Military families often expended much of their 30 days of annual leave travelling to visit their families which often lived far away. This normally involved long car trips since travelling by air for a family of three, four or more was very expensive. At Christmastime 1982 our family made the thousand-mile trip from Fort Riley, Kansas to Western Pennsylvania. From the very beginning, the boys knew they were in for a long trip and became bored before we reached Topeka. Mary Lou suggested to bored Andy that he could do what we used to do as kids. “Just count cows, Andy.” Ever the wisecracker, Andy began the game. “Zero… zero… zero…” We failed to consider that we grew up in a region of dairy farms. Eastern Kansas was not known as a home to many cows. Well, only eight hundred fifty miles to go.
We enjoyed a fine visit to our parents and finished with a visit to my grandmother in Pittsburgh. We departed for our return trip mid-afternoon and hoped to make some progress on the two-day drive ahead of us. A few hours down Interstate 70, we reached the west side of Columbus and pulled into The Dutch Pantry restaurant for dinner. We loved the Dutch Pantry chain and stopped there often enough for Chris to be able to recite from memory “Der Distilfink” poem which would earn him a free dessert.
As we enjoyed our dinner, Chris and Andy displayed their impeccable manners and decorum. There was the proper use of silverware and napkins. There was “Please” and “Thank you”. They sat like young gentlemen. Predictably, two-year old Jonathan was not similarly restrained. He wiggled out his chair and began running from table to table. He focused his energy on an older couple sitting at a nearby table and made several noisy passes to their otherwise quiet meal. I got up and tried to corral my son and noticed the rather sober stare from the man at the table. I caught Jono and placed him firmly back in his chair. I then approached the man preparing an apology. He stood up and moved towards me. I was prepared to accept a deserved reprimand.
The man spoke first. “You… are rich. So very, very rich.” He gave a gentle smile, looked towards our table. He shook my hand and added a second hand to the grip. I was speechless, and I have looked at my family with a much deeper sense of appreciation ever since.