The Thanksgiving Ride Home

by Sharon Tjaden-Glass

On this day fifteen years ago, I was waiting for my father to pick me up and take me home for Thanksgiving break.

I was halfway through my first semester at college. I was taking 18-credit hours because I didn’t know what I was doing when I registered for classes. I remember people saying that 15-credit hours was a normal course load, but I’m sure I thought something like, I’ll work hard now so I can relax a little later.

I didn’t know that it would be one of the last times that I would spend a few hours in the car with my dad. In the years that followed, I would drive myself to and from home. But for my freshmen year of college, my father was my ride.


Dad and me, 2009

When my dad arrived, I was reading some archaic French play that was the basis for the third essay of the term. That 300-level class had been killing my self-esteem because the reading assignments were so beyond my current reading ability. The task of reading French theater had never been something that I had done before–and here I was trying to read French theater as written by Moliere in 1664.

I knew what kind of ride this was going to be when I opened the door of my dad’s sedan and heard the melodious voice of Rush Limbaugh piping on and on about how Al Gore should just shut up and concede the election already.

“Sounds like a bunch of sour grapes to me!” my dad squealed with delight.

I shrugged, not really having an opinion about the election. I voted as my parents had voted (Republican, a.k.a. George Bush) because I thought this was what good Christians did.

“How was work, Dad?”

“Have I ever told you about the Iron Maiden?”

“You mean the Iron Curtain?”

“Ha! No, the Iron Maiden.” He took his hands from the wheel and wrung them together, a worried look on his face. “She’s bringing the hammer down on all of us.”

“Yeah, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He shook his head and launched into a long drawn-out tale about some domineering man-hating female boss that was cracking down on all “the big dogs.” I can’t be more specific than that because I didn’t typically listen to most of these long rants. I would just nod and let him talk and talk and talk, waiting for a chance to say something. When there was a pause long enough to interject, I’d say something like:

“So have I told you about how classes are going?”

“And old many others, Sharon. And old many others…” he crooned on, as if wrapping up his story in his head.

“Dad? Classes?”

“Oh yeah, classes? How are your classes going? Tell me how these fine Miami classes are going. Are they edu-ma-kating you?”

I chuckled. He could always make me laugh.

But I wanted to impress him. I wanted him to be proud of me. So I launched into my own lengthy soliloquy about all that I was learning in my 18-hour course load: tracking in the American education system, Moliere, polyandry in Nepal, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and how bacteria and viruses each attack the human body.

As I talked on and on, my dad would say, “Oh yeah?” “Hmm…” “Okay.” and “Really?”

At one point, I realized what was happening–we were both talking and talking and neither one of us was listening to each other. 

I was bragging about my own self-importance to him.

He was bragging about his own self-importance to me.

And where was it getting us?  Further and further away from each other.

I slowly let my thoughts taper off and a silence arose in the car. I thought about how inconvenient it would be to grab that damn Moliere play out of my backpack in the backseat. Maybe I could catch up on some reading in the car.

Maybe I could use this time effectively.

Dad fumbled with the dial on the radio to see if he could find a station that he liked. He passed the Rolling Stones, Blondie, Third Eye Blind, TLC, and Stevie Wonder until he found Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Looking Out My Back Door.”

He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and whistled along with the melody.

I smiled.

This was Dad. Listening to a short, simple song about nothing in particular. Just a song about enjoying life, thinking about nothing, living in the moment.

A simple song for a simple life.

And here I was trying to get out of it. Looking for a way to use my time effectively.

I was blind. So blind.

Too blind to understand that there is more to life than using time effectively.

There is more to life than using time.

There is love.

There are moments.

There are fleeting spaces when we have the chance to more deeply connect with our family and friends. But we can’t get to those spaces when we’re too busy bragging and bullshitting.

We only get to these spaces when we’re willing to just exist together without wondering if there’s something better we could be doing. Only when we’re willing to believe that,

No, there is nothing better that we could be doing.

Do I remember anything about that awful play by Moliere?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

But I remember this Thanksgiving ride. I remember that once we got past declaring our own self-importance, we were able to reminisce about memory after memory of growing up with seven people in a tiny house.

The horrible neighbors that poured ketchup on our picnic table and how Dad dumped a bucket of water over the kid that did it.

The time that Dad was floating in Pebble Lake, when a fish came over and bit his nipple, sending him to shore in a full blush.

That one vacation when Dad forgot to put the luggage in the car and Mom said she was sure that she told Dad to do so.

We laughed and laughed and laughed.

That year, Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t the highlight of the break.

It was the Thanksgiving ride home.