It was the kind of Saturday Iowa kids look forward to from January on. A sunny, windy, “Mom said wear a jacket but I’m pretending I didn’t hear that” Saturday. After months of being parka-wrapped like a polar mummy, 60 degrees is the glorious after-life. A thawing, muddy nirvana whose only recollections of the former winter world are dying patches of snow along the north side of the house. Springtime. Finally. The ice is gone, the trees are waking up, the robins are coming back. I sensed momentum. Of course, that’s not the word you use when you’re 12. But it’s momentum just the same. Spring has sprung. We’re headed in the right direction.
I was playing behind my grandparents’ farm house, throwing a red rubber baseball high into a square of blue sky, framed on three sides by the tops of evergreen and elm trees that marked the borders of the backyard. It felt good to wind up and pitch. On the way up, it was a desperate attempt at a base hit by anyone from the Detroit Tigers. On the way down it was always a routine diving catch by the Twins’ Harmon Killebrew or Tony Oliva.
On this particular early afternoon in my backyard Metropolitan Stadium, the Tigers’ Al Kaline was trying to avoid going 0-4. His high fly ball along the right field line reached its apex when I heard the familiar squeak of the rusty spring on the front gate. Someone was either coming or going. I wonder who? Remembering we were in the middle of an inning, I looked up just in time for Harmon to make a miraculous over-the-shoulder grab. My game wasn’t over, yet who was at the gate? Hmm, what to do…
Suddenly an unexpected thunderstorm rolls in over 3rd base! The umpire waves both teams off the field. Up in the booth overlooking home plate WCCO Radio’s Herb Carneal, the voice of the Twins, announces yet another Minnesota victory while I run around the corner past the old stump to see whomever it was that made that metal gate talk.
I got to the fence just in time to hear the distinctive whine of the starter on Grandpa Thompson’s brown Chrysler Newport. I waved and yelled and he rolled down the window. “Whatcha want, bud?”, he asked over the idle of the engine. “Grandpa, where are you going?”
“I’m going for a ride.”
A ride? “Can I come with you?”
“Wait for me, ok? I need to tell Grandma where I’ll be!”
Sprinting up the sidewalk I put two and two together. Grandpa was going for a ride. That must mean he’s going to Fairmont. And going to Fairmont with Grandpa means ice cream! And my sister isn’t here, so…I’ve got Grandpa and the ice cream all to myself!
Flinging open the front door I jumped the three steps into the kitchen. My Grandma was sitting by her porcelain topped table kneading out the dough for her delicious Parker House rolls. “I’m going for a ride with Grandpa. Can you call my Mom and tell her where I am?”
“Sure”, she said, pouring some flour into the sifter. I darted from room to room, looking for the jacket Mom told me not to take off and found it hanging over a wingback chair in the den. I grabbed it and ran out to the car.
It took a giant pull with both hands to close the big door on the Chrysler. Grandpa looked over at me from his side of the front seat.
“All set, Grandpa. Let’s go!” What a great day this is turning out to be! Warm weather, whipping the Detroit Tigers in the backyard and now a trip to Fairmont for a giant ice cream cone with my Grandpa. Life is good.
He dropped the shifter into reverse, reached his right arm over the seat and turned to begin backing up.
We’re on our way! Do I want chocolate or vanilla today?
He looked forward again and shifted into “drive”.
I think I’ll have chocolate.
He straightened the wheels.
Make that a chocolate sundae with whipped cream and a cherry.
Then he calmly drove into the garage, parked, and turned off the ignition. I didn’t understand. This is not Fairmont. This is the garage. I’ve been here before. Unless you’re a connoisseur of old hubcaps, there’s nothing to see.
“Grandpa! I thought you said you were going for a ride?!”
His eyes sparkled underneath the brim of his hat. “I didn’t say how long it would be.” He laughed himself silly all the way to the house where he would be sure to tell my Grandma and every extended family member he could find about the “big trip” he took with his grandson. I’ve yet to live it down. Over 25 years later, my family still asks me to tell them about my ride with Grandpa.
Grandpa’s joke inadvertently taught me an important lesson, one I wouldn’t recognize the value of until my backyard baseball days were long behind me. Simply put, not every trip we take in this life ends up the way we think it will. We begin with the grandest intentions and delicious dreams of chocolate sundae results. That is as it should be. When we pull the door shut on our life’s big Chrysler to pursue our adventure, it’s natural to think we’re really going somewhere.
“Son, heres a full ride Division I football scholarship. Next fall you’ll be dodging Wolverines and Buckeyes…”
“Congratulations and welcome to the company. Here’s your corner office…”
“Good news, Mr.. & Mrs.. Smith. You’re pregnant…”
Yet life being what it is, sometimes we find our trip was an all too short journey to an all too familiar place.
“Sorry, son. The ligament is gone. Walking? Yes. Football? Not a chance.”
“Due to our company’s downsizing, your position has been eliminated…”
“We can’t find the heartbeat. We’re very sorry…”
This isn’t Fairmont. This is the garage. I’ve been here before and there’s nothing to see.
If during the course of life one of your big trips ends up in the garage, remember the overriding promises of God.
“I love you” (Romans 5:8; John 3:16)
“Nothing can separate you from My love” (Romans 8:31-39)
“I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5)
“I am near to the broken-hearted” (Psalm 34:18)
“I will complete the good work I began in you” (Philippians 1:6)
When you ride with God, you’re always headed in the right direction.
Todd A. Thompson – May 30, 2002