Swan song

My oldest daughter Kristen is getting married in the Fall. Her fiance is a great guy, couldn’t ask for a nicer SIL…but am still dreading walking her down the aisle and giving her away. Chuck Swindoll once wryly observed it’s like handing a Stradivarius to a gorilla.

Wasn’t sure how I’m gonna get through my speech, either…or into what black hole the years slipped. Kristen was stressing from all the wedding to-dos. We talked it over and decided one final road trip, one last grand adventure was in order. Not unlike the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” with the chaotic symphony build-up and the final crashing piano note.

We pored over maps, talked to travel agents and finally decided on a tour of New England.

Over the next 10 days, we covered 2,500 miles. We crossed the Delaware Bay on the ferry with swirling sea air, gulls wheeling and calling. I looked at her, gazing over the rail, and I could still see traces of her as a three year old: Her laugh, the perplexed furrowed brow, the skeptical look when she’s being teased.

We checked out Block Island in the Long Island Sound. Went whale watching off Cape Cod. Saw spooky cemeteries from the 1700s. Drove up Mount Washington in New Hampshire: No guard rails, no shoulders, narrow roads, almost vertical drop offs, oncoming traffic. At one point, the pavement turned to sand and I could feel the tires losing traction. But the view from the 6,288-ft “Roof of New England” was spectacular.

Summit of Mount Washington
The summit of Mount Washington, NH
Whale watching off Cape Cod
Humpback whale breaching north of Provincetown, MA
Cemetery in New England
Not hard to see why New England produced stories like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Being with another person 24×7 for ten days requires a certain level of familiarity, trust. Grabbing breakfast for 90 minutes is one thing. You know if you get into an argument, or the conversation lags, or whatever, that you can discretely nod for the check and make your escape. I wasn’t sure our relationship still had the depth it did in the old days. But I needn’t have worried.

As the miles rolled along, we talked about everything, from the mundane to the mystical. With no TV, a minimum of phone time and just the sights as traveling companions, I found myself really listening to her….maybe for the first time in a long time. My generation and hers differ in our opinions on many things, but to my surprise I found myself understanding her position on things…and softening. And I’d like to think it was reciprocal. Two friends exchanging ideas.

We took turns picking music and was surprised by all the classic rock and pop from the 60s and 70s she chose. I guess I heavily influenced her musical tastes with my music filling the house on Saturday mornings. But again, it was a two-way street; she turned me on to some of her generation’s artists whom I’d only vaguely heard. First Aid Kit and Mumford & Sons were two that I really liked.

On our second-to-last day, we spent the afternoon climbing a mountain I had last ascended when the Vietnam war was raging. As a nine-year-old, the three-mile hike involved sprinting ahead and then waiting impatiently for Pop to catch up. This time, I was decidedly more in Pop mode and it was Kristen who kept stopping to give me breaks. But it was worth it. The vista of the Southern Catskills from the fire tower at the summit was magnificent.

The hike down was much easier. Kristen walked ahead and I watched her, kicking up early evening dust on the trail, stopping to take a picture now and then. She has a good eye for it. As we approach the day I walk her down the aisle, I think I’ll be in much better shape. We’ve created memories that will last a lifetime. We’ve tested our relationship and it’s strong; she is and always will be my daughter and friend.

And someday, if she’s blessed with kids, I’ll plunk them in my lap and read to them as Pop did with her. I won’t butt in. Like him, I’ll be there as a sounding board and caring listener.

But I will buy them cool toys with hundreds of pieces for Christmas. I’ll spoil them rotten and laugh as she groans in pretend frustration.

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