God-father with a lumberjack’s whiskers, the sweetest pea west of the Mississippi will smile and laugh and do the same for you, as long as she’s in your arms. My favorite time of the entire trip was rocking this sweet pea the first morning I was there, while saying a Rosary and asking the Blessed Mother to protect her with my love when I have to go away.

Also, don’t expect to make a trip to Texas without being invited to go fishing, hunting, or just meet up with a bunch of other guys on a Saturday afternoon to shoot shotguns at piles of dirt in a backyard somewhere. I passed on the last one, but I cordially accepted on the first two, and I have the pictures to prove a Midwestern-boy can catch a few red fish on the Gulf—even if it is his first day. As for the hunting, no luck, but I was only out there for an hour or so before it got dark. I had the chance to go on Thanksgiving morning, but a few Shiner Blondes kept me up late enough with Sarah to pass.

We spent the last three days of my Texas trip at the Parks’ seasonal abode on Lake Travis. And no trip to Texas can be complete without a full rundown of Texas history with Mr. Park—the born and bred Texas patriarch. I could probably fill another ten paragraphs with the information he conveyed to me, but I’ll spare you until I pair up with him for a full-length book in the future.

Finally, after watching Ohio State kick that school up north’s ass yet again—7 in a row—I packed up the Jeep once more, with a brief stop at a friend’s in downtown Austin ahead of me, and then the long trek across west Texas and southern New Mexico, with Telluride still fully in mind, still fully in heart. I took a few pictures with Sarah, Peter and the kids, and then I made my farewell. There was nothing in front of me but my destiny—the concluding legs of my 2010 Westward Odyssey.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Leg Nine

Arrived in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, November 11th, 4 P.M.
Jeep Odometer: 192,918
Trip: 1,909

Smoky Mountain Sun keep on shining! Sweet Home Rocky Top…Rocky Top, Tennessee! 33!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh how the sight of those mountains felt as I came into east Tennessee on I-75. Also, how the house of horrors have changed because of 33 Miracles and ten months of separation.

If you’ve never been to east Tennessee while the autumn foliage is at its peak, you haven’t witnessed true beauty. Also, if you’ve lost hope in the kindness of others, swing down to east Tennessee any time of the year. It is still my favorite place I have ever lived, and it never loses its appeal, no matter how long I’m away from it.

I had a bucket list, you can call it, and with the exception of climbing Mount LeConte, I reached all of my goals. The following are a few things to take into account when camping in the Smoky Mountain National Park:

1). If you tent, bring an air mattress or sleeping pad. The tent “pads” are gravel, and you are not permitted to pitch a tent on the grass—a rule I broke the final two nights.
2). If alone, get drunk. It’s really the only form of entertainment after two hours of solitude by a campfire.
3). Don’t count on the campers one site over, with a roaring fire and music, to invite you over. Just accept being alone with nature, drink a few more Yuenglings, and call it a night.
4). Most important of all, layer-up before going to bed. You will be sweating when you fall asleep, but you won’t be freezing at 4 A.M. when you wake up to go to the bathroom.
5). Try to remember that you left a white garbage bag right outside of your tent. Therefore you won’t freak out at 4 A.M. when you unzip the tent to go to the bathroom, zip it back up, lie down until the pain in your bladder is too much to handle, and finally break out of the tent like it’s San Quentin and you’re on Death Row for a crime you didn’t commit. The whole process is unnerving, and terribly embarrassing to tell anyone about.

The following is a journal entry I made on the second day of my trip:

“Last night was a perfect example of why I drink when I camp by myself. Once again, I couldn’t get a fire going. I’m 0 for 2 on the Odyssey. I’m not sure if I keep getting wet firewood, or if I just suck at building fires. Oh well. Tonight will be another opportunity. I went out today to work on “33”. In the process of taking pictures for the front and back covers, as well as the chapter pages, I was faced with many demons of the past year. I had not been up to Bluff Mountain in 13 months. It was interesting. I felt emotions of joy, want, disappointment, heartache, triumph, and then nothing at all. It’s funny because I lived there for 8 months, but when I pulled up to it, it felt like it was Daniel’s cabin all along. I have to admit, however, that I took pleasure in seeing it vacant. Selfishly I don’t want to think of anyone else living there but me.”

As for my bucket list, I climbed to the top of Chimney Tops, Bluff Mountain, visited my old cabin on Bluff, consumed many mugs of Thunder Road and Harvestfest at the Brewery, and took over 100 photos for the illustrations in “33”. Although I planned on staying until Monday, I decided to ship out on Sunday instead. While sitting at Grandma’s Kitchen eating my breakfast, I looked around the room at all of the religious signs on the walls. My personal favorite: Expect Miracles. I’m expecting 33 of them to hit the bookstore shelves by summer time.

