An unexpected journey

When Barron and Harris piled into the back of the new Hyundai, eager to ride with Daddy after another great meal at Los Hermanos, they had no idea we weren’t following Carla home.

Bilbo Baggins runs to catch up with the party of dwarves headed off on an unexpected journey.
Bilbo Baggins heads off on his unexpected journey.

We had already had a pretty good day. It was one of those rare days when Carla and Carlton still had preschool, but the older boys were already out for Christmas vacation. They hadn’t seen my office since I changed jobs, so other than having to get up earlier than they would have liked on their first day off from school, they didn’t mind coming downtown with me for a few hours and checking out my new digs.

It really was fun having them around. Even the rain-soaked commute, which lasted an hour longer than usual, was bearable with the two of them making up dialogue between the commuters they spied around us in the seven-lane-wide traffic jam on I-85.

They spent the morning playing Stratego and watching “Batman Begins” on the TV and DVD player in my office with the always cautious Barron keeping the volume low to avoid disturbing the almost empty hall. My co-worker, Robert, did get a little jealous when he came by to ask me about a story he was working on only to discover that Batman was on.

I treated them to lunch at The Varsity where they ate like it was their last meal. Barron scarfed down a double bacon cheeseburger while Harris had, in Varsity parlance, a “naked dog” and cheeseburger. They finished it off with a mountain of fries and frosted oranges. I drove them back to my building by way of the central campus, showing them the academic buildings, the football stadium, Tech tower and various residence halls, which they said reminded them of Hogwarts.

“The magic we do here at Tech is called ‘engineering,’” I said.

Carla was soon picking them up, and I was off to my 3 o’clock meeting. Before shutting down for the day, I checked out movie times at the theaters near us in Lilburn. Carla and I conferred with a quick phone call to confirm our plans, and I clicked a purchase of two children’s tickets and one adult ticket for the 7:30 showing of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

We both arrived at Los Hermanos at almost the same instant, and I winked at Carla, who returned a knowing smile. Our meal was delicious, and the boys continued to chatter away about their day at daddy’s office.

“Who wants to ride with me?” I asked nonchalantly as we headed for the parking lot. Of course Carlton wanted to but couldn’t. He was due for an early bedtime as indicated by his lack of composure at supper.

The boys climbed into the back of my car, Harris’s booster seat still in position from the morning commute. We followed the minivan to the neighborhood, but when Carla turned in and we kept going, the boys began to get suspicious.

“Hey, Daddy, you missed your turn.”

“I did? Oh, well, do you want me turn around?”

“Uh, yeah?”

“Well, do you?”

“I don’t know. Where are we going?

“Where does it look like we’re going?”

And thus the conversation went for the 12 minute ride to Snellville Oaks cinema.

Gandalf beckons Bilbo to join in an unexepected journey.
It doesn’t take a wise wizard to see the benefits of making a regular night out with your sons an adventure.

About three miles from the theater, still completely in the dark about our destination, the moment happened that will stay with me from this day long after the details of Bilbo’s adventure grow fuzzy in my memory.

“This is like something Paw Paw would do,” Barron said.

“What? Kidnap you?” I responded mischievously.

“No… you know, act like he missed a turn then take you some place fun.”

Barron got it. He connected this whole plan for me in a way that I hadn’t even understood myself. It wasn’t the joy of tricking or even surprising my children that gave me so much pleasure. It was that I was able to do for my kids what my dad had done for us.

You see, Barron was right. My dad frequently would take us somewhere without telling us the destination. Sometimes it would be amazing, and other times pedestrian, but every time became more exciting because of the unexpected.

“Dad, where are we going? You didn’t turn,” we would say in protest.

“To the moon,” he would answer.

My brother, Lee, and I will never forget the Thanksgiving night when he suggested we go for a ride. Four hours later we ended up in Houston for a great family weekend at Galveston and San Jacinto and other Texas landmarks.

With a simple trip to the movies, I had lived into the best of the Wallace family tradition. Just like my dad, I was able to turn a mundane car trip through the suburbs into an adventure.

“I guess it’s kind of appropriate,” Barron said.

“What is?” I asked.

“You took us on an unexpected journey to see the unexpected journey movie.”

The older I get, the more I believe the best parts of our journey are unexpected. I believe we all could use a little more adventure in our lives. I guarantee you’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back.

What unexpected journeys have you taken? Did your parents ever surprise you with an unexpected trip or gift? Have you been able to surprise your kids? Leave your story in a comment below and share your tale with us.

Watching the Braves with Paw Paw

At 11:39 p.m. , Wednesday,  – well past my bedtime – Braves rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman grounded into a double play, ending the Braves season. As I struggled to stay awake during the final two hours of the 13-inning marathon game, I couldn’t help but think of my grandfather as I watched the drama unfold.

Skip Caray, Ernie Johnson and Pete Van Wieren
The voices of the Atlanta Braves circa 1977. From left, Skip Caray, Ernie Johnson and Pete Van Wieren.

Paw Paw was the kind of Braves fan that followed their occasional ups but mostly downs with a chuckle and pitying head shake. Paw Paw was a SuperStation fan, letting the voices of the late Ernie Johnson, the late Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren form the background noise of summer.

The kindest and gentlest of grandfathers, Paw Paw never got outwardly angry at the Braves’ shenanigans. When a bad play caused another loss, the worst oath he would utter was an elongated “shewwwwt.”

Watching ballgames with Paw Paw was less about baseball for me and more about being with him. He didn’t try to explain the action or teach me any of the intricacies of a sport that still baffles me most of the time. He simply uttered little expressions of disbelief or humor as the Braves’ antics unfolded on the field.

2011 season ends with loss to the Phillies
The scene from the dugout after Wednesday night's loss to the Phillies.

While the 2011 edition of the Braves were losing a game they should have won to end a season that should have ended in a trip to the playoffs, I thought about the summer I became a Braves fan. The magical 1982 season began with a record-setting 13-game winning streak. Manager Joe Torre made all the right moves that season with an MVP year from Murphy, 17 wins from knuckleballer Neikro and the amazing double-play combo of Glenn Hubbard at second base and Rafael Ramirez at shortstop. That also happened to be the summer we moved from Texas to Florida, and during the transition, my brother, Lee, and I spent two weeks in Columbus, watching the Braves every night with Paw Paw.

We went to our first Braves game on Aug. 20, 1982, with Paw Paw’s church. My Aunt Phyllis took us to see the Braves play the Mets, a game that was supposed to have been pitched by Neikro but ended up in the hands of Pascual Perez who missed his start the previous night because he got lost on I-285 on his way to the ballpark. The Braves won, and I was hooked.

Florida had no major league team at the time, so as we settled in Lake Wales, we adopted the Braves who were conveniently on television every night, thanks to WTBS. For me, it was as simple as liking the Braves because Paw Paw liked them.

Paw Paw died in the winter of 1992. He lived to see the Braves play in a World Series, completing a worst-to-first turnaround from the 1990 to 1991 season. He didn’t get to see their lone World Series championship in 1995. I’m sure, though, that he wouldn’t have gotten too worked up during the Braves’ 15-year playoff run nor too discouraged when all but one of those seasons ended with a loss.

As they failed to reach the postseason Wednesday night after blowing an 8-and-a-half game lead in September, I frowned, shook my head, let out a soft “shewwwwwwt” and went to bed.

Thank you, Braves, for another interesting season and another chance to remember my Paw Paw.