A few months ago, I was making one of my periodic attempts to get a handle on the mess I had jammed into our basement when Mother went into assisted living. I stumbled across a black and white photograph of my father, young, wildly bearded, blue eyes blazing from a sun crisped face, standing in a vast white landscape. He looked like a Wild West prospector and that might have been close. Daddy was a physicist–a rocket scientist, in truth–and the notation on the back of photo said “White Sands, Summer 1952.”
The picture was taken just weeks before I was born in October and I finally put together some pieces of family lore that previously had not made sense. Why my grandmother had come to stay with my mother in Chapel Hill, NC, during Mother’s pregnancy, but not after. Why my mother once told me a tale about lying prone on an Atlantic beach with a hole scooped out in the sand to cradle me in her belly. She was there with her brother and his wife but never mentioned my father. Why my mother’s boss taught her to drive that summer, even though Mother could barely fit herself under the wheel and stretch her legs to reach the pedals.
Aha. Daddy was off in New Mexico, getting suntanned for the only time in his life, and doing science with the great minds of the Atomic Age. He looked happy. He looked so very happy. He looked just as happy as he looks in the photo where he holds the baby bald me up the camera, a proud new father; or the one where he stands with a grin and offers me his arm so I can show off my five-year-old’s Easter bonnet; or the one where we are dancing together at the Symphony Ball, me in my debutante’s gown and him whispering in my ear, “Count, damnit” because he has (barely) learned to waltz just for this event. I am giggling too hard to say the “One, Two, Three” he so desperately needed.
When I saw on the map that Herman and I could go 90 miles out of our way and visit White Sands on this trip, I really, really wanted to do it. Daddy died more than 25 years ago and I longed to stand somewhere that had made him so content. I miss my father just about every day, even after all this time. And sometimes I feel that he knows it and still misses me too. Otherwise, why would I suddenly think to myself, “Oh, Daddy would have loved this.”
I sort of told Herman this. I told him my father had been at White Sands and I wanted to see it. Mostly I told him that I wanted to take some pictures like the ones I had seen in brochures. I didn’t tell Herman the whole truth, but I’m telling him now. Thank you so much for taking me, Honey. I know it just looked like a desert to you but to me it was a rare chance at communion. And sometimes, just sometimes, that is why we travel.
Where have you been that has special meaning for you? Where do you want to go? Why do you travel? I would love to hear from you. Please click on Leave a Comment below.