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Speeding away from Mountain Home AFB and all the structure a day spent with active duty military can bring along US-20 E through high desert and into the Rocky Mountains on a Monday afternoon during business hours felt like the most freedom I’d had in years.  The highway wound through rocky hills flanked by “Game Crossing” and “Watch For Stock” warning signs along with nighttime speed limit admonitions; there were multiple pull-offs with signs telling passersby that this was part of the Oregon Trial or an old gold mine or just a nice place to pull off and enjoy a scenic view.  I was headed to Ketchum, Idaho.  I had 100 miles to go.

As my miles to go dropped to nearly single digits, signs of civilization appeared around me:  saloons, restaurants, chair lifts, a large TEDx banner hung above the street.  I was entering Ketchum.  I passed the Pioneer Saloon, where I planned to have dinner, based on the recommendation from the 1000 Places to See Before You Die book I always take when I travel.

I pulled into Ketchum Cemetery a few minutes later.  It was much smaller than I imagined it would be–basically a single loop of paved surface with tombstones on both sides of it.  One car was leaving as I pulled in and slowly drove along, looking at the names on the stones.  I stopped and pulled up the Ketchum Community Library website on my phone and zoomed in on a section about the Ernest Hemingway festival, including a map of the city with points of interest for fans of his writings.  For the cemetery where I’d parked, it said the grave “can be found centrally located, under large evergreen trees, with family and friends buried around him.”  I looked up and to the left of my rented Jeep Renegade.  There was only one area that fit the description, so I drove another few hundred feet, put it in “park,” and walked toward a large, flat stone with liquor bottles, a pen, a shotgun shell, a book, and a bunch of pennies on top of it.

I was here.

Here lay a man who’d lived life fuller than I ever would.  Sure, I’d hunted big game (a whitetail deer to a 100# high school freshman is certainly “big game”).  I’d been to the San Fermin Festival and run with the bulls in Pamplona before watching those 6 bulls get slaughtered in the same arena that afternoon (but lamented the fate of the bulls instead of reveling in the skill of the matadors).  I’d sat at the cafes of Saint‑Germain‑des‑Prés in Paris (with 3 children, not Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, or Ezra Pound). I’d been a regular at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West (for a 4-day weekend). I’d saltwater fished in the Gulf of Mexico (from a pier). I’d lifted wounded soldiers on olive green canvas litters off ambulances in combat (in Iraq, not quite The Great War). I’d written about wartime experiences that’d been published and won accolades (not a Pulitzer). But these were just a fraction of his adventures.

He lived a life most men long to live to live–that, in small part, I’ve tried to live– and he had the added benefit of being recognized and paid for it.  Millions of readers, a stack of accolades, and the respect of countless men.  And yet, he killed himself. It wrecked me.

A man from the one building on the property walked outside and started coming toward where I stood under a tree in the rain.  By this time, I’d lit the pipe I bought in Paris just a few months prior and was enjoying having something to do with my hands besides wiping my eyes.  Once he got close enough to see my face, he turned around and walked back toward the building.

I got back in the Jeep and drove to the Hemingway Memorial in Sun Valley–a bronze bust of his profile high above a mountain stream, surrounded by tree leaves. The inscription was from an eulogy he’d written for a friend in 1939, now used to honor him:

Best of all he loved the fall

The leaves yellow on the cottonwoods

Leaves floating on the trout streams

And above the hills

The high blue windless skies

…Now he will be a part of them forever

I drove to the Pioneer Saloon, where I saw one of his guns and pictures of him on the walls; I drank his namesake margarita with a rib-eye steak and Idaho potatoes.

It was getting dark, and I had 100 miles of wet winding roads to get to Mountain Home. I paused in front of 3 black and white photos of Papa next to the door before deciding it was time to exit.

It was like saying goodbye to a statue. After a while I went out and left the restaurant and drove back to the hotel in the rain.

 

We got The Note that schools send when they’re about to delve into “sex ed” a few months ago.  Do you know The Note?  The Note can make an otherwise good day awkward; I was afraid of The Note.

In any event, we decided we should have a series of talks with our 10-year-old about stuff like puberty, sex, etc. before she heard about it in an audience of her peers.  We wanted her to feel like she can ask us questions about sensitive topics at home instead of on the school bus or in the cafetorium.  We also felt really strongly about communicating, from the beginning, the emotional + spiritual impact of sex and remain convinced that no institution can really offer that to a child–it should come from a parent.

