How old was I when my feet could finally reach the pedals?
Better, how old was I when my feet could reach, and I could see over the steering wheel at the same time? I couldn’t tell you, but whatever age that was, I hadn’t reached it yet, because I was given instructions to just worry about the steering wheel.
Dad had done some kind of magic with that gear shifter thingy that made the old truck idle along at two or three miles an hour on its own, no help needed from my little feet. It was up to me to just keep it straight as we took the slow way home through the woods.
But, without a doubt it was the most exciting drive of my young little life, because I was driving dad’s truck. And back then dad’s truck was THE truck to me. The coolest. In fact, I would be told much later in life by my mother that if not for that particular silver, square-body Chevy I might not have ever shown up (I’ve never allowed my mind to try and figure out what she meant by that).
And that was the truck that I then proceeded to drive off the side of a culvert into a massive ditch. A ditch deep enough that we’d need a tractor and a bulldozer to get dad’s truck, THE truck, back out on all four wheels again.
I was devastated, and to this day I still walk on eggshells around my dad’s stuff, afraid that I might break something and let him down. Not my finest memory, but definitely one of the first involving cars and the impact they’d go on to have in my life.
But why this memory?
Why this one, while countless others have faded into the forgotten? Why has this memory stood out in my mind for so long, longer than I’ve been able to both reach the pedals and see over the steering wheel at the same time?
The last question in particular—WHY do certain memories stand out?—is the real question for me.
Looking back on old memories can be like rummaging through shoe boxes full of dusty pictures (dating myself a little… maybe looking through old folders on the computer… you know, sadly that’s kinda dated now too. How about scrolling through past social media posts. I belong somewhere in the midst of all three of these generations).
Anyways, however you choose to walk down memory road, unless you’ve got something more than a mere snapshot anchoring those moments in time for you, you’ll realize there’s little attachment to or interest in them. You simply end up with a dusty old box in the attic. Sure they’re there, but who cares?
Pictures, and, by extension of the metaphor, memories, are at their best when they remind us not only of random people and places, but the stories that they serve to supply the settings for. It’s the stories that matter the most at the end of the day.
A boy’s life
As a boy you’re in the moment, born with the attention span of a goldfish, unable to see very far past the end of your own nose. Every day feels like it’s unto itself, and it takes a while to realize that these things are supposed to string together into something bigger.
As a kid you would hate to hear the call to come in once the streetlights came on because it’s almost like you didn’t believe tomorrow could be as good as today. Carpe diem is every boy’s mantra because bedtime meant the end of everything.
A boy dies a thousand deaths, and it takes a thousand morning resurrections to convince him that time is measured with bigger units than tv half hours. You’ve got to be taught that life lasts longer than what you can pack into one school day’s afternoon.
Saturday morning cartoons stamped in your brain that stories took all of fifteen minutes to start, climax, and resolve. As you get older and the adventures get bigger, you begin to see that some of the stories you’re a part of take much longer, maybe a whole weekend or even a whole childhood.
Growing up, this reincarnation cycle was the way countless days were spent. And that’s not meant to be a knock on the normal, that endless cycle of school days, followed by afternoon escapes, and capped off with lost battles to bedtime. But it is a reality that the vast majority of those normal days’ specifics have been lost in a fog, put away in some mental shoebox deep in the dusty part of my brain.
I remember them only as one remembers any kind of monotony…in the general. I remember the routine, not the particulars of any specific day under that repeated cycle. But when it came to particulars, specific moments, snapshots of my boyish life, they come from the exceptional days. Not exceptional in any kind of grandeur or extravagance, but in the way they broke you out of the norm and put you into the center of some kind of tale.
The memories from all those endless days are stored up somewhere in my head, but the ones that stand out the most are the ones that have had the fortune of being turned into stories around the campfire or dinner table.
As a kid I loved sitting around with family, just listening to them talk about their old times. It was so much fun watching them retell the same old jokes and stories. The best memories of the best times have been the ones that have turned into tales of their own, good enough to retell around future family fixtures. And retelling the story of how I wrecked grandpa’s prized truck is a favorite around the dinner table with my four young sons… none of whom can touch the pedals and see over the steering wheel at the same time yet.
Many of my boyhood memories have remained tucked away somewhere in my subconsciousness, their impact latent until recently. I’m now in the first half of my thirties, already a decade into a grand marriage with four kids as the bonus.
Reliving many of these moments with my own boys has awakened not merely a renewed experience of old times, but a deeper realization of their gravity. As a boy I could only see them from my boy’ish experience, but now as a father I can see those same moments another way, likely the way my own father saw them.
You realize that you’re not just doing something to occupy your kids or have fun, but passing on family traditions and legacies that they might not fully appreciate until they’re standing where I am now. A lot of life is handed down to us this way, and I hope to figure out a good way to intentionally pass it on to my boys. Intentionally, as opposed to accidentally.
My wife and I taught a class on adventuring with kids at last year’s Overland Expo East. Most people that attended that class were there for the “How To?”, but my main aim in teaching it was to address the “Why To?”.
The basic point I wanted every parent and prospective parent to take away from whatever else I said was that the why is the most important question you’ve got to get down before going adventuring with the kids. Once you’ve got the why down, all the how’s, what’s, where’s, and who cares else will take care of themselves.
Travelling with kids is hard work, but if the why is there, then all the crazy, the stress, the other BS is just something to press through. It is worth it.
The why for us?
Having adventures special enough to make good memories, that in turn make good stories to tell and retell for years to come. Values, life lessons, history, perspective, practical wisdom, etc., all come down best by use or in the midst of stories, and we want our kids to get a healthy dose of that before running off with their own families to repeat the cycle.
The road trips, adventures, camping excursions, etc., are meant to be like a mental bulletin board or photo album or Facebook trip report that turns all of the random shoebox snapshots into memorable stories for the kids’ current formation and their future recollection, when they’re retelling them around a campfire or dinner table to their own kids.