(An excerpt from Bruce B. Smith’s newly published book, For What It’s Worth…Love, Dad: Things I’d always meant to tell you, if only we’d had the time. Posted by permission of the author.)
The house sold a week before Christmas, and our motley crew had piled into a car stuffed with pillows, blankets, a potty chair, and a nasty-tempered hamster. We were driving from California to Connecticut across the southernmost route along I-10 to I-95, a trip which would take us through several states over 10 very cramped days. Richard was not quite 3-years-old, and while initially excited about the trip, he began to lose enthusiasm when he realized this was not our typical afternoon drive. And as each mile passed, he grew even more miserable.
By day three of our journey a few things were becoming painfully obvious.
First rule of travel:
Rodents are not acceptable traveling companions.
That damned hamster was not only bad-tempered; he was a carnivorous little beast with a voracious appetite.
And his food of choice was Jennifer’s fingers.
What had been Jen’s adored pet was now for her a thing of terror, a blood-lusting little were-hamster. I spotted the resemblance to Lon Chaney immediately.
Second rule of travel:
Potty chairs are not designed for mobile use.
As I repeatedly pointed out at the time, they’re not called port-a-potties for a reason. Just try balancing the business end of a toddler on one of those pedestals at 55 miles per hour.
It was Christmas Eve in Terrell, Texas, when we discovered the third rule of travel.
Third rule of travel:
Never end up in Terrell, Texas, on Christmas Eve.
I’m sure the Terrellians love it there. After all, they choose to live there. But for a carload of road-weary out-of-towners…it’s best to keep driving.
We rolled into Terrell about dinner time to discover that the only eating establishment still open on this holiest of holy nights was the local convenience store. For our holiday fare, this shabby little predecessor to a 7-11 store offered up a dubious selection of cheap bologna and plasticized tiles of something called American cheese food. Any reasonable resemblance to actual food had been lost somewhere. These we laced with some soon-to-be outdated mustard on plain white bread and washed the whole thing down with canned sodas.
By then Richard had finally had enough. Tired, cramped and clinging precariously to that roller-coastering potty chair, he began to wail. And in a tear-stained voice, cried, “I…wanna…go…hooooooooome!”
How could we explain to him that (for now at least), home was a 1981 Buick rolling along on Interstate 10? The home we had lived in since before he was born was now someone else’s. Our new home was still several days and thousands of miles away, and still occupied by the soon-to-be previous owners. We would be staying with his mother’s aunt and her obnoxious little dog for the next several weeks until the closing of the sale. Though the dog never actually bit anyone, the whole were-hamster experience had made me overly cautious.
Our answer (dripping with parental guilt and false bravado) was a very pitiful and unsatisfactory “We’re going to our new home!” Because at 3-years-old, Rich, you wouldn’t have understood the answer I’m giving you now…
My son, it doesn’t matter if you live in a castle, a condo or a cardboard box.
Wherever you have family is home.
Your true home is made of the bricks of memories, and its foundation is cemented with the trust that you have in one another. Your true home is roofed by love that protects you when despair rains down. Home keeps you safe when the troubles of the world weigh heavy upon your shoulders.
And while buildings may get old and weaken, and possessions fade and lose their appeal, if you treasure the love of your family, your home will just keep getting stronger. At the end of your journey, it’s the smiles of your family that say “Welcome Home.”
That’s what I’d tell you, if you were to ask me now…
But then I look at the young man you’ve become, and I think, “He already knows.”
— Bruce B. Smith
Bruce B. Smith is a father of three children and lives in Connecticut with his wife of 35 years. He travels extensively, providing disaster recovery services to states and municipalities that have been ravaged by hurricanes and other natural disasters. Bruce is an accomplished photographer and is currently working on his next book.