Spring Break Day 5 - Final Day

Sunday was our last day together for the break, and wouldn't you know it, the weather was perfect with highs forecasted in 70's and lots of sun. Oh well, that was pretty much every spring break when I was a kid. Despite the lack of sleep, the boys seemed fine. They'd likely fall asleep on the drive anyway. I started rounding up all the smaller piles I made yesterday into bigger piles with the eventual goal of massing one big pile that would get thrown into the back of the rental. Grandma was still a little run down so Grandpa hobbled up the stairs offering to fix everyone breakfast. Problem was, Noah, Harrison and Sawyer discovered the location of the Pop Tarts, and were content with colorful frosting and fruit filling. This confounded Grandpa as his idea of breakfast is mass quantities of rib-stickin' pancakes with eggs or his very own special blend of mystery oatmeal (patent pending). Turning down such delights is almost a personal offense to him. Throwing his hands up he grunted, "I don't know what these kids want. Pop Tarts aren't a breakfast!"

Growing up poor in a small home with 4 older siblings, plus any number of displaced cousins and neighbor kids, my dad only understands the "grab-n-growl" philosophy of fine dining, which is to say that you eat as much as you can, as fast as you can, before someone beats you to it. You don't pause to ask what's on the menu. Just jab a fork or spoon into anything edible while avoiding being tackled in the process. It's polo meets rugby complete with horses and all played out at the dinner table.

Even better than being a participant in such a frenzy, is the chance to be the referee that gets to signal the start of play by throwing the game ball out to mob. The night before, Grandma was still taking it easy allowing Grandpa to proudly announced he would be the evening's chef with plans to serve us an irresistible, mouth-watering dish.

"Noah, did you know that when your dad was your age, and Grandma couldn't cook I would make him and his sisters my famous potato soup." As I recall this rather infamous specialty consisted of large chunks of onions, doughy clumps of flour called 'rubbins' - a name that accurately captured their rubber-like texture - and the main ingredient - skinned potatoes, all boiled up in something resembling a witches cauldron.

"So how's potato soup sound Noah?" Grandpa's enthusiasm reminded me of a game show host. "Tell 'em, Son. You used to love it." Back then, I sat closest to the trash affording me the opportunity to stealthily dispose of my bowl's contents given the right distraction, which usually would be one of my sisters gaging on a half-eaten rubbin. Once my dad saw an empty bowl he was quick to fill it back up to the brim.

Noah looked at me, "Is Grandpa serious?"

"Yes. He is." I could see that look in his eye and the thought of choking down a slimy rubbin made me a little sick, "How 'bout I make some toasted cheese?"

Grandpa's face melted as he shoved a large, black pot back into the cabinet, and walked out to the living room dumbfounded that these little Pop Tart munchers - his own kin for goodness' sake - would pass on the opportunity to experience the authentic cuisine of the Depression-era, old country. Grandma, having dumped more than one pot of molded potato soup out the back door, slipped into the kitchen and knocked out several golden, grilled-cheese sandwiches and then disappeared like some sort of culinary ninja. I know she got a laugh out of the whole thing as this is just one of my dad's many endearing quirks that she gushes about when talking on the phone.

Eventually, Grandpa gained some satisfaction in talking Noah into tea and toast in addition the toasted pastries. I finished up all the packing and loading and then chased down Sawyer to put on socks and shoes. He's like roping a calf when it comes to getting clothes on, which at times, I'm sure can be annoying, but I don't get that opportunity on a regular enough basis so I enjoyed every bit that I could. "I wuv you, Dad," he giggled once I got the last shoe on, "When we get home will you come to my house and pway milwitary wiff me?" I gave him a big hug, "Sure, Wildman. I'd love to." Sawyer is the son I have had the least amount of time to bond with, so I'm always watching and wondering how he sees me as a his dad. "Ok Dad, you're the bad guy... BANG! Your dead, bad guy!"

Admittedly, I was dragging my feet because I wasn't ready to give the boys up just yet. Harrison kept pestering me to go find a crayfish in the creek before we left so he could take something, "alive" back home. I nearly let him do it, but we were already two hours behind so hugs and kisses ensued. Sawyer decided to give his grandparents one last demonstration of his care-free take on life. Flashing them a big grin and darting out the front door, he then proceeded to fling himself onto the wet ground and tumble down the hill. The phrase, "happier than a pig in mud" would've been an apt description.

