Taking a road trip back in time. To 1974. When I still had a future. And hair.

August 25, 2009

Dad 2See that picture on the right? Yeah, that’s me. Summer of ’74. Side of the road. Highway 1. The Trans-Canada. Heading east. Road trip.

My son, Koleman, has been going through old movies for a family friend named Ann. He’s probably copying the movies to DVD because he does that sort of thing to earn extra cash. Or he might simply be looking for footage of himself and his sister as youngsters.

He came across a section of film featuring his mother, Bev, and me, along with my two brothers, James and Jerry, and used frame capture to send me the photo.

Bev and I were married that spring, as madly in love as two kids can be. We’d just come off back-to-back six-month contracts to provide recreation for the handicapped. We each cleared $100 a week. We thought we were rich.

We would go on to work a third contract but, on the summer day this photo was taken, we were between jobs. We’d packed our clothes and my two brothers into our pale yellow 1966 Plymouth Valiant and were heading for the small farming community in Saskatchewan where my father grew up and where several of our relatives still lived.

By pure coincidence, we encountered Ann and two girlfriends traveling in an orange VW van, on their own odyssey across Canada. We pulled over to chat. Ann had a movie camera. She filmed the meeting. That’s me, smiling at the camera. Smiling at the chance encounter on a wind-swept highway in the middle of nowhere.

I was three years out of high school. I was three years on from counselors and teachers who preached about the importance of making goals for the future, of formulating five-year plans so you could set a course, set a direction.

I was three years on from the clean-cut fellow who went back to Langley Secondary for an extra semester because he wasn’t quite ready to face The World. The same fellow who had vowed to never get married, never have children. The same fellow who would have been quite happy to live in his parents’ basement and read The Hockey News for pretty much forever.

And then I met Bev. She was the first girl I kissed. I married her eight months later. We decided to drive to the Prairies for a belated honeymoon. I invited my brothers to join us.

I don’t remember a whole lot about that trip, but a couple memories stand out.

The Valiant, as dependable a car as you could want, blew a water pump. I was so shy about dealing with the mechanic that James, younger than me by a year, had to do all the talking.

At one point, for some reason, Jerry was pissed at the rest of us. During a lunch break at a Dairy Queen, he sat several tables away and, having grown bored, started to throw his fries at us. It was funny. Then he started dipping his fries in ketchup before he threw them. That wasn’t so funny.

We stayed at a motel one night and dispatched Jerry to the fast-food restaurant next door to buy dinner. Rather than walk around the high fence separating the two properties, he decided to scale the fence and drop down the other side. He landed smack on the hood of a car, much to the dismay of its driver.

I do remember it being a fun trip. There were plenty of laughs and hugs and the strengthening of familial bonds. But, during all those miles and hours of driving, not one thought was wasted on the future. The future, my younger self reasoned, would look after itself. That’s how things work when you’re three years out of high school.

It was assumed Bev and I would start a family and I would find work as a writer. In the summer of 1974, that sounded like all the planning we needed to do.

It wasn’t.

Things have changed in the 35 years since that road trip.

We sold the Valiant to one of my sisters. She was turning left on a yellow light when another driver came straight through the intersection and T-boned her. My sister survived. The Valiant didn’t.

Ann suffers from Parkinson’s disease now. She no longer drives.

James is currently maintaining a bedside vigil over his partner, who is not expected to ever leave the hospital.

Jerry is happily married. He has worked at the same job for nearly 30 years and invests his money wisely. He no longer jumps blindly over fences.

Bev and I divorced in the mid-’80s. I thought we could still be friends. I was wrong.

My life took a few other detours along the way as well. The hair, once long, is now mostly long gone. I tend to shave on a regular basis, if only to keep the grey at bay. I did become a journalist and then I wasn’t and now I pray to be one again.

I do still tend to ignore the concept of five-year plans. Because, right now, all I can afford is  a 14-day plan. That’s the one where we hope to make it to Viking Woman’s next payday before the bank takes our house.

I still own the hat I’m wearing in the photo. It’s in my storage unit, buried together with the other memories of that road trip. With the memories of my first marriage. Of myself three years out of high school.

I’m smiling in the photo.

I don’t smile much these days.


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