When the Headlights Came Looking for Me

The humidity of the last couple weeks reminds of the two times in my life I recognized the headlights coming down the gravel road as Dad out looking for me after dark. Thirty-two years separated those two summer evenings. The first time I was 17 and a senior in high school. I wasn’t home by the time I said I would be, but I wasn’t getting into trouble. I ran into a friend, started to chat, and lost track of time. Once on the gravel road leading to our house, I recognized the headlights and Dad recognized mine. We both slowed and rolled down our windows. “Get home.” That’s all he said. Remembering that evening still sends waves of guilt through me.

The second time I was 45 and had the boys with me in Iowa during a hot, humid summer visit. We had been in town picking up a few groceries and visiting my brother and his family. When we left town, I told my brother we were heading to Mom and Dad’s. It was so brutally hot I had picked up a gallon of ice cream at the grocery store for our neighbors. I thought they might enjoy a little cool treat the next day, but as I was driving down their gravel road at 8:30 in the evening, they were all still up and sitting outside, begging for a slight breeze.

I braked, reversed, and pulled into their driveway. My friend Mary saw it was me and walked over to the car. “I thought you might like some ice cream. I was going to bring it over tomorrow, but since you’re still up…” “Oh, my gosh, thank you so much!” The word “ice cream” put a cool energy into everyone: one of the kids disappeared into the house and came back with several spoons, and they passed around the gallon of vanilla ice cream.

The boys and I plopped on a picnic bench to visit. We had just stopped at Dairy Queen so didn’t need another helping of ice cream. Liam studied everyone eating ice cream then broke his silence and pointed at Mary’s brother-in-law, Ben. “Hey, are you from Little House on the Prairie?” Fortunately, it was pass dusk so no one could see my cheeks burn red. Ben wore a long beard, plus suspenders and a work shirt very much like Pa’s. “Yes, Ben does look a little like Pa from Little House on the Prairie, doesn’t he? But he’s not. Mary and her family are Amish, and they dress differently than we do.” As I was explaining away, Ben interjected, “Oh, do you read those books? We love them!” As it happened, we had been reading them – and making homemade butter.

Liam and Will went off with a few of the kids to look at the kittens. A few minutes later, Liam came back to show me a kitten. He had a firm grasp of it. Around the neck. I jumped up to save it. “Sorry, he’s never held a kitten before!” I explained, drawing a few puzzled looks. “Really? Come here, Liam, let me show you how to hold a kitten,” Ben offered. In seconds, Liam was cradling his first kitten in the nook of an arm, petting it with his other hand. How to hold a farm kitten is innate when you are 5 years old and live on a farm.

With full darkness settling in, we said good-night. We got into the car, cranked the AC, and headed down the road. And there were those headlights. I was 17 again. We met. We rolled down the windows. “Where have you been?” “At Mary’s.” “We have been trying to call you!” “Oh… My cell phone was in the car. I didn’t hear it ring. Sorry, Dad.”

Sorry, Dad, but I was in one of my favorite spots: visiting with friends without a cell phone or a computer. We started to chat and lost track of time.

(Another hot Iowa summer memory: Walking Beans.)