One night when I was complaining about how much I drove kids around every day, a wise parent told me, “Enjoy it. Soon they’ll be driving themselves and you’ll never see them again.”
But ever since I started driving my youngest — to school, lacrosse, swimming, theater — he played games with me that I could never win. One was that Volkswagon Beetle game, where you punch someone in the arm every time you see a VW bug. Asher would keep count and always win because, of course, I was driving and keeping my eyes on the road, not scouring the alleys and back yards for old cars.
So I stopped that game. I put my foot down, as my dad would say. It took months to stop. But soon he had another. All through high school, he played it.
We’d be driving along a busy road and he’d say, “Hey, mom.”
“What?” I’d ask, changing lanes without signaling.
“Hey, mom,” He’d say.
“What??” I’d ask again, maybe just a bit more irritably.
And he would point to a semi-trailer truck stacked with bales of hay, and he’d say, “Hay…mom.”
He got me more than once with that. I did remember saying at one point, “That’s not hay; that’s alfalfa.” Another time I told him, “Have you ever been haying? Because I’m going to make you if you don’t stop.” I still have scars from the time my family sent me haying with the neighbors, a sweltering hot barn attic in the late summer of Wisconsin where the stacks got higher and higher.
I got Asher back a couple times over the years, but they weren’t that memorable. One was, “Well, Asher…” But I had to wait until we were at some old battleground in Glorieta next to a tumbled down circle of rocks, and all I got was a smirk.
Another was, “So, Asher…” But I hardly ever sew, so…that one wasn’t my best.
However, late last year, I had a brilliant idea and a long road trip coming up in which to play it.
We’d be driving ten hours to Austin in April for my birthday and a Foo Fighters’ concert — our third together. At some point along the road, I’d spot a canoe strapped to the top of some old truck, and I’d say, “Asher, can you…?
And he’d say, “What?”
I’d say again, “Can you…?”
“What??” He’d say, a bit more irritably.
And as the truck would pass, I’d point and say, “Asher…canoe.”
We were several hours into the trip to Austin and I’d been watching carefully, and there were no canoes. I saw lots of kayaks, but that wasn’t going to work. “Asher, kayak…?”
Finally, somewhere before Lubbock, I spotted a pickup truck down the road coming toward us with a pointed boat sticking up over the roof. I couldn’t be sure if it was a canoe, but this might be my only opportunity. I took a chance.
I said, “Asher, can you…?
“What?” he asked, looking at his phone.
I pointed at the truck now passing by my window, and said, “Asher…canoe.”
He turned and looked behind us for several seconds. “That wasn’t a canoe,” he said with regulated calm looking back at his phone as if I had not just won the best driving prank ever.
“Yes it was!”
“No, that was a kayak.”
“That was a canoe! I’ve been waiting months to see a canoe, and that was a canoe!”
He smiled but he didn’t give in.
We arrived in Austin just after dark. We were so excited to finally be there, we hauled everything into our Airbnb and quickly went back out to get some dinner. The breeze was warm and it felt tropical compared with the high dry desert.
We ate burgers and drank craft beer, our first beer together in public since he’d turned 21. Then walked down loud, musical, populated 6th Street. There was a fantastical store with a huge neon American flag, gilt mirrors, four-foot chandeliers, and chicken wire walls. Madonna meets Garden Rescue. Dozens of people were standing in line.
“Let’s get in line,” I said. “Must be something good.” It didn’t take us long to discover we were waiting for our first VooDoo Doughnuts…and they were delicious. (Say delicious like Kathryn Madigan, in a husky witch’s voice too close to the microphone, as if you were saying, my precious.)
Back at our house, we crashed and slept late. Got up just in time. Morning wasn’t over yet when we went back out in search of breakfast tacos.
As I backed out of the driveway, I looked to my left and two houses down, parked at the curb — yes — was an old truck with a red canoe tied to the top! Definitely not a kayak. We obviously had not seen it in the dark the night before.
Wiping any pending glee from my face, I pretended to be searching for something in the back seat just out of reach.
And I said, “Asher…can you?”