A father drove his two children, 12-year-old Bud and eight-year-old Betty-Lou, to school every morning. In good weather and bad, mostly in heavy traffic, they motored slowly along the well-established route and talked through many of the major issues of life.
“What’s that guy doing, Dad?” asked Bud, sitting in the front seat with his father.
“I don’t know. He’s just stopped. And he’s blocking traffic.”
“I think he’s looking for something,” said Betty-Lou from the back seat.
“I know exactly what he’s looking for,” said the father.
“What?” said the two children simultaneously.
The kids laughed.
“There, he’s found it. Good, he’s moving on. The driving gets worse every morning. Never a day goes by I don’t see at least two or three traffic violations.”
They passed the next several minutes in silence, each lost in his or her own thoughts.
Finally the father said, “You’re being very quiet today, Bud. What’s the matter?”
“School getting you down? Too much homework?”
“Yes, there’s that, plus Dingo behaved like a maniac on her walk this morning.”
“She found a pizza slice lying on the road and ate it.”
“And you’re jealous?”
“She’s a golden retriever. You know she’ll eat anything. You have to keep an eye on her constantly.”
Betty-Lou piped up, “Remember when mom had to pull a sock out of her butt?”
“You kids always go for the gross stuff. The sock incident was because you leave your clothes lying all over the house.”
They rolled on down the road a little further. “Anyway, let’s talk about something else. How did the show end last night?”
“Did you fall asleep again, Daddy?” asked Betty-Lou.
“I guess I must have. I don’t remember much after the first fifteen minutes.”
“How come you always fall asleep?” asked Bud.
“What you don’t understand is how tired I am when I get home after work. I’m exhausted. Lying on the couch in front of the TV puts me right under.”
“You’re becoming famous for your sleeping,” said Bud.
“Yes, I know. In fact, Mom says she has the perfect epitaph for me.”
“What’s an epitaph?” Betty-Lou wondered.
“It’s the words they carve on a tombstone when you die. It’s something to remember you by.”
“Cool,” said Bud.
“I agree. It’s a means for one’s personality to live on in perpetuity.”
“What does Mom think your ‘eppy-toothy’ should be?” The question came from the back.
“That’s epitaph. And she thinks my favorite saying should be etched into the stone.”
“Yes?” Both kids were getting annoyed with the way their father was dragging it out.
“Chiseled into the marble, the words What happened? Is the show over?”
“That’s funny,” said Betty-Lou. “Do you have an epitaph picked out for mom?”
“You bet. Too clever by half.”
“I know a good epitaph for both of you,” said Bud.
“Okay, lay it on me.”
“But I haven’t finished blogging yet. You guys keep writing new blogs and then you never stop revising your old blogs.”
“Heh heh. Now let me concentrate for a second. I hate this corner. You can get stuck here trying to make a right turn. The cars keep flying at you, but the drivers behind get impatient.”
The father’s hands gripped the wheel as his eyes flitted back and forth.
“Great! Some woman is honking at me. Well, if that’s going to be your attitude, I’m just going to sit here for a while.”
Betty-Lou gazed out the rear window. “She looks really mad. Now she’s pulling around us.”
“She just gave us the finger. Yeah, well same to you, you old bat,” said the father.
“Daddy, I think that was our neighbor, Mrs. Secret.”
“Oh-oh. Several months of awkwardness are coming up.”
Finally making the turn and settling back into the drive, the father asked, “What’s up with you at school today, B-Lo?”
“Officer Bob is coming to tell us about drug use,” said Betty-Lou.
“His own or somebody else’s?”
“Somebody else’s, I think.” She didn’t sound sure. “He’s going to tell us about going to jail.”
“How many times has he been sent up?” asked the father with amusement in his voice.
“No, silly. You’ll go to jail if you use drugs.”
“You know what my best reason for not using drugs has always been?”
“No, what Daddy?”
“Most illegal drugs are made by people who didn’t graduate from high school. I’m not trusting my synapses to anyone who doesn’t know basic chemistry. What else is on the agenda for today?”
“Miss Hammer insists we have a party during the last hour of class every Wednesday.”
“That sounds okay.”
“Not really. I’d rather do my homework or read a book. Some of the other kids get too wound up and somebody always ends up hurt and crying.”
“I remember those parties. The forced fun will continue until someone is mugged. That’s when you need Officer Bob.”
They pulled into the parking lot of Betty-Lou’s elementary school.
“Okay, it’s freezing outside and I’m going to leave the car running while I get you settled into day-care, B-Lo. We’ll probably be issued a ticket for greenhouse gas emissions. What time does Officer Bob show up?”
