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September 25, 2016

surviving my own civil war


About 7 years ago, I got roped into driving our big white van to Gettysburg with my Dad and ten children.  Dad's initial plan to trek out east with several grand-kids packed in his Buick Rendezvous. didn't fly with his adult children.  He envisioned a quick trip featuring his solo chauffeur abilities.  With the travel portion of his trip in the crapper, he turned to me and requested that I accompany him on the journey.  My former airport-shuttle van would serve as the perfect vehicle providing twelve seats and increasing the number of kids able to attend.  Hooray.  

My three oldest boys were included in this informative, historic, mind-blowing road trip that Dad longed to accomplish.  Because the use of my car was paramount in rounding up so many of Dad's grand-kids, he was overjoyed that in a moment of weakness I agreed.  One of my terms in agreeing to attend included the absence of AM radio being played regardless of who was driving. 

Each child was assigned the task of researching a particular battle in addition to a colonel or a sergeant in the army.  Power point presentations and written reports were required to be emailed to Dad on a set date before a kid's admittance on the trip was secured.  Laddie cringed when I shared his cousin Kate's report with him.  Since he was attempting to skate by with the least amount of effort poured into his report, Kate's detailed project caused him to bristle.  'Stupid over achiever,' he muttered under his breath.
General George Meade

The long weekend was far from relaxing for me.  I do not share Dad's thirst for historic re-creation, but I supported his endeavors whole heartily.  Part of my services included acting as the warden of the girls' hotel room.  The male lodgers bunked with Dad in the neighboring room minus Tetanka.  As the youngest traveler, Tetanka was slated to be the one token boy in the girls' room.  As an 8 year old, Tetanka hadn't met Dad's age requirement but since his mother was one of the chaperones, the rules were bent to a certain degree.  The hotel room arrangement, much to his chagrin, was non-negotiable.


Hand drawn map by Dad.
We survived a violent hail storm, unpleasant teenage odors, hefty appetites, and a frightening episode when the large van shook wildly during a steep section of highway in the mountains of Pennsylvania.  After a panic stricken call to Coach, I learned that the van needed to be driven in a lower gear to handle the incline.  With my video camera rolling, I recorded each child's presentation.  The other grandchildren applauded their fellow cousins after each kid took a turn educating the group.  Dad supplied his students with hand-drawn maps and black and white copies of memorable sergeants' pictures.  He filled in the gaps between presenters with lengthy lectures, and directed us on a walking tour of the battle fields and monuments.  We spread blankets on the ground at various stops for our juvenile crowd to gather on while Dad unfolded the sole lawn chair he brought for his comfort.  A few times we witnessed other tourists gravitate towards our group trying to eavesdrop on one of our informative sessions.  This irritated Tetanka to no end, who shot them a look to discourage them from 'stealing' our private speeches.

Dad's forced march with his ten grandchildren in tow.

Both nights we stayed at the hotel, Dad and I worked to feed the crew, enforce mandatory bathing, and adhere to a reasonable bedtime.  Before we checked out, bags were packed and dragged down to the waiting van, and a casual breakfast was offered thanks to our mini fridge and a couple of bags of mini donuts.  I drove the majority of the way home knowing that my lead foot would land us home sooner than Dad's.  Bathroom breaks were kept to a minimum, reading was encouraged, and sleep was sporadic on the 10 hour return trip.

As we approached Chicago, Dad told me to call my sister and let her know that we would be arriving sooner than expected.  From his place at the wheel, he grumbled that he didn't want to be responsible for all these kid for a moment longer than necessary.  No one answered Ann's phone.  I told her son to call from his phone and she picked up his call instantly.  He handed me the phone.  'I just tried to call you, why didn't you pick up?' I asked.  She really didn't have an answer.

'What's up?' she inquired.

'We are making really good time and Dad wants you and Marie over at my house to claim your kids before we arrive.  We should be home in about 25 or 30 minutes,' I shared.

There was a hesitation before she told me to talk to Mom.  Mom took the phone and began to chant, 'Girls' weekend, girls' weekend, girls' weekend!'  At first I was confused.  Then I realized that I had been duped into spending ten hours each way in a van full of kids, sitting in the hot sun being subjected to never-ending details about the Battle of Gettysburg, and eating remnants of stale chips from the bottom of salt coated bags all while suffering from sleep deprivation.  Now it was clear that my sisters and Mom had enjoyed a very different weekend away.  'We decided to stay downtown and do some shopping.  We are about to grab a bite, and then we will head home,' she explained in an airy, guilt-free manner.

I felt uncharacteristically at a loss for words.  I handed my nephew his phone back and fought the urge to cry for the remaining leg of the trip.  After explaining to Dad that we would have to supervise a bit longer because my sisters were lunching, I asked him how long he knew about their hidden agenda.  How well this had worked out for them!  Send our youngest, clueless sister out of town with most of our children so we can slip into the city and enjoy a relaxing, bonding weekend together.  Dad fumbled around a bit when he answered.  'I don't know.  They don't tell me things.'

Back at the house, I was greeted by hugs from my youngest three.  I kissed a serious looking scratch on Curly's cheek and basked in their multitude of kisses.  The bitches, dressed in their Sunday best carrying little clutch purses and wearing pumps, showed up eventually.  I marched into my house and allowed them to claim their kids and hear about our exciting adventure while I was out of earshot.  I paced in my kitchen unsure of how to handle the hurt.  My gut felt like someone had thrown me an unexpected sucker punch.

I recalled a conversation from the weekend before we left for Gettysburg.  While attending a graduation party at Ann's house, I heard my aunt ask Mom and my sisters what kind of plans they were concocting while their kids were away.  Mom had shaken her head assuring her that no such plans existed.  Remembering the looks between the three of them, I now understood that their 'girls' weekend' had been in the works for some time.

My sisters and Mom took turns over the next few days calling me.  No one apologized.  Each sister described how thrilled her kids were with the trip.  All of my passengers found me very entertaining.  They thanked me for my involvement.  Was that supposed to make what they had pulled acceptable and forgivable?  I had very little to say in response and hung up as soon as I could.  Mom of course explained that it just worked out so well since Ann was without her children.  'This weekend was exactly what Ann needed after all.  She's had such a difficult time since the divorce.'  I don't know what she took me for, but since the divorce Ann was without her children every other weekend.  Since Marie was still married, a weekend could have been orchestrated when her husband was available to watch her brood.  A similar 'girls only' weekend, with full participation hasn't been organized before or since.

After viewing the battlefields of Gettysburg, I felt like I had suffered a sneak attack of my own.  I just wasn't sure what I had done to deserve a not-so-civil assault of this kind. 

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