A month passed.
I looked at Dad’s clue and occasionally gave it some thought, but my synapses were quiet. I didn’t have the emotional energy available to give it serious thought. I painted not just professionally, but to make sense of life. I could not not create. The days I didn’t paint or somehow engage the creative part of my personality left me depressed. I painted to fulfill contracts, but I also painted to get me out of bed and move forward into a future without Dad.
Another few weeks went by, and I was working on a stormy night scape when the answer hit me like a jolt of lightning. I couldn’t believe I didn’t think of the answer before, and was not-so-quietly berating myself for being so dense. I yelled so loudly it made my dog Fagan cower under the table and tuck his tail.
The now-famous, 23-flavored drink known as Dr Pepper was originally created by a pharmacist working at a corner drug store in Waco, Texas. The pharmacist loved to create new soft drinks at the soda fountain, and customers had a favorite they called the “Waco.”
Dad met Mom while they were both in college at Baylor University in Waco. On the first Friday of every month, the school hosted socials at the Dr Pepper Museum, just a couple blocks west of the interstate, only about a mile-long walk from campus. As the story goes, Dad walked into the soda shop and shouted, “Shoot me up a Waco! And I’ll take one for all of my friends, too!”
Of course, the school was paying for all of the drinks, so Dad’s generous offer meant nothing. But it made an impression on Mom and made her laugh. He sat down in one of the booths with his roommates when he spotted her talking to one of her professors. He stood up in the booth and recited a spontaneously-composed poem.
“I love Waco for its drink
It makes me feel quite giddy.
I love Waco for its school
It makes me feel quite witty.
I love Waco, most of all,
For girls who are so pretty!”
Mom never heard his ridiculous rhyme as she had just been offered a summer internship to work with one of the top social work professors in the country. Their actual first date wouldn’t take place until after Dad “saved Mom’s life.”
I needed to head to the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas.
It’s been almost two years since my last road trip with Dad. We toured the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
“I’ve lived in Missouri for almost my entire life, and never been in the Arch,” Dad said.
“Never? No school field trips or family vacations?”
“We always went to Kansas City. They loved seeing the Christmas lights on the Country Club Plaza, and the barbecue.”
We left early on a Saturday morning and dodged all the semis on I-44. We climbed in the tram and Dad held my hand all the way to the top of the 63-story structure. There was enough of a breeze that we felt the structure sway as we peeked out the windows. Dad tried to convince me that President Eisenhower was the only president who had been in the Arch. I thought it was another one of his jokes. One of the park rangers confirmed Dad’s statement.
“And the Arch is also as wide as it is tall,” the ranger added.
We returned home late that same night. Dad fell asleep somewhere near Rolla, and I let him rest for the remainder of the drive. That night was the first time I got a taste of what it’s really like to parent one of your parents.
It was horrible.
One way, it is a nine-hour drive to Waco, Texas.
More than 540 miles.
That means at least two days out of the studio, if I just drive there one day and turn around and drive back the next, not factoring in construction or car problems or the crap that always seems to happen whenever you walk out your front door. I’ll also have to find someone to take care of life on the farm and Fagan.
I used to just drop Fagan off at Dad’s house before any overnight trip. Dad would spoil him rotten, feeding him table scraps every morning, cooking him a burger for dinner, even taking him in the car for trips to get frozen custard at night.
He’ll miss Dad almost as much as I do.
Misery loves company, especially the four-legged furry kind.
The trip was anything but uneventful.
Somewhere in the middle of Oklahoma, a tire blew out. After I put on the spare, I hit a pothole that surely went to the center of the earth, and blew out a different tire. I called AAA who promptly showed up ninety minutes later — not their fault I was in the middle of nowhere — and towed the car to McAlester, where I picked up a rental car before buying a burger and ice cream from Braum’s and continued south.
After getting settled in a car that was at least a decade newer than mine, two hundred miles of relative calm passed as I listened to a delightful audio book. A good audio book will make or break any trip. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was wonderfully creative and quirky and kept my mind engaged.
The sun set in waves of reds and purples. And then the storm came.
The storm that dropped five inches of rain over the next 24 hours.
The storm that flooded highways and byways and pretty much everything south of the Oklahoma state line.
The storm that blew down trees and road signs and toppled one semi north of Waco, causing a detour down the frontage road, which was also flooded, and ended up sending me to Mt. Calm, where I pulled over in a parking lot and cursed my luck and eventually cried myself to sleep.
A great adventure, indeed.