Leg Eight

Arrived in Dayton, Ohio, November, 8th, 5 P.M.
Jeep Odometer: 192,454
Trip: 444.00

One of my favorite things about visiting the Lukes is how Diane and I are so far apart in age (17 years), yet simply brother and sister when we’re together. Of course I hold an admiration and respect for her, and I’m sure I’ll always be a little boy in her eyes, but amidst the jokes and laughter we might as well be the same age.

The moment I rolled into the neighborhood I saw Nastia, Mariana, Jacinta, and Charlie waiting for me on the street corner. And I thought my celebrity didn’t extend beyond Huron! It’s funny to me how the traditions of my youth have progressed to the next generation. I can remember when I stood on the street corner, or end of the driveway, waiting to run alongside Diane’s car. Another frightening sign of age: Elena is going to college next year! I thought about giving her some advice regarding college, but I hardly doubt it would’ve gone over very well with Jim and Diane. I’ll just save all of it for the memoir.

On my first night in town, Charlie kicked my ass at Stratego, although I will say he definitely plays by his own set of rules. Reminds me of someone I know. The second day, I took Nastia, Mariana, Jacinta, and Charlie to the park. We played tag and made several laps around the small lake on bikes, roller blades, and my feet. Later on that night I laced up the old sneakers and attended basketball practice with Elena and Valya. I figured I’d take it easy on those high school girls, but they didn’t share the same compassion. At least three times I thought I had an easy break-away lay up, but by the time I reached the three-point line I was swarmed by at least two defenders. I almost always passed it to Valya, who is a natural jump shooter. With a few tweaks to her form and 500 miles of dedication, she’ll have a college scholarship within three years. My only moment of true glory came when I dusted Elena and the rest of the squad on the first suicide. That’s a fact she will dispute, but it’s a fact nonetheless.

On my third and final day, I hung out with Nastia and Jacinta. We played catch, and I determined that Jacinta will be on the 2026 gold medal winning U.S. softball team. I’ve never seen a girl, who tips the scale at 45 pounds, launch a hardball 30 yards with the flick of her wrist. The night wound down with dinner, warm apple pie, and a lengthy conversation between Jim and I. Then I printed off a copy of “33” for Diane. I know, I know, she’s the only one I printed a hard copy for, but she’s the oldest, so she deserves it.

The final morning we woke up early, went to Mass, and then Co-Op. One side note: please shut down the “arts and crafts” room. 105 degrees, no air circulation, and various adhesive substances cannot be safe for my nephews. Nevertheless, their log cabin looked fantastic. Around 10 A.M. I decided it was time to move on. So I said goodbye to the kids, Karen, and Diane, and I moved the Jeep southward to yet another home from my past.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Leg Seven

Arrived in Huron, Ohio, October 30th, 4 P.M.
Jeep Odometer: 192,237
Trip: 1,229

Going back to Huron always brings back memories. Of course there’s the running joke, “How long are you staying? Ten months?” Gregg breaks that out without fail every time visit. I can’t blame him, though, because I’d probably do the same thing.

But going back to Huron is as close to going home as I’ll ever feel when visiting a sibling. I did live there for ten months, two years ago, and I still feel very blessed to have done it. There’s no substitute for living in such close proximity to your nieces and nephews, especially in such formative years of their lives. Mya is the most hilarious four-year-old in the world, Ava is the modern-day princess, with a heart of pure God, and Lucas possesses a striking resemblance of the boy I once was—small for his age but well beyond his years both playing and watching sports.

I got to carve pumpkins with the Winnestaffers, which consisted of them choosing a design, and me actually carving them, but it was a pure blast, despite the inevitable arthritis I developed within the three-hour process. I also got to dress up as a pirate, and I took them trick-or-treating. Along the way we were joined by half a dozen neighbor kids, all of which called me Uncle Piper, and half of which I’d never met before. I always dreamed of being famous, I just aspired for a little more than ‘legend’ status among the four to ten-year-old range in the Eagle Crest Development. I’ll still take it as something, though.

Later on that week, Karen brought Marissa, Jonah, Ethan and Zachary up from the ‘Boro, and the party finally got into full-swing. We had an epic 56 to 56 tie on the backyard grid-iron, and I will forever plead the “Fifth” regarding whether or not I “fixed it”. All I will say, being a man who prides himself on individual statistics, is that my interception in the fourth quarter destroyed my nearly flawless quarterback rating.

On Saturday, Dad and Gerry came up from Youngstown, and Jon and Maeve came over from South Euclid. As only a Vasko could put it: who says nine is enough when there can be thirteen? The kids were animals until bed time, as was expected, and the adults stayed up late eating potato chips and drinking cold beers, as was expected.

