I used to love geography class. That and history were my favorite subjects in school.
I doubt they even teach geography anymore. But, to tell the truth I learned my geography the same place I learned my history, at the family dinner table.
It was impossible to escape the almost nightly lectures by Prof. John E. Stiles, my Dad.
I dont know that Ive mentioned it before, but Pops was the smartest man I ever knew.
Anyway, like I was starting to say about geography, I think I could read a map before I could read words on a line. Its like Ill bet I knew the U.S. highway system is numbered odd north and south and even east and west almost as long as Ive known my own name.
Pops used to sit down in the dining-room every year just about this time, with a pile of road maps opened up from one end of the giant table to the other, planning our annual summer vacation. And could we take a summer vacation.
Wed point the family auto in a direction and then drive 3,000 miles before pulling back into the driveway.
The Old Man did road trips like Napoleon did Europe, all in one gulp. And when Prof. Stiles did the historic sights, it wasnt without a complete lecture on the exact spot where a cartridge fell at Gettysburg, or the Little Big Horn.
Hed drag us out of bed my mom, brother, sister and me by 4 a.m. each and every day for three weeks and wed push it 700 to 800 miles by the time wed stop for the night.
It was nothing for Pops to head west across Iowa on U.S. 34 to Osceola, turning south on U.S. 69 to Kansas City, skirting the Kansas-Missouri line until we hooked up with Route 66 somewhere west of Joplin in the northeast corner of Oklahoma, near Miami.
From there it was all 66 through Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Texas, cross into New Mexico passing Tucumcari, Albuquerque, Gallup and then over the line into Arizona.
When wed get to Flagstaff, there was the obligatory side-trip north along old U.S. 180 and state 64 to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I still remember the night my mom shook us kids awake in the back seat of the old Pontiac on another of these side jaunts, as we came down off the heights above Boulder City at just past midnight. She wanted to make sure us kids could see the bright lights of Las Vegas. My wife and I are going out East for a friends wedding in late April and, like the Stiles adventures of yesteryear, Ive already mapped out a route to make sure we dont miss a thing.
About the only difference between my Dad and I is that I dont need near as many maps. The atlas is a very time- and space-saving device. Anyway, while I was planning Aprils trek, I remembered what my sister told me about her last car caravan with the Old Man. It was years after Id grown up and moved away in the late 80s.
As the car, driven by my mom as Dad was far too feeble with heart trouble to drive any more, started south off of Interstate 80 on to I-74 toward Galesburg on the way back from Montana, mom and my sister Mary Beth noticed his eyes filling with tears.
"Whats wrong Elmer?" asked Bessy, who was the only living soul ever allowed to use Pops middle name.
"This is the last time Im ever gonna do this," he announced, by this time bawling his eyes out.
He was right. Within three months Dad was dead. Thats something I want my own grandkids to know about their great-grandfather, if they never know anything else about the guy. That and the fact that he was indeed the smartest man I ever knew.