But here's the truth. My dad was a drinker. It was a part of who he was. To me, it never defined him. He was so much more than that, and I can honestly say that I hope he's able to enjoy a round or two in heaven, because he took great pleasure in doing so here on earth, and from my point of view, he wasn't less of a father or man for doing so. Furthermore, in an attempt to create humor, it may seem that I'm exaggerating in this story... but I'm not. I don't mean to write AT my father's expense. It is actually these colorful memories that have stayed with me that, having lost him, help me to cherish his memory and love him even better. So I intend no disrespect with this story, it's actually quite the opposite.
This story, though never before shared online, was actually the foundation for my latest book in progress, This is Going to Sound Like Fiction. I wrote it during a winter writing retreat, and literally, before tentatively sharing at our open mic, I explained, "This is going to sound like fiction... but it's not." The response I received that night was so encouraging and warm, I actually began weaving together a collection of similar stories that explore the everyday craziness of life.
So yes, this story is a little crazy. No, we don't all come off as perfect in the version I'm about to tell. But Dad, if you know my heart, you know I share this in love, to bring a smile to someone else's face. You were much more than just a partier--you were a great father, a hard worker, and a fantastic friend. But your colorful antics were always a reason for me to smile... so I hope you don't mind that I share this with the world. I love you and miss you. Happy Father's Day.
The Lebaron Meets A Sad End
“So we’re sitting on the porch, chillin, hanging out, and all of a sudden Dad comes bursting in. He coulda been drunk, or maybe not, with Dad, it was hard to tell, so who knew?”
I laugh, pausing my brother in the middle of his story, as he stops to grin and nod. We’re standing in my kitchen, Dad’s kitchen, except I’ve got new hardwood floors and shiny stainless steel appliances, and the walls are a soft yellow now. I’ve heard this story before, and I love it. I listen to Johnny tell it again.
“So anyway, Dad comes busting in all upset. ‘Johnny, Johnny, we gotta go now! We gotta get my car out of the ditch down the road!'”
I can picture it—a younger version of my brother with his brown curls cut short, sitting around with his twenty-somethings friends, maybe drinking, maybe smoking, all wasting time in the leisurely way of the young before careers, marriages, and social obligations. My father—six foot two, Albert Einstein hair, wrinkled and reddened but kind face—yanking open the creaking sliding glass door, stumbling onto the porch, squinting and glaring at the group of boys lounged about in mismatching outdoor dining chairs. His naturally booming voice louder than usual from that extra round at Smitty’s and the commotion he’s just been through.
I smile at Johnny. “How’d he get home?” I ask, forgetting this part of the story.
Johnny grins. He looks a lot like my father. He, too, has been drinking. His brown eyes are glassy, his pale complexion pinkened. “He got a ride from one of your high school friends! Remember?”
I literally laugh out loud as I rack my mind trying to recall which of my former cheer squad teammates experienced what had to have been the very memorable event of picking up my sixty-six-year-old hyperactive father, rescuing him from a two-mile walk down a tree choked one lane road, black as coal during the night. I bet that was a long five minutes in that girl’s life. God bless her.
We can’t remember which of my friends it was, and Johnny moves on with the story. “Now mind you, this was Dad’s convertible, the Lebaron, but to Dad, this is the car to end all cars. This is the f-in (my brother does not say f-in, but I can’t quite bring myself to say what he actually said) Mercedes Benz of cars in Dad’s eyes!”
I remember this car, though I do not recall ever riding in it. A boxy, early nineties red soft-top convertible, my Dad’s pride and joy. Dad wasn’t a car guy, but I think he saw this car as a chick magnet of sorts. I wonder if he thought of himself as Fonzie or James Dean as he cruised Rt. 54 to Smitty’s, trying on different pick-up lines with the fifty-plus crowd of white-haired women.
On this particular evening, Dad had wrecked the car in a curve that was so steep it was practically a right angle. A common mistake. Tourists and teenagers who took the turn with too much speed were forever being fished out of that ditch. I’d landed in it once myself when my best friend went flying around it on a rainy morning a few months after getting her driver’s license.
After what I imagine to be much yelling and excitement, Dad convinced Johnny and a friend to drive him back to where a buddy was towing my Dad’s precious LeBaron out of the ditch, so Johnny could drive it home. But when they got there, the cops had beat him to the scene.
“Who’s car is this?” Johnny sneered, an unkind impersonation of the policeman who had arrived on the scene. Cops, in general, hated my brother, with his punk t-shirts and baggy jeans and multiple earrings. “So I said, ‘It’s my father’s sir.’ ‘This isn’t your car?’” He demanded, changing his voice into the high pitched snarl he was using for the police man. “ ‘No sir,’” (a humble voice) “ ‘it’s my father’s.’ ‘Where’s your father? How’d this car get in this ditch? He drunk? You drunk?’ ‘No, sir. We’ve not been drinking. My dad just took the turn too fast and ended up in the ditch is all, I think. I wasn’t with him.’ ‘Where’s your father now?’ ‘He’s in my car, sir. Shaken up from the accident. He’s elderly and frail,’” which was the most ridiculous lie yet to have come out of my brother’s mouth, for, though he had silver hair and a lined face, my father moved with the energy of a high school quarterback and was built like an ox. Frail was a perfect antonym.
The cop wasn’t buying it. Eventually the friend Dad called to tow him showed up, confirmed that the ditched LeBaron was indeed John Meister’s (the elder, not the younger’s), and I’m sure, fed up with the entire situation, the police officer finally just called it a day and ordered the car impounded. Amazingly, no one got arrested.
But the story got even better. Adamant that his chick magnet be returned to him immediately, Dad insisted that Johnny get up at the crack ass of dawn (well, maybe seven o’clock, but to my partying twenty-one-year-old brother, that was essentially the same thing) in order to chauffer him to the impound lot so that his LeBaron could be rescued.
“Dad paid $250 to get that car out that day,” Johnny continued, an incredulous smile brimming beneath his words, “And that very same night…” he was shaking his head.
I was laughing so hard tears were stinging the corners of my eyes. After all his valiant efforts to save the LeBaron from first the ditch, and then the certain doom of impoundment, his insistence that this be resolved absolutely immediately….
That very same night he got this aging convertible home safe and sound, parked lovingly in the driveway—
“BAM!” Johnny managed through choking laughter. “Smashed by a tree!”
Our house, you see, sits in the middle of an acre of woods, mostly giant, stretching pines, hundreds of feet tall. The evening that they had driven the Lebaron home, a thunderstorm had rolled in, causing branches to fall and trees to sway. As had periodically happened when we grew up, sometimes the whipping winds would even cause and older tree to crack and fall. On this particular occasion, one such tree had fallen on the LeBaron the same night it had been returned to my father. So a mere hours after it had been secured and returned to him, mother nature and/ or fate thwarted my father once again, smashing his beloved car into smithereens with an unassuming pine tree.
Maybe some things just aren’t meant to be. Or maybe my father was a magnet for irony. All I know is that despite his most diligent attempts, the LeBaron met a sad, sad end.
Still, it makes for a great story.