When I was seventeen years old, my grandfather taught me my greatest life lesson. We were traveling across the country from East Tennessee to San Francisco as a part of my graduation present. The trip included a full-size conversion van and my sister. Perhaps not every seventeen-year-old’s dream, but to me, it was an adventure.
That summer, I was crazy about the Beatles and Doc Holliday—also probably not something most kids my age would have said. I jumped in that van with no real understanding of what I was about to experience. Allie and I packed a bunch of books to keep us occupied in between those funny roadside attractions. Dean Koontz and Stephen King were the authors of choice, because back then I was too young to know what real fear is.
We devoured those books between Knoxville and Somewhere-in-Oklahoma. A quick Google search tells me we were in Oklahoma City, because I know for sure we stopped at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Then, the next day, we stopped at Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City, Kansas. Guys, this museum is located on Wyatt Earp Boulevard.
I spent the whole day reading all the little tidbits about Wyatt Earp and DOC HOLLIDAY. So enraptured was I that my grandfather had to hustle me along before the whole place shut down for the evening. Then, we went back to the hotel room where I watched A Hard Day’s Night, which just happened to be on TV. Three days into the trip, and I was already in Heaven.
Then we crossed into Colorado, and I found myself supremely unimpressed. Where were the majestic mountains? Where were the snow-capped peaks? Flat, boring, bleh. I didn’t think anything could get better until we actually reached California, so out came the books again. About halfway through Colorado, I learned my lesson.
“Would you get your faces out of those damn books and look around? You’re missing everything!”
Heads snapped up, eyes cut toward the windows, and oh… He was right. In the distance, across a field of wildflowers, stretched a lake so clear and peaceful. Reflected in that lake were the snow-capped peaks I’d so desperately hoped to see. The sight still stands as one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in my life. His harsh words snapped the shutter on the camera in my brain, and I’ll never, ever forget that photograph. Without him, I’d have missed it.
Without him, I’d have missed the Grand Canyon. I’d have missed the chance to stand in four states at one time. I’d have missed the Royal Gorge, the snowball fight in the last week of July, the beauty of Highway 1, shopping at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, wandering the streets of Silverton in Colorado, the record shop of Haight and Ashbury, looking over Hoover Dam, and shouting over the music to each other in the Hard Rock Café.
I’d have missed everything on that trip, and likely a lot of things since. Instead, he reminded me to keep my head up, to see the beauty in the mundane, to travel the world, to find joy each day, and to take every chance that comes my way.
I said goodbye to my Pappaw on Friday. Tomorrow, he’ll be laid to rest next to my Nana in Chattanooga. My world won’t be the same without him, but he left me with a lesson I’ve carried half my life. And now, without him, I won’t miss a thing.