Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 2, 2010

Driving in the car with Grandpa

What I learned will carry me through life

By Donnie Fedrigon
Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — I am riding in a car with my grandpa on our way down to Arizona, cruising along the highway at a steady 75 mph. I dig into the open package of Bazooka gum and, choosing one, proceed to unwrap the pink gum and pop it greedily into my mouth. Next comes the most important step in finishing off the piece of gum: reading the tiny print of the comic on the wrapper. I eagerly blurt out the details of the comic, complete with pictorial descriptions and my own laughter, to my grandpa who laughs and thanks me for sharing the simple story.

I smile with pride and go back to unwrapping, eating, reading, sharing the comics. Even though they weren't all that funny my grandpa listened intently to appease me, a small kindness that would lead me to listen just as well in class while back in school after my weeklong vacation to Arizona.

I am riding in a car with my grandpa, looking out the window at the stone buildings with their outline of perfect grass, and the criss-crossing paths at the West Point Military Academy, a place rich in both history and learning. My grandpa speaks of the military and outlined the different branches: the Army, the Navy, the Marines and the Coast Guard, the latter of which he had served in during World War II.

He talks about how my other grandfather served in the Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, explaining how he had fought for our freedom and protected our country. This message of respect for the people who fight and who sacrifice and who die for our country is a value that I will never forget. When I return to school I have stories to tell and a deep desire to return to the car, to journey to more amazing places.

I am riding in the car with my grandpa squinting out the window into the bright sunshine of an Arizona day, the reassuring breeze of the air-conditioning vent against my skin.

I look out at the huge, sheer cliffs of the mountains, the shrubs growing out of the broken piles of rock and the proud cacti ruling over their own few feet of desert and reaching for the burning sun.

The biology of this place is outlined to me in glowing words such as prey, predator, consumer, producer; each word with its own animal and wisdom attached. After my grandpa's lessons about the science of biology I return to school and eagerly share my newfound knowledge in science class.

I am driving with my grandpa after the funeral service, remembering the car rides I shared with him and the wisdom he passed on to me. Thinking back to these car rides and driving towards my dream of becoming a doctor, I realize the profound impact those car rides had on me.

Despite all the fascinating places we stopped along the way I never lost sight of my grandpa, and I now know that I will never lose sight of the wisdom he gave me as I start my own journey.

Despite his recent passing, I will always remember that where I am driving today is because of where I was riding yesterday, with him.

Donnie Fedrigon is a junior at Elk Rapids High School.