By Tom Travis
It was one of the first warm summer weekends. The bugs were all abuzz as I zoomed down I-69 on my 500-mile trip to southern Indiana for my youngest son’s high school graduation.
Along the way, my car window got splattered with bugs. I’m usually kind of nuts about having a clean windshield. During the summer I grab the squeegee every time I stop for gas and give my front window a once over. I don’t know why I’m so enthusiastic about keeping my windshield clean and not so much about the dust that accumulates in my house. But this time I left the bug-splattered windshield alone.
By the time I got to the little farm town my son lives in, about an hour south of Terre Haute, my car’s windshield was in need of a good scrubbing. But still I didn’t touch it. I was focused on seeing my son and spending time with him and celebrating him, in the town filled with an inordinate number of anti-abortion signs, Trump/Pence signs and lots of wide, heavy-duty dually trucks.
What was happening? Not until I got home, did I begin to understand. My bug-splattered car window served as a metaphor for my somewhat knotty and convoluted life over the last 14 years.
As I traveled the country roads to get to the town I struggled to maneuver and share the roads with large farm equipment. The town of 5,000 seems to be filled with nice folx, hard working, rugged, all-American types (whatever that means).
My son introduced me to his girlfriend of two years as we sat at his favorite Mexican restaurant. He’s a quiet kid, like his dad and like his siblings. The three of us chatted and caught up on things. I learned that one of his two jobs was working at the local movie theater, across the parking lot from the strip mall the Mexican restaurant was located.
We decided to go see a movie after dinner. We got in for free because he works there. After we got our tub of popcorn, that was the size of my trunk, candy and a drink which he only had to pay $3 for we headed to theater number two of a three theater cinema. I felt bad for not having to pay for anything so I put $10 in the tip jar at the concession counter. I still feel bad. When I go back I’ll tip again.
After Friday night fun came Saturday, graduation. As expected the next day at the graduation ceremony the Pledge and National Anthem were recited and sung with robust proudness, I listened. For a little town it seemed the high school graduation was a big deal. Hundreds were in attendance, the gym was packed with happy family members and graduates.
Students and faculty spoke, thanked and remembered. One poignant moment was the district’s superintendent recalling that this class was one that spent most of their high school career at home on their laptops during the pandemic shutdown.
The superintendent lamented that the 100 or so students sitting before her spent most of their high school alone, without the memory of walking the hallways of the school with their friends, chatting and gossiping at their friend’s locker, dashing down hallways when they were five minutes late for class. These students were locked down at home discovering a new way to exist, as we all have done.
After the ceremony all the families gathered on the lawn outside exchanging hugs, high-fives and snapping photos. My son was decked out in a royal blue robe, a red stole, with an academic honor medallion and gold honors cord. One cord he did not have on, that many of his classmates did adorn, was a blue and green one which was for the Future Farmers of America (FFA). While farming is not in his future his future is very bright.
While high school graduations are boring I’ve never been bored at graduation ceremonies of my kids’ high school or college. I don’t take photos of anyone except my kid and keep my eyes on my own kid the whole time.
I watched him sit in his seat and talk and laugh with the guy he was sitting next to. I watched him stand up, get in line for his diploma, listen for his name to be read (all three of his names), watch him walk off the platform and return to his seat, snapping photos of him along the way.
It’s a stirring moment for a parent to watch your pro-creation move through these rites of passage. It can be a kind of a “life flashing before your eyes moment” for the child and for the parent.
As I watched my son along with his older sister and brother that day I had twinges of emotion catch in my throat. Thoughts of things we had done together, happy and hilarious times. I never had full blown weeping moments but the emotion was there, welling up inside.
Those moments of emotion cause me to reflect on what was and what could have been. I reflect on my own high school career that brought smiles and moments regret.
Sitting in that gym on the last Saturday of May with hundreds of other parents I reflected on his life on earth since 2005 and I reflected on my own relationship with him as his dad. Like any child/parent relationship it sure hasn’t been perfect.
That messy, bug splattered window came to mind and I realized then it was a metaphor for me in this weekend of reflection. Life is messy including parent/child relationships and sometimes it can seem bug splattered – you can still drive but not without distractions of imperfection.
My son and I met in the parking lot to say good-bye. I handed him a card with a gift inside. He seemed to smile all weekend. He seemed happy, pleased and content with life. He looked at me and was still smiling, even before I told him there was cash in the card. I hope he is happy, not with the cash, but with his life.
I imagine there’s a lot he would like to say to me. More often than not it’s hard to get things out, especially personal things. His girlfriend came up and gave me a hug too. I told him, for probably the umpteenth time that weekend, how proud I was of him. I said goodbye and a request for him to keep in touch with me and promised that I would do the same, I hope we both keep up with that.
I sat in my car plugging my phone into the charger and getting the gps ready to direct me through the winding, hilly country roads back to I-69. I turned to see my son walking back towards the school with his friends. It was a heartwarming moment for me. I just sat there and watched him. Seeing him laughing and enjoying life with his buddies and their girlfriends.
It’s a sweet thing to see your kids learn the skills of how to make friends, enjoy each other’s company and have a happy social life. I don’t know if he’ll have great success in life, if he’ll make lots of money or have a lot of struggles in surviving but knowing he has friend making skills is reassuring. Rich or poor we all need friends.
A full life is ahead for each of them. Troubles will come, troubles have already come for them and we’ve tried to navigate them. I’ll be less quick to clean off the bug splatter on the windshield of my life and take a moment to reflect and learn from my mistakes.
Banner photo: Somewhere in Indiana traveling south on I-69. (Photo by Tom Travis)
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at email@example.com.