Everyone should get to experience a week like that, at least once a year, even if it involves the self-induced pain of damaging a quarterback rating to keep any kids from crying :) In other words, everyone should have a family like mine!

Leg Six

Arrived in Cleveland, Ohio, October 28th, 4 P.M.
Jeep Odometer: 192,143
Trip: 1,134

Back to Bryce’s old stomping grounds. I remember when this town was my getaway. I remember creating an alternative world here to escape the pains of adolescence. The beauty of my line of work, however, is that the fictional story I once created in these neighborhoods never was but forever will be untouched, in my mind at least.

The reality of the situation is that I wasn’t here to reminisce on those stories of the past. I was here to see my brother and his family. And from the moment I arrived, I realized how unique of an opportunity my “odyssey” was: seeing my family members and loved ones in their natural environment, amidst the day-to-day routines of their lives. Not the usual frazzled mess that is forty different people at a family reunion every two or three years.

After arriving I spent about two hours with Bridget and Maeve, catching up on the South Euclid news and the present day happenings of a six-year-old in Montessori school. Then Jon came home, and it was a mad rush to get to the soccer field. I’m pretty sure, at least I hope, that that was the coldest soccer game I have and will ever attend. I’m also not sure why I even made it out of the house with flip flops, but I soon found myself agreeing with one of Boompa’s backwards theories: you lose more body heat from your feet than anywhere else. I won’t lie, either, and say the game was fun. It wasn’t. In my opinion, it was dangerous for everyone involved. But that’s the way northeast Ohioans like to do it—on the edge of hypothermia.

Later that first night I drove over to the west side and met up with old friends from last year’s five-month stint in Rocky River. We shared laughs and drinks, caught up on gossip and each other’s lives, and solidified my father’s assessment from a few days earlier: “You definitely can’t say that you don’t have friends everywhere.”

I spent most of Friday morning hanging out with Jon, and late in the afternoon we went down to Little Italy for Mary Maeve’s Halloween party. She was the most beautiful Egyptian princess I have ever seen. Sadly, (no pun intended) I couldn’t get a picture with her that didn’t involve tears—she didn’t win the costume contest or musical chairs :( But the tears subsided later when we went out for pizza, and she showcased her emerging talents as a mathematician. She was very good with her riddles, too. She stumped me on all three of them. On the way home we grabbed a movie and some beers, cozied up in the living room, and wound down the night as a family.

On Saturday we had another soccer game, and I was much more prepared. Following the game, Jon took me to my old bank, and I closed the account. That may not mean much to anyone else, but to those close to me, they can understand how a simple act of closing a bank account meant closing a much larger door to my past. The next door down the long and twisting hallway of life was westward. So I said my goodbyes and headed towards Huron.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Leg Five

Arrived in Youngstown, Ohio, 4 P.M.
Jeep Odometer: 192, 044
Trip: 1,036

Home. At least, another home that once was and no longer is. The house still looks the same, the old ball fields and basketball courts across the street still resonate with the same youthfulness of days gone by, and my father still waits for me with a smile and a handful of jokes I’ve heard at least ten times before. I’ve often said that the most peaceful place in the world to me is my parents’ home, the home of my youth, and the place where my wings were created and once set free. It still rings true to an extent.

The only thing better than lying on the couch in the family room watching football and awaiting the words, “Dinner’s ready,” from my stepmother’s voice at the top of the kitchen steps, is sitting at the kitchen table with my parents eating the home-cooked meal. We shared food and conversation, laughter, and our growing philosophies of life as all three of us progress down the road of wisdom. It’s also very peculiar to sit with my parents as an adult, free to make my own choices, and free to take their advice or let it go.

It’s also funny to see the faces of old friends, friends I still think of as sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen, even though they grew the same as I have, some of which have taken the steps in life such as getting married and having children. There’s always a mixed response amongst those I once saw on a day to day basis. The first response is an aw-factor of “you’re going where…I could never do that”, and the second is simply “you’re back home now…let’s drink these beers and enjoy each other’s company.”

The late night run-ins with my father are still the highlight of those trips down “homeward bound” lane. Papa V often wakes up restless in the middle of the night, fixes himself a sandwich, and goes down to his “man cave” to work on his book or paint Santa Claus figurines he plans to give to each son and daughter as Christmas gifts. I make my way down there, sit across from him, and listen as he talks about his book, his views on history, politics, and sports, and his vault of memorized corny jokes. It’s time that I treasure and bury away in my heart, because I know there will be a day when he’s no longer with us except in spirit, and it will be my duty to carry on his legacy for my children and grandchildren.

There’s the old saying, “Home is where the heart is,” and for those four days in October, my heart did not yearn to be anywhere but with my parents, in their home, amongst their love, protection, and guidance.