It is 5:00 on Saturday, and the air is chilly this North Carolina morning. I am moving bags from the bedroom to the kitchen, stopping to fill my water cup for the long journey back to West Virginia.
I cherish the time I had with my grandkids, Justin and Kaylee. We spent three hours over two days running around the playground at the Gillette Athletic Complex. My son Robert's wife Emily and her friends and family put together another excellent feast for Thanksgiving Day.
Robert, though, it seems as if I barely saw him.
As I return from putting my bags in my Explorer, Robert has shuffled himself into the kitchen, reaching into the refrigerator for one of those damn energy drinks. I wish he would drink coffee or something; those energy drinks are crack. The energy drink seems to wake him. He places it down on the kitchen counter and mumbles, "Good mornin'."
Damn, I think to myself. Robert looks fuckin' tired.
These early mornings are his routine: rolling out of bed, slipping on his Firestone uniform, grabbing some food for lunch, then heading to a ten-hour factory shift. He barely has time to catch his breath from his previous shift when he arrived home grumpy and exhausted but still present enough to talk to his children before staggering back to bed, where he warns all of us to be quiet.
Thanksgiving Day was no different. Robert was up early to do a quick shift, but he made it home in time to fall asleep sitting upright at the kitchen counter, oblivious to the guests who circulated around him. I joined him at the side table, where we ate apart from the rest of the crowd. Robert has never been big on crowds. Lord knows he keeps his patience when exhausted, especially when fifteen more people than the three he wants to be around him trample throughout his home.
This Saturday, Robert puts on his heavy work jacket and grabs his keys off the counter. I just don't think he is going to make it. "Robert, I am proud of you for working so hard, but please take care of yourself." He just chuckles through his overgrown beard.
I head back to the bedroom to give the grandkids a quick kiss goodbye and thank them for being so great over the holiday. I whisper a quick "thanks" to Emily, who is barely stirring right now. I want to hurry because I know the road will be a long one for me, just as it is for Robert. Time is a-wasting, right?
The sun has not even started to rise as Robert and I walk out into the driveway where he starts his Jeep. Robert has always loved Jeeps. I remember Robert's white one back when he graduated from high school. I think it was a Jeep Cherokee. I don't know for sure, and the fact that I cannot remember is probably the real reason Robert won't let me drive his new Rubicon or any of his reclamation projects. Robert has always been about fixing up old Jeeps, making something older or beat up look and run better.
Robert is part of the current generation who jokes that Jeep stands for "Just Empty Every Pocket," a testimony to how much money and energy Jeep owners sink into their vehicles to make them just right. I will bet Robert does not know the old Jeep trademarked catchphrase from the 1940s: Go Anywhere. Do Anything. He should.
As Robert and I pull out of his driveway, we head in different directions. I feel sad that I did not have as much time to spend with Robert as I would have liked. That's OK, though. I have seen plenty. As the Jeep's taillights fade while Robert drives away, I take some comfort that Robert is living the original Jeep motto. Robert is really buying into the idea of going anywhere and doing anything, working hard and enjoying the life he has created for himself and his family to the fullest.