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Life With Father

Jun 19, 2016 08:31AM ● Published by Ron Wilkie

Life with father. Well…I call mine dad. Fathers are referred to in many ways; my youngest calls me father, the eldest calls me daddy, I always call mine dad.

Please allow me to indulge upon a Father’s Day memory of growing up Wilkie and how my father made lifetime memories for me to reflect upon.

Dad converted an old Ford school bus into a camper when I was in grade school. First he ripped out all of the seats and cleaned it up. Then he added a kitchen table that converted into a 2 person bed just behind the driver’s seat. Just across from the table a kitchen sink, stove and full refrigerator. Next to the fridge was a small closet that housed a furnace and broom. Behind the table was a couch that converted into a 2 person bed. Behind the couch was an enclosed room with a toilet for ‘emergency’ use only. (Number one preferably, number 2 better be do or die.) Behind the closet bunk beds.

Dad’s school bus camper slept 6 comfortably. He painted it two tone blue. Not pretty, but quite utile. We had many great memories in that bus. He had tunes too. An AM/FM radio and a 4 Track tape player. Yes I typed that correctly; not an 8 Track, but a 4 Track tape player. The library of tunes was VERY small.

We went many places in that bus. When I was younger, grade school and early Junior High School, mostly to Lewis and Clark lake on the South Dakota and Nebraska border near Yankton, South Dakota. It was a 2 to 3 hour drive from our home in Fremont, Nebraska that sometimes was lengthened by a flat tire. Dad always bought retreads that didn't quite get us from point A to point B and back on a hot weekend. We always stayed at the Weigand Marina Camp ground.

Later we would spend 2 weeks every summer at the Lake of The Ozarks in Central Missouri. A family named Hanks had a campground that was mainly year around campers, and a few spots for travelers like us. We became regulars, and it was my favorite place to vacation. Mostly because the Hanks had a son named John who I became fast friends with and made many crazy memories with. Those stories are for another time however.

We took long trips too, once to Oregon to stay with dad’s cousin Mervin Hiley, and once to Big Bend, Texas with my grandma and grandpa Wilkie. It is the later trip that today’s rambling is all about. Not the most fun, mind you. Trips to The Ozarks were the best and the trip to Oregon was beautiful, but this one had some wild memories.

Grandpa Wilkie was impossible to get away from the homestead for longer than a trip to town to buy essentials for the homestead. If you wanted to see Grandpa Wilkie, you went to him…and we all did. He was one of the true characters  in life, but that too is a rambling for another day. Somehow dad talked grandpa into bringing grandma along with us on a 2 week vacation to Big Bend, TX in the bus. Six Wilkie’s in a school bus for 2 weeks. Did I mention that Grandpa’s idea of a trip was into town for a pouch of Red Man chew, fill up the gas tank in the Rambler and get back to the Wilkie acreage? Anything longer was like pulling teeth.

Our trip included one very memorable event. On the way down to Texas, in Kansas or Oklahoma, we end up in a caravan of school buses converted into campers. There must’ve been 30 or 40 buses in this caravan…every bus except ours was filled with communal Hippies headed God knows where. Suddenly the string of motley campers is pulled over by the State Patrol and we wait.

Grandpa is stewing, dad is calming grandpa down and my brother and I are all eyes and ears looking out the back door glass, then the front windshield glass until the officers finally board our bus. The officers inspect the bus and ask a few questions about how long we’ve been with the group and dad assures them that we are not with the other buses, just stuck in the middle of the caravan. Do we know a certain girl and dad attests that we have never heard of her. It seems that a minor girl ran away with the commune and they were searching every bus until they find her.

Being pulled over was a break, by the way, as soon as the State Patrol understood that we were not Hippies we were escorted to the front of the caravan and got away from the slow moving parade of converted schools buses and their communal occupants. I was fascinated by the entire scene; grandpa stewing, dad on the defense, the sights, the trooper, the escort. It was the best part of the trip.

What else happened? We blew at least one retread tire, of course. We took a donkey ride across the Rio Grande River into a small Mexican town to sight see and shop. We got caught in a late spring snow storm on the way home, but it was the Hippie encounter that I remember the most. Without dad and his converted school bus, that would have never happened.

Happy Father’s Day Dad! 

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