As kids, my brothers and I all played Little League baseball. The season would start in April and end in July, with the All-Star game coming at the end of the season, invariably during the annual family trip to Fish Creek. We were all pretty good and would often get named to the All-Star team of our respective age level. However, we would typically skip the game because it was just an exhibition game against the other kids in the league and vacation was immeasurably better than that.
However, everything changed when I was 12 years old. That All-Star team’s purpose was to try to qualify for the Little League World Series. For a 12 year old who loved baseball, this was a huge deal. It may have been the biggest dream of my young life. I could think of nothing more than our team playing well enough to make it all the way to Williamsport, Pennsylvania to play in the Little League World Series. But of course, the district tournament was during our family vacation.
Fortunately, my parents understood how important this was, so arrangements were made to split time between Fish Creek and the district tournament. The plan was going to be that all five of us would drive up to Fish Creek on Saturday like usual. Then a few days later, my dad and I would drive back to home to play in the tournament. Depending upon how the schedule would work out we would either come back to Wisconsin or stay at home.
After enjoying a few days of vacation in Fish Creek, the fateful day to travel back home had arrived. My dad and I loaded up his grey Oldsmobile Ciera and started the 5 hour journey home. My team’s first game of the tournament was that night, but we were planning on arriving home in plenty of time for the game. It was a good thing that we left early.
About an hour into the trip, the car started acting funny and various warning lights on the dashboard started to light up. Uh oh. This wasn’t looking good. So my dad pulled into a gas station and we proceeded to try to get the problem figured out so that we could get back on the road. Unfortunately, life had other ideas. Being 12 and not particularly into cars, to this day I am still not really sure what they were doing, but what I do know was that nothing was working. Despite everyone’s best efforts, it was starting to look like my dream was going to come crashing down before it could even get started. Time was running out.
At some point, it was decided that the car’s issues were not going to be remedied that day. Knowing how important this game was, it was decided that we would get a rental car and continue driving on home. I am not sure whether my dad actually believed in this idea or if he was just being a dutiful dad. I do know that at no point did he ever try to convince me that “maybe we should get back to vacation”. Getting to the game on time seemed to be the only option and so we quickly acquired a rental car and got back on our way.
It certainly did not seem like there was much time to spare. Not only that, but the weather was starting to turn and there were significant rain clouds rolling in. I was sure what was going to be worse, not making it to the game on time or making a huge effort to get there and then have the game postponed. I didn’t really want to find out. However my dad, always the cool customer reassured me that everything would work out just fine. there was still enough time to get to the game and we would just have to see if the weather cooperated. But to keep me occupied, it became my job to check on the weather. On occasion I would stick my arm out the window of the car and assess the situation. My dad’s job was going to be to drive expeditiously.
At one point, the sun came back out and things were looking up. We even got a little bit of a reprieve on the roads. As we approached a tollbooth to pay the toll, we were told by the attendant that our money was not good. A couple of women in the car ahead of us had payed the toll for us. To this day, I don’t think I ever got a good look at them to know who they were. More importantly, I don’t remember the attendant ever indicating which of the two of us made such an impression as we jauntily drove down the tollway, that women around us were swooning and paying our tolls. I’d like to think it was me and my rugged good looks, but seeing as I was only 12, I would have to imagine that the object of generosity was probably my dad.
In the end, we made it to the game on time. I have no idea if we won that game or not, but I know that we were pretty swiftly eliminated from the tournament. Despite the fact that my dream died that week, I still can’t help but smile whenever I think of that trip down I-94 with my dad. The women from the toll booth. Eating chicken pot pies by ourselves in the house. Stopping at the A&W Restaurant on the way back up. Playing baseball. It doesn’t get much better for a 12 year old boy.
So in honor of Father’s Day the other day, I wanted to recognize my dad through this story for all of the wonderful memories that I have from doing things with him and to hope for so many more in the future. Although I am thinking that if someone were going to pay for our tolls today, it would most definitely be because of him.