It’s early. I’m leaving Colorado Springs. My father’s mountain resting place is in the rearview mirror. Ahead of us: two more weeks on the road.
My wife is asleep in the passenger seat. Thelma Lou, bloodhound, is chewing my wallet.
For the last week, I’ve been saying things to this dog like: “NO! DROP THAT WALLET, THELMA LOU! I MEAN NOW!”
She loves it when I say this.
I’ve taken to hiding my wallet, and somehow she keeps finding it—even when it’s in my pants. So, like any diligent dog owner who cares deeply about their pet and discourages bad behavior, I am employing the ancient training technique of “letting her have the God forsaken wallet.”
Anyway, I’m spending this morning riding through mountains that belong in a John Wayne movie. I am enjoying a leisurely drive when suddenly:
An SUV almost sideswipes me.
The female motorist even shows me her sacred finger. And all at once, I understand. This is a major highway, and I’m going under the speed-limit.
Well, I don’t mind telling you that I’m not a speeder. I wish I were, but you can’t change who you are. You’re either a “go-getter,” or “lazy-and-walletless.”
My father used to lovingly call me Sean “the Slug” Dietrich.
I earned this nickname one summer when he told me to pressure wash our deck—which was roughly the size of Nova Scotia. He insisted that this chore would be good for me. Power washing, you’ll note, has never been “good” for anyone in the history of backyard accessory structures.
While I operated the machine, a neighbor kid named Joseph came riding on a bike. He nearly passed a kidney stone.
“COOL!” said Joseph. “YOUR DAD’S LETTING YOU USE A POWER WASHER?!”
“You’re SO LUCKY!”
I thought about this for a minute. Then, drawing upon slug-like powers, I said: “Joseph, would you care to know the thrill of power washing a deck?”
“COULD I?” he pleaded.
“I dunno,” said I. “In some third-world countries, people pay good money to use one of these puppies…”
That was all it took. Joseph paid three bucks and a Ken Griffey Jr. baseball card. I ate sunflower seeds. And a slug was born.
The truth is, I’ve always felt bad about not being a “go-getter” like my father. That’s probably why I write about him so often. I wonder if he would be disappointed in me. After all, I’m different than he was. He was an ox. I drive too slow.
I don’t know why I’m telling you this.
Anyway, Colorado Springs is behind me. I’m watching the world go by at eye-level. I turn off the interstate. I see a dirt road that catches my eye. I take it. The pavement becomes dust. I pass trees and steep hills. I keep driving until my ears pop.
I park at a scenic overlook. I step out to look at Purple Mountains Majesty. My dog jumps out after me, a gummed-up wallet is still in her mouth. I can see my father’s mountain in the distance.
I suppose what I’m getting at is this: I’m me. And for whatever it’s worth, it took me a long time to be okay with this. Not that you have any reason to care about what I’m going to say next, but I think YOU’RE pretty “okay,” too—whoever you are.
Each part of you. The good, the bad, the ugly parts. Okay. Okayer. Okayest. I know that sounds childish, and maybe it is, but the older I get the more childish I wish I were.
I’ve learned that it’s okay to drive the speed-limit. It’s okay to take dirt roads. It’s okay to miss people who die too young. It’s okay to hate pressure washing.
I’m happy with my life. I think you’d be proud of me, Daddy.
Drop those car keys right now, Thelma Lou.