Cruising Route 66 With Dad
It was such a hot summer Sunday that the black pitch used to
patch the roads reached its boiling point by mid-morning, a
matter of some concern to local highway and volunteer fire
As we crossed over the mighty Mississippi from Missouri to
Illinois, my father, a genuine sun worshipper, gleefully lowered
the convertible top of his flashy Ford Thunderbird.
Fashionably dubbed the “T-Bird” by afficionados, my dad, older
brother Ron and I cruised along U.S. Rte. 66 from St. Louis to
Chicago. It happened one fabulously fun summer Sunday, a
lifetime ago. Life was … good.
We had just passed through Litchfield, Illinois, one of those
“slice of Americana” towns though nothing more than a mere
dot on the map you’d surely miss had you blinked or nodded
off for a second. In the old days before the interstate was
rerouted outside the town, “motorists’, as they used to be
called, drove through the actual town itself, stopping at every
red light, “stop” sign, “filling” station and “Dog ‘n Suds”.
My brother Ron and I, as thrilled as we could possibly be to
be spending a week with Dad in Chicago, rode in the back seat
where any of our mischief might stand a better chance of going
undetected at least for a while which, as matter of fact, it did.
“Boys, will you hand me up my cap, please?”
“What Dad? It’s ‘kinda’ windy back here. What did you say?”
we shouted deliberately inflating the volume of our voices in
the hope that Dad might forget about his request.
“My hat, my cap, you know?” We looked at each other.
“We’d done it now!”
What had happened was this …
My father loves the sunshine, the brighter, the hotter, the
better. But, as with everything, there is a limit, and my father
reached it that day. He had driven bare-headed from St. Louis
and, by the time we reached Litchfield, it had become too hot
even for him. Sharing the cap with my brother? Well, that was
out of the question. And so we tussled. “Boys will be boys,” I
saw my dad say, smiling contentedly, when both he and I
looked into his rear-view mirror at the same time.
Have you ever noticed how quickly summer weather can
change? As we approached Lincoln, Illinois, about forty miles
beyond Litchfield, those big, fluffy, puffy gray rainclouds began
looming overhead. My dad put up the convertible top.
My brother and I had settled down so much so that it caught
our father’s attention.
“Hey boys, everything all right back there?”
“The jig was up!” we thought. “Oh yea. Sure Dad. Fine, really …”
we shot back, our overly agreeable intonation setting off his
parental radar that something was amiss. “Fellas, I asked for my
cap fifteen minutes ago.” At that precise moment, a giant
thunderclap boomed overhead followed by buckets and buckets
of rain. I could barely make out the highway sign: “Welcome to
My dad switched his wipers on high.
“What are we ‘gonna’ tell Dad?” I asked my older brother,
hoping he’d come up with a way out of this.
“I dunno. Why did you reach for it?”
“Me? Why did you dangle it in front of my face? You think
we can go back and find it?”
“Are you whacky? That was probably fifty miles back. By now
it’s long gone. Probably run over by a big truck.”
“You really think so?”
The rain stopped, having moved on as quickly as it had moved
in. The temperature must have dropped fifteen degrees. Dad
put the top down again and seemed happy, you know
carefree. Pulling off his shirt at a rest area, he drove the rest of
the way into Chicago bare-chested. He loved to sunbathe. I
think I mentioned that.
As for the cap, the wind snatched it from my brother’s
hand when I grabbed for it. My father never mentioned it again.
Did he realize what had happened? Probably did, but this week
in Chicago would be his time with us and ours with him.
Jeopardize that over a cap? My dad wouldn’t have done that.
Besides, the cap … well, it wasn’t exactly a Biltmore black
Canadian suede fedora, just a cloth cap, no big deal, right? And
you know what? Even had it been a Borsalino, my father was
wise enough to know that it’s not the hat but the head that
wears it which makes the difference.