My Father is an amazing fellow. At 91 years old he regularly walks a mile a day. He has been throughout his life, as the Boy Scout Motto suggests, “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” He and my late Mother raised me and my brother Dave in the Westgate neighborhood of Omaha, Nebraska. We were solid middle-class; not rich, but not poor either. We weren’t as perfect as the Beaumont family (Hugh, June, Wally and Beaver) but we had a great childhood.
Last February I received a letter from my Father, who lives with his wife Marylou in North Carolina. It seems that Dad wanted to go on a summer excursion with his boys; just Dad and his sons. The letter contained a complete itinerary of the trip, which would be an automobile adventure along the Union Pacific’s main line paralleling Nebraska’s Platte River. Starting in Gibbon, Nebraska and ending in Hershey (just 10 miles west of North Platte) runs a triple track main line, perhaps the best and busiest stretch of railroad roadbed in the United States of America.
When I received the Dad’s letter it occurred to me that when a 91-year old Father sends you his itinerary for his “dream vacation” there is only one possible response; “When do we leave, Dad?” This week my Dad flew from North Carolina, my brother flew from Denver, and I drove my car to Omaha, our old hometown and the meeting point for the start of the trip. We did the itinerary visiting the Williams (dear Omaha friends), driving to Gibbon (where we traveled 200 miles on old highway 30 along the main line of the Union Pacific railroad), stopping often to look at awesome trains, spending a day in North Platte at the largest freight hump yard in the world, eating at famous “Chances R” steakhouse in York, Nebraska, and finally returning back to Omaha to go our separate ways.
During the trip we recalled many family memories. There was the time that our mutt dog impregnated the basset hound next door. Unaware of our dog’s impropriety the neighbor had sent his female to a stud for the purpose of breeding pure bred puppies. He was not amused when his female presented him mutt pups that looked suspiciously like our dog. Meanwhile, our dog pranced along the fence, joyfully proud of his offspring.
One evening in the 60’s, as we ate our meal around the dinner table, my father uncharacteristically and suddenly flicked a spoonful of whipped cream across the kitchen at my unsuspecting brother. The cream was plastered across his head and on the wall behind him. All of us were aghast at this complete breakdown of fatherly dignity. As he roared at his accomplishment, we asked Father why he did it. His answer was, “I’ve always wanted to do it and just decided that this was the time!”
In truth this trip wasn’t about the railroad, the trains, or the hump yard in North Platte. This trip was a “Legacy Vacation” with nonstop conversation and recollection of literally hundreds of family stories that we remembered and shared, normally with a collective laugh at the end! We poked fun of each other when it was necessary, but always with a loving smile. Each of us has made stupid mistakes or has done “dumb stuff” over the last half a century. When recalled, these stories become hilarious anecdotes that are the essence of our time together as a family.
I want to thank my Father for his great trip idea and my brother for being there with me. In actuality this trip was about two boys who spent the sixties and seventies living in good old Omaha, Nebraska with wonderful parents. We still love Omaha, which remains a city often overlooked. For us, Omaha provided plenty of economic opportunity and some of the most wonderful friends that you can imagine. It was a great place for Stan and Hazel Salyards to raise two boys. Omaha is and will always be dear to our hearts. I’ve been to exotic places all over the world, but the vacation I’ll never forget was last week, with my Father and brother, in the heartland of America along the main line of the Union Pacific Railroad.