So as we toured the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum on a rainy Sunday and looked at images of the parasite infestations being treated around the world, we moved to the display on HIV infection. Our 10-year-old asked what HIV is, and we discussed the nature of the virus. Obviously, she wanted to know about methods of transmission. I talked about drug users and needles leading to infection, and because it was also mentioned in the display, added that it could be transmitted through sex.

At some point I shared that sex involved “private parts touching her private parts.”  Before this day and this moment, our talks had not quite progressed to the point of the specific mechanics of sex or where the proverbial “rubber meets the road.”

Her face was absolutely appalled.

A few seconds passed.  Then, “That…makes me feel uncomfortable.”

We quickly walked to an exhibit on eradication of guinea worms.

Here’s the thing:  you may not always have a guinea worm exhibit to take your parent-child interactions about sex from discomforted to distracted.  You may not have the benefit of an AIDS exhibit in a 90-something former President’s library to start conversations.  And that can be a problem.

So, what’s another non-threatening way to broach “the talk”?  Simple and entertaining videos that are age-appropriate!

And that’s why I agreed to partner* with Amaze in its campaign to raise awareness about the videos it puts out for this purpose, like the one below:

You can find out more about Amaze at its Facebook page or YouTube channel.  Feel free to interweave these resources with your conversations at your home (or local Presidential library).  Since I have 2 more children with whom I have to have “the talk,” I’m certain we’ll need all the resources we can get.

 

 

*  “partner” in this context means receiving compensation in exchange for viewing videos and providing an honest review of them, and I’m nothing if not honest here.

Rather than fly home to Atlanta and then go to Philly the next day, we changed our flight “home” to go straight to Philadelphia, landing at midnight on Friday night (thanks to a delay at JFK), June 16.  Why end a vacation with another vacation?  In a word, Bono.

I’d seen U2 four times, the first being via a road trip to Memphis in 1997 (with Jim Bob, incidentally, the guy whose family was in Paris with ours in the last series of posts), and the last being 5 or so years ago with a work colleague in Atlanta, but I’d never heard the entire Joshua Tree album live, in order, start to finish. Since the band didn’t schedule an Atlanta show on this tour, I decided we needed to find a city (and date) in which to see them, and Philadelphia on Fathers Day seemed perfect, as we love touring historic cities, and I have cousins-in-law just outside of Philly!  The Joshua Tree was the first CD I packed when I learned I was deploying to Iraq in March 2003.  The album turned 30 this year, and we visited its namesake national park just a few months ago as a family.  My bride had never seen U2. So, we went.

We booked a house in the city just down from where my friend Georgia lives (but, sadly, she was out of town that weekend).  Saturday morning, we were up early and at the Dutch Eating place for breakfast just after 8am and at Independence Hall (and its visitor center) a few minutes later.

We saw the famous bell, checked out Ben Franklin’s grave, hung out by Betsy Ross’s house, watched a free puppet show at the National Constitution Center, walked through the oldest residential area in the country, had an awesome DiNic’s roast pork sandwich, and then enjoyed an evening ghost tour through old town before ending the day at City Tavern.  It was a great day of exploring a new city (for our children) and spending time with their cousins (who also visited several new places, despite living nearby for many years!).

Sunday morning, the 10 of us had an awesome fathers day brunch at The Dandelion, where I’d made a reservation months before.  Then, we 5 peeled off for some more touring, walking to Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, the smallest installation in the National Park Service!  The children earned more junior ranger badges (they got one the previous day as well), as we roamed the house where the brilliant Polish engineer and Revolutionary War freedom fighter once lived.

Afterward, we explored the National Museum of American Jewish History, rode the Franklin Square Carousel, and roamed about Edgar Allen Poe’s house (where the children earned yet another junior ranger badge), including his basement!

At dinner time, my bride’s cousin came to our AirBnB to watch the children, and we went to Lincoln Financial field to see this:

The show was perfect; I loved it.  I’d rank it among the very best concert experiences I’ve ever had if the seats were a bit better (despite my getting fan club pre-sale access and being down by the floor, we were a long way from the stage).  That said, the performance itself was exceedingly moving.  Powerful.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to call this year’s fathers day my absolute favorite.

On Monday morning, we walked to Ants Pants cafe for breakfast, had our uber driver stop at the Rocky statue in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the way to the airport, and then flew home at 11am.  Our Ben Franklin-themed trip to Paris and Philly was over, June 5–June 19, a most adventurous and educational family vacation.  I’d recommend it to anyone.