Blue Bullet chugged as she ascended the last few hundred feet to the summit of the Colorado Rockies. The 1985 Toyota passenger van was weighed down with my post-college graduation possessions, like books, a futon and my hot pink Vespa scooter. My dad and I were moving me from my childhood home of Chicago to my new home, 2,000 miles away in San Francisco. Blue bullet was our trusted family car for the last seven years, and dad drove her with confidence and determination, towards the summit. He knew his little engine could make it up that mountain and onwards towards San Francisco.
This side trip to the Rockies was dad’s idea. I’m pretty sure Blue Bullet didn’t want to climb these steep mountain sides with all of this extra weight, and a battery that wasn’t working quite right (more on that later). And I knew I wasn’t completely gung-ho about the extra time the side trip would add. I wanted to get to San Francisco quickly and I was afraid of unplanned adventures.
Dad and I weren’t close.
I know it sounds cliché to say my dad wasn’t around much when I was a kid, but it is true. He emigrated from Germany when he was 26 years old and brought with him an old world craft and old world work ethic. His six-day a week, twelve plus hours a day work schedule as a master craftsman making violins, violas or cellos left little time for the family.
On Sunday’s, his only day off, he would split his day between two families. In the morning he would go to his church, Kingdom Hall, to be with his Jehovah’s Witness brothers and sisters, a religion neither my mother, brother or I subscribed to. In the afternoon he would gather his biological family, us, to go on an outing. A typical outing, I would later label Germantime, consisted of traveling to a museum or zoo in dad’s car while listening to the oompah of German polka music, visit said zoo or museum for an hour or two, and end with a visit to his favorite German café for coffee and pastries. Germantime was the only time I felt we were a happy, loving family.
Through my adolescence the Jehovah’s Witness family got more and more of dad’s free time. I was left feeling he wanted to be with them more than with us. When dad was home it wasn’t pleasant. My mom would vent her frustrations with having to work, take care of the kids and do all the chores, while he was with his JW family, always leading to arguments. If that wasn’t bad enough, dad would nag me – telling me to wear more dresses like a “good German girl,” and to stop wearing those “awful American blue jeans” or to remove purple nail polish from my freshly polished, sophomore in high school, nails. I didn’t think an absent father had the authority to tell his child what to do.
My heart grew hard towards him. The sadness of a little girl wanting to be hugged and kissed by her dad, evolved into resentment and anger of a teenager not wanting him around. Now as a college graduate, I still had my issues with dad, but I couldn’t be too disagreeable since he offered to help me move away from home and towards a new life. Renting a moving van was economically out of the question and I had too much stuff to neatly put in a box and send by mail. I just hoped we could get to California peacefully.
My other biggest fear was blue bullet would break down, stranding us in the middle of the desert. On the day we were set to leave, my fears were validated when I saw dad’s latest experiment in the back of the car.
“Dad, Why are there two batteries behind the drivers seat with wires leading under the seat?”
“Just as a precaution.” He assured me, his balding head dripping with perspiration from packing the car while wearing thick corduroy pants and a wool sweater on a late summer day. His old world aesthetic discouraging him from ever wearing shorts and a t-shirt. “The car battery sometimes doesn’t recharge and I want to make sure we don’t get stuck.”
“Is the alternator going out?” I asked, just having learned what an alternator does from a friend whose car battery wouldn’t keep a charge.
“I don’t think so.” He said with a tone of certainty, accentuated by his deep German accent. “I brought the car to the mechanic and they said the alternator was fine.”
Blue Bullet and a road trip with dad was my only option. I had to trust that together we would get to California, safely, without too many unplanned adventures and without arguing.
Note: This is an excerpt of a personal essay I have been working off and on since 2012- to hopefully be submitted to an online publication. I told dad about the story before he passed away in 2013, he mentioned how much he loved that trip and the time we had together. I hope to share the whole story of this trip one day! Happy Father’s Day! 🙂