“Not ‘til just before lunch.”
“Good. That’s a lucky break. Come ‘on, let’s get a move on, we’re running late. Bud, don’t you touch anything.”
Bud waited patiently in the car and the father returned quicker than normal.
“You’re back awfully fast,” said Bud.
“That’s because the cubby hog wasn’t there. We usually have to sort through all his junk before B-Lo can hang up her stuff.”
“Wonder where he is?”
“His parents are probably taking him to a lawyer’s office today to sign a deposition against B-Lo and me for re-arranging his clothing and backpack every day.”
“Do you really think so, Dad?”
“I suppose it’s possible.”
“He should have come to school and talked Officer Bob into arresting the two of you.”
“Thanks son.” The father rewarded Bud with a wary expression.
“Dad, how come we don’t listen to the news in the morning?” asked Bud.
“Because I want to spend time talking with you guys. Plus I read an awful lot at work and the news on the radio is often much of the same.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s usually about citizens rioting somewhere in hopes they’ll win a better life. Too many people are being governed by despots.”
“What’s a despot?”
“Think of a high school principal who places all the students and most of the teachers on detention every single day.”
“Getting rid of a despot is good, right Dad?”
“Yes, except there is the worry that one despot or dictator will be replaced by another, especially one full of religious fervor. Then the people will only be switching their sources of misery.”
“Is that likely to happen?”
“Yes. Some nations have suffered so long it’s going to be a drawn-out process for them to change for the better.”
“Does that scare you?”
“Again yes, but I try to put things in perspective. Those countries aren’t likely to oblige us by immediately becoming pro-western democracies. It’ll take time.”
“Who knows? We have to hope change will be in the right direction over several years. If not, the world blows up and some scattered survivors will get to start all over again. You’ve seen the movies.”
They drove in silence again for the next several blocks.
“What day is this for you?” asked the father.
“It’s day four.”
“How can it be day four? Today’s Wednesday. Your schedule is a conundrum to me.”
“Friday was day three. Then the teachers all had a professional development day on Monday.”
“Okay, that would make Tuesday the fourth day and Wednesday would become the first day of the new week.”
“No, this is an exception. We’re having two day fours. Something about administrators coming to inspect the school and they want to see the computer sciences program.”
“Whoever decided you should rotate through four school days during a five-day work week ought to win the convoluted thinker of the century award.”
“It’s a confusing world.”
“Believe me, it gets worse as you grow older.”
“How do you deal with stress, Dad?”
“It helps if you have a job you like. When you become an adult, try picking an occupation you enjoy. Mom and I want you and B-Lo to do something you’re proud of, but it should also be interesting. A career is a long time to put in if you’re not having a good time.”
They were stopped at a traffic light. A pedestrian crossing in front of them started waving his fist in the father’s direction.
“What’s his problem? Yeah, yeah, I’m sticking out a little ways into the intersection. That’s ’cause I got caught on an orange light. Give me a break.”
“Is everybody crazy?” asked Bud.
“Just think of it as live theatre, son.”
“You mean like the improv we’re doing in my drama class?”
“Exactly. Good analogy. You have your hysterical people and your control freaks. There are also commanders and followers. Plus doers and ditherers, doormats and doorbell ringers. It’s a huge cast.”
“I’m starting to realize that.”
“It’s a cacophony of sound. Find your own voice. Develop your own leitmotif.”
“What’s a leitmotif?”
“You’ll have to listen to some opera. When you were born, you were given a ticket.”
“A ticket to what?”
“To the performances you see every day. Don’t lose the ticket.”
“What will happen if I do?”
“It’ll be a shame. The usher will refuse to show you to your seat and you won’t be able to hear the beautiful music.
“And if I refuse to participate in the madness?”
Dad had a crooked smile on his face. “Sixty years later you’ll wake up and say, ‘What happened? Is the show over?’”
They pulled into the driveway in front of the junior high school and braked to a stop. Bud exited the car, struggling with his backpack.
“What have you got in there, rocks from geology class?” This was a standard joke between them.
“Feels like it.”
“Don’t forget your trumpet.”
“Oh yeah.” Bud opened the hatchback and extracted the beat-up case.
Dad leaned across the front seat and shouted after Bud through the passenger side window, “You know what’s so great about our routine?”
Bud turned around and cupped a palm to his ear.
“We get to do it all over again tomorrow.”
Among the Carricks, there are some collections of words that have always helped to guide our actions, as related in Every Family Lives by Its Sayings.