The Final Commute
Author: Claire Henline
Cinco de Mayo sings out to me though each year as the culminating date of the journey on earth with my father. Eleven years ago on the 5th of May, we took him to his final rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Our last commute together. I commuted all my life with my dad. Even now I can describe for you so clear the back of his head . . . because I sat behind it for at least 16 years for miles and miles and miles . . . and miles. A precision military haircut that ran in perfect formation around his scalp a gig above his ears. A part so pristine straight school rulers were calibrated from it. Sometimes I liked to get a peek of the road through his amber tinted aviators. "For clearer vision," he told his 21 questions little navigator. A hostage to his music choices on those rides, I've come to have a special place in my heart for Barry Manilow, The Carpenters, and (bless him), Roger Whittaker. I mean really, my dad was an odd music niche of his Baby Boomer generation. And oh, yes, he did sing along.
You came along just like a song, and brightened my day . . .
In the years we had together, there was the rush hour rides to day care, the Saturday morning grocery run, the Sunday drives looking for dream homes, road trips down to Florida and out to Illinois, and endless endeavors on the autobahns and really narrow country roads of Europe. I met the world with a yellow tint through the back of my dad's head and heard it through his soundtrack.
For you are beautiful, and I have loved you dearly,
more dearly than the spoken word can tell . . .
We picked out my first car together; then my second, third, and fourth. In that full circle legacy way, I started working at the Pentagon with my dad. And so we commuted there together but as the driver, I got to pick the tunes finally. Coldplay, Dave Matthews Band, and Kenny Chesney began to stream our drives. We could agree on Chesney. "Hey, CG!What's that 'C' guy's name again? Kenny Chesney, dad. Yeah, Kenny Chesney. I like him." In my room at night, while my dad battled his last foe below me in the dining room that we'd turned into a hospice room, his voice would carry through the grates to me as he sang Chesney's hits for comfort. It took 20 years and cancer for us to agree on music.
He smiles.....There goes my life. There goes my future, my everything.
I love you, daddy good-night . . .
But our final commute together, the soundtrack was not ours to choose. It was one of tradition. There I was behind my dad, viewing the sloping vistas of Arlington with the scene of his caisson drawn casket in front of me. No yellow lens to see through now. Instead it was a pantone of red, white, and blue that colored the scene and draped him as Pershing's Own provided our cadence. No one sang except the birds. It was a slow, purposeful walk from Old Post Chapel to Section 60. Over a mile of in the moment and out of body thoughts merged. This was it, our final trip together. And then the lone bugler called.
God is nigh . . .
It's strange to think I am now eleven suns away from that May day. Still commuting to work, to stores, to some great road trips in between. I sing in the car now too . . . horribly, and I'm sorry if you're my hostage. As I watch the road unfold and look through my own amber colored lenses (for clearer vision) I still feel my father there with me, and I'm still peskily asking, "Dad, are we there yet?"
It's yesterday once more . . .