Fourteen hours with Dale, Jr. and the pit crew

Categorized as 12/29/08 Goshen News column

I have the privilege this week of writing the column from the little house on the prairie. Well, it’s actually my parents’ log home on the Kansas plains, but this used to be a prairie. In fact, there was a buffalo wallow or two when they moved here, and it’s pretty certain that Indians once roamed the land. I have a feeling that by the time we leave, certain people will be convinced that they still do.

It’s very special, coming home to the place where I spent the first half of my life. It reminds me of my roots and tells me again that I belong somewhere, that there’s a larger ecosystem of which I’m a part. It also gives the boys a broader sense of their own history and heritage. I’m afraid, however, that one of these times they will put two and two together and figure out a few things about their mother. It’s perfectly fine with me if they stay in the dark for a couple more years.

Surviving a 14-hour car trip with 6 people and 12 kidneys is a Christmas miracle right there. I’m not the only one with an imagination around here. Mr. Schrock’s got a very colorful one himself. In our younger years, I honestly think he fancied himself to be Dale Earnhardt, Jr. There’s something about the call of the open road that brings out the race car driver in a man.

You could see a visible change come over him as he took his place at the wheel. There was a determined set to his jaw and a glint in his eye. All his body language shouted, “I’m here to conquer and to win!” Mentally, he would don a one-piece racing suit and a helmet before gunning it out the lane at the sound of the imaginary gun.

I learned real quick that “The Manly Guidebook for Conquering the Open Road” didn’t include potty breaks. They simply weren’t necessary. If we all went before we left, then we could surely wait until we got there. At the very least, we should easily be able to make it to St. Louis, which was seven hours in and halfway there.

See, if we had to stop, then all those semis he’d just passed would sail right by. So what if they were a friendly bunch, giving us a special wave that either meant we were number one with them or that we had one lap to go. We were never quite sure. Either way, getting passed meant you were the loser.

However, even he had to relent and let us out once he realized our kidneys were about to shut down. With the blood vessels popping in our eyeballs, legs crossed, we would slosh in to the gas station while he circled the building, honking. At least that’s how I remember it.

Thankfully, that has changed somewhat. In an effort to avoid dialysis, we now get more than two 30-second breaks.

Another thing that’s changed is the pre-trip weapons checks we now perform. Given the recent action involving the wooden crossbow, this is entirely reasonable. When someone under your roof “blows a kiss” to a younger sibling by planting a smacker on a rubber-tipped arrow and then firing it at him, Homeland Security tends to move in.

With everything loaded and all citizens freshly frisked, we set off. Tossing burgers and fries into the back two rows, we headed down bypass 20 only to hear a voice from the back say, “Where are we now?”

You know, we were really hoping to clear the township before those questions started up. For just a split second, I had a mental picture of the two of us laying rubber in the drive while those four were lined up at the bathroom door with me shouting “Hit it!” to “Dale, Jr.”

When they started singing, “Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall” shortly thereafter, I knew it was going to be a long trip. The singing stopped abruptly when their father killed the sound on their movie, spoiling their fun. I heard one of them mutter to his brother in the darkness, “Told you he’d shut us down at 95.”

Not being a road warrior myself, I’ve tried various feminine wiles in an effort to get out of driving. “Look at how your muscles ripple,” I might say in a wheedling tone as he grips the wheel to make a turn. This only earns me a baleful glare that clearly says, “You’re not fooling me.”

Hence, the fact that I drove for 3-1/2 hours in the dead of night to give him a break should count for something. It wasn’t my fault that he couldn’t sleep, thanks to the incredibly windy conditions. Sure, it may have been distracting, having the driver shout, “Lean to the left!” and, “Pile to the right!” to get us around the curves without tipping over, causing him to “flip and flop (his words),” but he didn’t have to get cranky about it.

All I want for Christmas is one more miracle – getting home with 12 healthy kidneys and a bit of flop-free sleeping. Is that too much to ask?

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