Jul 04, 2013 1 Share

The Little Things

The author's brother and father.
Photo by Caroline McGraw

I stared out the window into the super moon-lit night, trying to keep my eyes open. My husband Jonathan was in the driver’s seat, and we were in the middle of the two-hour ride home from a “Carry On, Warrior” book signing in Nashville. Since my friends couldn’t attend, I’d planned to go alone—I love the book that much. But then Jonathan said, “Why don’t I come with you?” I knew he wouldn’t be “into” the book signing—too many women, too much shrieking—but I also knew that the trip would be more fun with him along. And he didn't want me to drive all that way alone. He didn't say that, but I could sense it even so. My husband is quietly but fiercely protective, and he expresses affection through acts of service. So when he suggested accompanying me, I heard it for what it was: an offering of love. 

So when I started feeling guilty about the trip, I reminded myself that Jonathan had offered to go. I also reminded myself that there are no Indian restaurants within an hour of our small town. So, I started referring to the trip not as “my chance to meet Glennon Melton,” but as “our chance to eat Indian food.” This proved an effective approach. 

As we passed the “Welcome to Alabama” sign, Jonathan asked me, “Do you remember the big shift from three-letter state abbreviations to two-letter ones?” 

“Nope,” I said, “That was before my time.” 

“You’re probably right,” he acknowledged. “I think I was in first grade …” 

“ … Which means that I was in diapers,” I finished. “But I could sing you all the state’s names in alphabetical order. And name all the state capitals, too.” 

Growing up, road trips with my family meant memorization games, which Willie and I both loved. Our parents would challenge us to recall each of the state capitals. “Minnesota,” Mom would say, and we’d strive to be the first to respond, “St. Paul.” So competitive was I that I didn’t even learn proper pronunciation; our family still jokes about the time I was given, “Iowa,” as a young girl and responded, “Dess Moanies” without missing a beat. 

All this flashed through my mind in seconds. And then I remembered something else. I said,

“Have I ever told you about the Animaniacs song, the one with all the countries in the world? Willie loved that song. And this was before Google, so we couldn’t just look up the lyrics, you know? So this is what my Dad did … ” I paused for dramatic effect. “He sat down with Willie and watched and rewound the video tape about a million times, and he wrote out all the countries of the world by hand. I mean … can you imagine?” If I closed my eyes, I could just see it: our six-foot-plus father, sitting with Willie in front of a children’s cartoon, jotting down one country at a time on white-lined paper. 

Our father did what so many parents do every day: he went to work to earn money for all the things we, his beloved kids, would inevitably take for granted. My father owns his own business and has flexible hours, but he’s always worked hard. And even so, he rose at 5:00 a.m. and made me Eggo waffles and helped me wrap my ponytail holder extra tight so that my hair wouldn’t get in the way when I did spins and jumps at figure-skating practice. After a long day of driving around and serving customers, he sat with Willie and wrote down all those countries, in a list that was at least seven pages long. Willie didn’t ask him to do that. Nobody did. Dad just did it because he knew it would make his one, autistic son happy. That was a good enough reason. 

That long list of countries, this long day of driving … on the surface, these might seem like small, ordinary things. But as we neared home that night, it became clear that they were anything but. I could see love right in front of me, and it was luminous as the moon.

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That's such a sweet story,

That's such a sweet story, Caroline!