The hairs stood up on the back of my neck and I gripped the rough black leather headrest in front of me as a loud screech! filled my ears. The branch that had just scratched my dad’s new Jeep Wrangler (And split my eardrums.) snapped off, landing in a fern off the narrow dirt road.
“This is so cool!” My dad said with a crazy grin on his face as we drove through a huge mud puddle. I grimaced mud splattered my window, which, thankfully, was rolled up.
My sister, who was sitting beside me, squealed, “I know! It’s like we’re in the adventure movies!” For emphasis, she pretended search for a treasure that didn’t exist. I clutched my seat, trying to keep the pancakes down from breakfast, as we came to a fast halt in front of our family’s tiny rust colored cottage in northern Wisconsin.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come with me around the lake?” My dad asked me and my sister as we both climbed out of the mud-splattered car.
“Yeah,” I smiled, and grabbed my stuff from the car.
“Hey, guys!” My mom said through the antique wood-paned window of our cabin behind us. “How was the ride?” This was my sister’s que to start blabbing. I looked over at dad, and he gestured for me to come to his rolled down driver’s seat window.
“I brought some walkie talkies,” He said, holding up two black radio things with long grey antennas. They looked like something out of a Sci-Fi movie, with dozens of different colored buttons.
He handed me one. “You keep one, and I’ll keep the other. If you need to contact me, or I need to contact you, just press the side button.” He pointed to a rectangular green button and I nodded. As I reluctantly followed Mom and my sister into the cabin, I thought about how my Dad always did little things for me like that. I wondered what I would do without him.
I walked unwillingly up the creaky, yet welcoming, steps. At the top of the stairway, I looked into the tiny blue and green kitchen, which hadn’t been updated since the 1980s. We had flattened blue and green speckled carpet, an old blue and green stained glass light fixture, which my Great Uncle had made, and an old wooden table with chairs to match.
Immediately, as I had expected, the smell of fried fish flooded my nostrils. I tried to hide my disgust. Dad’s bumpy Jeep ride rattling my insides wouldn’t have been much better than this.
“Wh-what’s for dinner?” I said, studdering through my hands, which were covering my nose and mouth. I already knew the answer, but I had a little hope that I would be wrong.
“Fish!” My grandma said from the wide kitchen sink. I groaned. Honestly, I hated any type of food that came from the ocean.
“Mom,” My mother said to Grandma, “The girls' dad went on a drive around the lake to explore the paths, and see if there’s any land for sale,” She walked over to the green cupboard (Which of course matched everything else.) to get a spatula.
“He should be back around suppertime.”
“Okie dokie!” My grandma said cheerfully, adding some seasoning to the fish. “Hopefully he’ll be back before it gets cold.” Little did we know that he wouldn’t get to taste the fish at all. Lucky guy.
I walked into the living room and set down the walkie-talkie on the short bookshelf beside me. After 15 minutes of that disgusting fish smell, which was giving me a headache, my sister and I decided to down the the lake to catch
(And release; we didn’t want to kill them.) frogs. Earlier, we had found a bazillion near a mucky seaweed deposit on the shore, and we were determined to find a tadpole.
Soon, after many, many, attempts to catch them, we discovered that the sun was considerably lower in the sky than it had been when we left the cottage, and decided to head back.
When we reached the end of the narrow path leading to our cottage, weeds and pine trees poking and scraping us, I expected to see my dad’s black Jeep pulled up in front. But, to my surprise, the makeshift driveway of packed down pine needles and dirt was empty.
I didn’t worry too much about it, and continued walking up the porch steps and into the kitchen.
The table was set, with a big ol’ pile of fish in the middle. Thankfully, there was mashed potatoes and carrots beside it for an extra choice.
My grandpa and Uncle Ed were back from the fishing supply store, in their table seats and eager to eat.