Pulling out of Meadville and getting onto the freeway Noah announced that he was going to throw up again. Oh no, not good. I pulled the car to the side of the on-ramp and Noah jumped out the door and blew chunks of tea and toast over the guardrail. "Poor kid, this is going to be a rough drive," I thought as he heaved a couple more times. At least it wasn't potato soup. That comes back up in a miserable fashion. But like the night before when hovering over the commode, Noah was just as resilient. "OK, Dad, I'm done. Let's hit the road." And we were off. Luckily, whatever bug he had caught got released somewhere on a grassy overpass in plain view of a Ponderosa steak-house.

The rest of the drive was pretty smooth. The boys read books and then watched some movies on my computer, while I scanned the horizon for cops and radar traps. About an hour from their home we pulled into a rest stop for a potty break. I pulled out Sawyer first given he is just been house broken and thus priority number one. It never looks good to hand over your pee-soaked children to their mother, as she eyes you over in disgust at your incompetence as a father. The other boys got out of the car and started shouting as I came around the car, "Sawyer! No! You can't... Dad!" There stood Sawyer, pants around his ankles in the middle of the sidewalk just letting it fly. Oh well, mission accomplished - the method's immaterial. Sawyer still joined us in the restroom however, crawling up onto a toilet to complete the job only from the other end. I watched him kick his feet back and forth from under the stall and listened as he talked to himself. After a few minutes, I peaked my head through the door, "Hey Buddy, are you..." WHAM! Sawyer kicked the door right into my face. "Hey you! Get outta here!" Sorrrrrrrrry. Privacy wasn't such a big deal a few minutes ago.

We started back down the road and soon they were loading into their mom's mini-van. They were excited to share all that they had done over the break, which is really great to watch because they are so genuine in their enthusiasm, oblivious to the unseen barriers that divide their parents. They feel completely free to say whatever they feel to each of us without the reservation of wondering how each parent will react to even the most unpleasant events such as Sawyer peeing on Harrison in the middle of the night.

I kissed them goodbye and watched them drive off to the familiar comforts of their toys, their cat, and their own beds. After that there's not much to tell. The drive back to Chicago was like all the others, when I used to lived here a year ago. I liked the nostalgic feel, as it made me excited for the move back sometime in the near future. The goodbyes won't be so hard or as far apart.

I made it to the airport just in time as Chicago traffic hasn't changed much since being away. I took my seat next to a couple in their late 40's who were chatting about a magazine they were reading, when a baby in the back of the plane started crying. This set my neighbors off into an indignant huff. Every time the baby made any sort of a sound they would turn around and glare at the parents as if they were publicly known sex-offenders. They turned around and the guy grumbled something while motioning as if he were holding a kid by the neck while slapping it back and forth in the face. He wore designer brand clothes but sported a ridiculous soul-patch that matched his ridiculous stringy, shoulder-length hair. In a police line up, he would've been a dead ringer for a possible sex-offender. "Oh, Dear!" His wife chuckled in response to her husband's rant. She flipped a page in her magazine and then shook her head, "I can't believe we got stuck on a plane with a baby." Her red sweat suit did nothing to flatter her complexion which, after years of ravage by sun and cigarettes, looked like a pruning meat carcass that even the frugal Plains Indians could find no use for.

"Did the airlines now offer immunity from the inconveniences of babies on planes?" I thought. The way these two were acting you'd believe such an option existed and they were kicking themselves for opting out at the last minute. "A baby? On our plan? What are the chances, dear? We'll pass on the 'No Baby' Upgrade, thank you."

I hoped they would engage me in their lamenting so I could casually mention that ironically I have 3, young boys, and given my experience, when kids get fussy I acknowledge the slight age difference and then proceed to pretend that I'm an adult about the whole thing. It would've been fun to see their reaction, but no such opportunity presented itself. I handed them their complimentary beverages and passed their trash back to the stewardess, making sure to say "please" and "thank you" as appropriate. Assholes.

As soon as we arrived in Houston, I didn't give them a second thought. My mind was too pre-occupied with what the boys were doing, how my parents were feeling, and making money to pay bills, but in any case, I was home. Not because I returned to my daily dose of regular issues to contend with, but because, unlike the previous returns from seeing my boys, there was someone wonderful waiting to hug me when I walked in the door. As much as I missed my sons, I was equally happy to be missed while I was away.

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