Travels with Dad
—-This is a story of a complex relationship with my father, Al, who I came to love and understand after he was diagnosed with dementia.—-
The fall of 1995 was the first of many hayrides that my boss, Wes, hosted for family, friends, and co-workers. Wes is the biggest Dead fan that I know, and Jerry Garcia had passed away that August. Wes thought this was a good way to honor this special musician and his music. Although I never considered myself a Dead Head, we got a good dose of the Grateful Dead’s music at these gatherings. I grew to appreciate Jerry and his band a little more each year.
Every fall, I found myself looking for the notice for the seasonal hayride that had become a tradition. They grew in size and scope — other artist’s music began blaring from the boom box, more and more people attended, and it was just an exceptional way to spend a fall evening — outdoors with great company, food, and of course, music. Brian fit right in and played the he-man role by putting big old wooden dressers and pallets on the fires to keep the massive flames going.
One year, during the “Travels with Dad” era, my mother had her own work gathering to go to, and needed me to keep AL with me well into the evening. It happened to be the same night as the annual hayride, so I was disappointed that we wouldn’t be attending. Brian was even more disappointed, and strongly encouraged me to ask Wes if Al could come along. I hesitated, but he finally broke me, and I asked Wes. Without a skip, Wes said “Of course!”
When we showed up at the gathering site, Wes approached me with a small blinking light. He handed it to me and suggested that I put it on the outside of Dad’s jacket. Yes, I had in the back of my mind that we could lose him, so I was relieved to have this light. I think Wes meant it as a little joke, but I thought it was a brilliant idea.
We all claimed a spot on the wagons, with Mrs. V., the owner of the land, driving the tractor, and Bingo the dog running behind. Bingo was always involved. The hot dogs and treats he got made him a loyal bonfire buddy.
There were really only 2 mishaps with Dad. The first one was on the wagon, heading out to our fire area. Al was sitting between my friend Ellen and me on the first wagon, facing the second wagon with our feet dangling. Mrs. V. stopped the tractor for some reason, and Al jumped off. Mrs. V. started the tractor up again, and Al nearly got run over by the second wagon. Ellen and I, with all the strength we had, grabbed Al and pulled him back onto the wagon as it was moving. We heard shrieks and screams…I think most of them were coming from me. Both Ellen and I held on to him tightly for the rest of the trip, and distracted him whenever the tractor stopped.
As the evening wore on and Al grew tired, his confusion increased. Several times, he had to be redirected from putting his lawn chair into the fire. I believe he was trying to say “I’ve had enough, I want to go home”. On a few occasions, redirecting him nearly caused an unpleasant scene. He wasn’t as amiable to these interactions at this point in the day, and he was becoming a little difficult to manage. It wasn’t long after these little chasing-of-Al episodes that we could hear the tractor in the distance. Mrs. V. was on her way to pick us up and return us to civilization. A wave of relief washed over me. We left our beloved bonfire and magical field, and returned home unscathed.
Although Brian and I went on several more hayrides after that night, it was never again necessary to bring AL…thank GOD.