My mom looked agitated. Maybe it was because she had eaten the fish, or maybe because Dad wasn’t home. We sat down to dinner, and an hour and a half later, after everyone had eaten and all the food was gone, dad still hadn’t shown up.
“Do you think we should call him?” I asked Mom, breaking the silence, and she nodded.
“I was thinking the same thing,” She agreed, and I got up from the table and went over to the bookshelf, where I had put the walkie-talkie before.
Right before I reached for it, my dad’s voice came out of the miniature speaker. “I’m… halfway… lake… tires… air… escaped…” Crackles of static interrupted my dad’s words, making his sentences unclear, but that’s all I needed to hear.
“We’re... on... our ...way ...dad!” I said slowly, so the static didn’t cut off my words.
I quickly ran to the kitchen table. “He’s stuck!” I exclaimed, waving my hands around like I was insane.
My uncle stood up. “Does he need our help?” He asked. His deep voice reminded me of sandpaper.
“Yeah, we can help him,” My grandpa stood up, too.
“Of course,” My mom said, looking relieved that she didn’t have to trek around the lake to save him.
Five minutes later, Uncle Ed and Grandpa were out the door, headed to the far side of Lone Stone Lake.
The next hour or so was filled with absolutely nothing. Grandma, Mom, my sister and I sat in anticipation, cleaning the table off. I tried to play a boardgame, but it was kind of hard when nobody agreed to play with me.
Suddenly, “Elevation” by U2, my mom and dad’s favorite band, started playing from my mom’s phone. “Lift me up out of these blues, won’t you tell me something new, I believe in you…” The slightly sad song ended abruptly as Mom picked it up.
“Yeah?” She said, smiling with relief. I could faintly hear static and a low voice--Dad’s-- on the other end. “Mm hm…” Mom said, her smile slowly fading. “Oh… okay,” She looked worried. “Alrighty, see you soon.” She waited for Dad to hang up, then put the phone down. “They’ll be home soon,” She explained, sitting down. I knew she wasn’t telling us everything, but I didn’t want to push it.
What felt like a day later, I heard the sound that we all wanted to hear. Three car doors slamming, and three sets of foot steps.
We jumped up and hugged them. “You’re here!” My sister exclaimed, hanging onto my dad’s neck. He carefully lifted her up and spun her around.
“You’re home!” I squealed.
“Yeah,” My dad looked exhausted. I noticed that he had mud all over his hiking boots, and a small tear on his coat.
“Do you want some dinner?” My mom asked, guiding him to a couch. He willingly sat down, and without even waiting for an answer, Mom immediately went to the kitchen to prepare a sandwich, as we had snarfed dinner up.
We all watched him sit for a while, and when he got uncomfortable from all the staring, he started to tell us his story without even needing to be out
He had been driving on a narrow dirt trail, when he came to a fence, but its rusty gate was open. He cautiously continued, on the lookout for “Private Property” signs. He eventually reached a dead end, so he got out to explore.
“I saw some guy in a rocking chair on his front porch,” Dad explained, staring off to who knows where, recalling the moment.
After dad was done wandering, he returned to his Jeep to find that all the air had been let out of his tires. When Grandpa and Uncle Ed found where he stopped, hours later, Dad only had one tire completely filled.
“It would have taken me all night to fill them up,” Dad said, shaking his head. “Thankfully, your uncle and Grandpa found me.”
“Also, you gave me those walkie-talkies,” I added, the first one to say anything since Dad had started his story.
“Yup,” Dad nodded warily. Mom handed him a ham and cheese sandwich.
That night, I fell asleep thinking about what we would’ve done if Grandpa and Uncle Ed weren’t here. What if I hadn’t been given the walkie-talkies? What if Dad had been there all night, and we didn’t know if he was okay or not?
Stop what if-ing, I thought, scolding myself.
Even though I didn’t want it to, the lyrics from “Elevation” rung in my head. Dad lifts me up when I’m disappointed, and makes me feel better. I love him so much, and I don’t know what I would do without him.