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Taking Papa Tom to his old hometown

GAYS MILLS - Over the weekend, my little family loaded up the car and took a road trip to Beloit. My dad, or papa as Thatcher calls him, made a special guest appearance for the journey.

We had to make the journey as my younger cousin was getting married to her tattoo artist fiancé. It was a pretty exciting affair, because it seems as though no one I know ever gets married. They mostly just cohabitate and/or reproduce, which is nothing shocking in these modern timesin which we live.

Chasca, Thatcher and I have made the trip a few times before to visit family, but my dad, well, he doesn’t get out much.

Saturday morning came and we rolled out of the house on time to make it to the wedding, despite any detours we might encounter.

I had spoke with my brother before to advise my dad of a false time for our arrival. For to know my dad is to know he is chronically late everywhere he goes. Enough so, that a lifetime of it has traumatized me into being absurdly early in most all situations.

 “We will probably get there around 9 a.m., but tell him we’ll be there at 8:30 a.m. just to be safe,” I told Patrick.

“I’ll tell him 7:45 a.m. just to be safe,” he reassured me.

As soon as we pulled up, my dad scuttled out of the door with his coat on and duffle bag in hand. He quickly hopped in the back seat and informed us he had been awake and ready to go since 5:30 that morning.

For the first half of the trip, my dad’s commentary was mostly conversation with Thatcher, who had brought a brand new (to him) bag of toy animals along for the ride.

The pair discussed the finer aspects of the mama tiger and baby tiger, dinosaurs and Lassie dogs.

However, somewhere past Lone Rock my dad started sounding like a very impressed Rip Van Winkle after he woke up from his 100-year snooze. ‘Everything has just changed so much!’ became his mantra throughout the entire weekend.

To me, the landscape along Highway 14 is really nothing to shake a stick at, it’s flatter and kind of boring. However, I suppose when you don’t leave the comforts of the Kickapoo Valley much, the fact that the beans are have ripened along the flat land is something to write home about.

When we approached town, I decided to activate my GPS on my phone to ensure we arrived at the correct venue. This was a move that seemed to slightly offend my dad, who I think was depending on the role of navigator for the trip.

“I lived here my whole life,” my dad balked. “I know where we are going!”

When I asked where the highway near the wedding venue would bring us into town at, my dad responded, “I’ll have to think real hard on that one.”

However, after a day of driving around town and getting his bearings, things all came rushing back to him.  He began giving me a hard time about the GPS chosen routes, assuring me his way would have been about 30 seconds faster. If we had only taken this road over here and did a “little zip-zip right over that way.”

The banquet hall where the reception was held seemed to bring back a lot of memories for him as well.

It was a fancy Mexican restaurant known to everyone down there as La Casa Grande, but to my dad, it was where he and his brothers and sisters would go catch a movie at the big old theater in the ironworks neighborhood of Beloit.

My dad’s ability, or lack there of, to remember all of the streets of his childhood town quickly faded as he began to mingle with his family, who he sees once in a blue moon.

Although he doesn’t like to admit his age too often, he seemed plenty amused comparing his aches and pains of old age with his siblings during the wedding and reception (even once needing a quick swat during the ceremony to hush as things were about to begin.)

All in all though, despite teasing each other about our sense of direction, or his great amazement over the changes of the city he once knew, it seemed as though he had a grand old time. Something ol’ Tom doesn’t encounter too often.

Thatcher also had the time of his life partying at the wedding of course. I am almost certain he ate nothing but M&M’s and whipped cream off of the pumpkin bars he was able to successfully steal from the desert table. At one point, I even looked over to see him lying on the floor, with a plate of pumpkin bars in front of him, licking off the frosting. His cousin, with whom he was playing, later reported, “He said he’s a kitty, meow-meow!”

Apparently, we all need to get out of the valley a little more.