By Shelley Murphy
As June’s commencement speeches and classroom parties conclude, students say goodbye to another school year and hello to summer vacation.
My younger son finished his freshman year of college last month and moved home about the same time my older son graduated from college and moved to the Midwest. Circumstance caused my graduate to fly and leave behind his beloved car, but it provided an opportunity for me and my younger son to take a road trip.
Driving halfway across the country isn’t my idea of a leisurely summer vacation, but I’d drive to the ends of the earth for uninterrupted one-on-one time with my sons.
Throughout my younger son’s freshman year of college our communication consisted of brief texts and quick conversations as he crossed the quad. So I welcomed the confinement of the car and captivity of my college kid across Interstate 40.
The morning we embarked on our road trip I woke my sleeping son before sunrise. He stumbled to the car and we raised our right palms to high-five before he fell back asleep and I backed out of the garage.
Hours into our drive, I started seeing packs of motorcycles on the open road and groups of people on overpasses waving American flags. The sight looked significant so I woke my son to take pictures but he shrugged off my curiosity and pulled his hoodie over his eyes.
Later that day we realized I’d witnessed the “Run for the Wall.” Each May motorcyclists ride from California to the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. bringing awareness to the sacrifices and contributions made by veterans to our country.
We felt fortunate to see a segment of their journey, and the next day my son took pictures as we passed bikers and bystanders.
Our tight travel timeline didn’t permit tourism, but we allowed one exception and stopped at the Grand Canyon. We talked about seeing the South Rim at sunrise but decided to squeeze alongside the crowds surrounding the Rim at sunset.
Words don’t exist to describe the colors and scope of the Grand Canyon. Standing along the rim I could only say, “It’s awesome.” My son, staring out into the Canyon, said, “It’s the true meaning of the word: inspiring awe.” I then felt a subtle shift, not in the rocks, but in the leveling of the ground beneath me and my son.
On the road, we quickly fell into a comfortable routine. Rising before the sun each morning I relied on my son’s navigational skills and his scouting for crossing deer, patrolling police and opening Starbucks.
Crisscrossing the country’s highways and hills our cell service disconnected and in the absence of technology my son and I reconnected. He shared his thoughts on his freshman year of college and plans for the future; we kidded each other about our tastes in music; we plotted paths to outrun Greyhound buses to rest stops; and we laughed the loudest at his love of puns.
Nearing our destination, my son acknowledged he appreciated driving through the states instead of flying over them and concluded our trip confirmed his intention to stay in California. Time for another high-five.
The last hour of the drive was the longest; days of driving took its toll. I wanted out of the cramped car yet to cling to the comfort of our time together. I thought about when my boys were young and realize I took their predicted presence for granted.
My mind flashed back to the days before we traded lazy summers building sandcastles for busy summers building college resumes. Many summers have since passed, but time hasn’t diminished my craving their company.
Four days after leaving home, we arrived at my older son’s apartment on time and tired. Prying ourselves from the car my younger son said he had fun on the trip but declared it definitely wasn’t a vacation.
We shared one last high-five as I silently agreed—it wasn’t a vacation but the trip of a lifetime.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 17 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the SC Times since 2006.