My dad, Ralph Elmer Hershberger, was 48 years old when I was born. He was old enough to be my grandfather. For this reason, I intentionally savored our limited years by rarely declining his invitations to attend concerts, forestry meetings, courses (in various subject matters) and road trips (my favorite). My father was always going somewhere or experiencing something new. His thirst for knowledge and exploration over flowed and poured beautifully into my life.
He often said that the best education came through traveling. I whole heartedly agree. There is no better classroom than the real world. My dad’s love for traveling may have begun when he graduated from Heidelberg College. Upon liberation, he bought a Ford Model A and headed west for Alaska, but never made it there. Instead, he ended up living in Montana for a couple of years and had wonderful stories of his road trips beyond the Mississippi River.
It was rare to hear my father tell the same story twice. Imagine all of your life hearing about a place of mountain men, bears, old log cabins, twisting steep roads, wild beautiful country, smoking pipes with the local tribes, learning forestry, stomping out fires, watching for fires from towers, cooking from a tin can, sleeping on pine boughs… Imagine the fantastic picture a father can paint in his daughter’s head from her infancy. He learned a great deal in those years out west. My dad had pleasant memories.
I am my father’s first born. He lived a full life before settling down. His history built a treasure trove of information to share with his children. Because of his extensive love for traveling, nature and history my dad’s brain was full. He particularly appreciated local history. He knew a great deal about many of the little, sleepy, quiet, seemingly uninteresting, dots in a USA atlas. He knew more about someone’s backyard than they knew in the thirty years they had been living there. I cannot recall a time that my dear old dad did not have an answer for some obscure or trivial question. He could rival Google and with greater accuracy, I have no doubt.
The traveling bug has been passed down to me. Educational road trips are precious. I sop up the sounds of steam engines and retain the impressions of wildflowers my father knew. I stop to smell the roses and apple blossoms and lilacs and iris that are planted to complement various historical sites. I place my hand on a rock’s cool wall and recall the lesson of its formation. I reminisce about my dad while having a beer and hamburger at a greasy spoon diner after a long day behind the wheel of my Ford. It feels good to remember. But I miss him and that part still hurts.
Maybe some day I will have a treasure trove of information to share with my children. Perhaps they will inherit the traveling bug that my dear old dad gave to me.