February 1995: I was living in Panama City, Florida and working in the defense contracting industry, which I despised. But after many months of seeking I finally got a job offer that was NOT in the defense biz, in another city. The city was Ithaca, New York. When I told my father, a lifelong devotee of warm places and a hater of cold weather, that I planned to move up north to Ithaca he was at first incredulous, assuming that this was yet another of my crazy impulsive ideas and that I would eventually come to my senses and drop the idea of moving north. But I didn’t drop the idea, and I started making moving plans. When my father eventually saw that I was really serious about it he reluctantly agreed to help me move.

On a cold (well, cold for northern Florida anyway) and sunny day we headed out onto the highway heading north, driving a rented moving van full of my meager belongings and towing my car. My father and I took turns driving. We drove ten hours the first day. We talked little during the long drive, but then we never did have a lot to talk about. He just stared ahead of him at the road with an air of quiet resignation. I supposed that he must have been wondering how he had managed to raise such a crazy son, a son so demonstrably devoid of “common sense.” Why can’t you be like me? He never said it in such words but it was clear from all of my experience with him throughout my life that this was the gist of his relationship with me, his eldest son.  Why can’t you be like me, exactly like me? 

We stopped at a motel in Charlotte, North Carolina the first night.  We bought a six pack of beer and split it between the two of us in the motel room.  The next morning we were up and out on the road early, driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The world rushing past the truck windows started to seem fluid and intangible to me.  Just colors and shapes in motion.  Images of sad small towns, poor and lost-looking places for the most part.  This is America, I thought, a country of poor and lost places.  Maybe it doesn’t matter much where one chooses to live.

I started to become aware of the cold.  I felt that it was a new and different world that I was entering, a world of cold and snow, a world where people were in thrall to the changing of the seasons.  Crossing into Pennsylvania we started to see patches of snow on the ground.  We drove on I-81 through an ice fog, passing several cars that had slid off the road into the ditches.  I got off the highway with a great sense of relief (my nerves being somewhat shaky after my first experience of driving on icy roads) in a small town and found a motel, and we drank another six pack in the room.  We still didn’t have much to talk about.

The next day we crossed into New York state and went on up to Ithaca.  We returned the van and drove in my car to a hotel.  The next morning I drove my father to the bus station so he could take the bus back to his home in Seagrove Beach, Florida.  It started snowing as we were on our way to the bus station.  He muttered and griped abut the snow as we walked into the station.  I saw him off on the bus.

Several months later, in the summer, he drove back to Ithaca and I got a chance to take him around and show him how beautiful the countryside is in the summer.  I recall taking him on hiking trails and showing him spectacular waterfalls, gorges, forests, lakes, rivers, and valleys.  I think he was impressed, in spite of himself.  I think he realized that this really was a good place to live after all.  He stayed a few days and drove back to Florida.  That was the last time I ever saw him.  The times I tried to call him he would usually be drunk and so I became reluctant to call him.  A year later, in the middle of summer, he died of a heart attack.  He would be eternally in summer from then on.