My brother recently moved to North Carolina for grad school. It’s exciting because, distance-wise, he is closer to me than he was when he was living in Massachusetts. Now, when I decide to visit, I just need to survive driving through hills of inbred, mountain people. That joke may only be funny to the geographically inclined. It definitely won’t be funny to people from West Virginia.
He drove down with my dad on a twelve-hour journey, stopping in Fredericksburg for a night. I forgot they were making this trip until my email inbox began to fill with pictures of my dad, sporting his 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment t-shirt, pretending to take cover behind a stone wall. If this sounds strange to you, you’ve never been on a road trip with my father.
When you travel with my dad, a couple things are guaranteed to happen. Regardless of where you go in the entire world, you will, at some point on your journey, find yourself at the former site of an American Civil War battle. Some of these historical preservations will have museums and memorials dedicated to the fallen. Most of these sites will be large, empty fields that last saw action one hundred and fifty years ago. There will usually be at least one statue of a general or war hero, and you better be prepared to pose next to it, imitating the sculpture with tremendous accuracy regardless of how many other tourists are there snapping pictures and laughing at you.
In the end, you will see and experience new and exciting places. You will also bond as a family. But you WILL have your fair share of embarrassment. And sometimes all of these happen in a single moment that you will remember forever. I’ll get to that in a second.
My brother’s recent adventure to grad school can be topped only be the multi-day road trip the men in my family took in the summer of 2003. We called it the Fantastic American Road Trip for multiple reasons…
A. We covered several all-American stops like ground zero, Gettysburg, and the back yard pool of my dad’s old college buddy’s New Jersey home.
B. We did the entire trip by car.
C. The acronym is FART.
The longest portion of the trip was in Gettysburg, where we stayed in a motel for three days on the exact anniversary of the Civil War battle that made the town famous. Each day we spent was filled with reenactments, looking at empty fields, and taking plenty of pictures. Gettysburg is probably the most famous battle of the war, so there were plenty of statues for my dad to pose us next to. He made sure we didn’t miss a single one. If there was a stone soldier on horseback with his sword drawn, my brother and I were right there beside him, straddling air and waving our umbrellas high above our heads while my dad snapped away.
The most notable picture was one of the three of us standing with a group of Confederate reenactors. These were bearded, toothless men who could have been extras in Deliverance if it was a period piece. The picture is still on display at my parents’ house and it serves as a reminder of the time an awkward Jewish family joined forces with alcoholic, gun-toting, hobbyists on the field of pretend battle.
At this point in our lives, my brother and I were entering middle school and high school respectively. Neither of us ever really had a rebellious phase, but it was still that age where we felt embarrassed every time we went to a movie with a parent and ran into our friends. We were too cool to hang out with dad outside of our house, let alone stand in front of a canon that’s been inactive for over a century and pretend to fire it while he takes a photo. To my dad, this was simply a part of being a parent. To give your kids something they will take with them for the rest of their lives. And he did. He really, really did. It just happened in an unexpected way.
On our way back to Massachusetts, we made a pit stop in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; a place widely known for its rich Amish culture, and for a little town called Intercourse. When my dad doesn’t know the exact history behind something, he makes up facts. So I learned that this town was named for the historic Amish orgy of 1754.
Most of Intercourse’s tourism probably comes from frat guys who stop in just long enough to buy a t-shirt. It’s a wonder more towns haven’t taken this approach to attracting tourists. Sexville, New Hampshire, Analbeads, Wisconsin, Fuck, Michigan. It’s almost too easy.
As we walked through town, the Amish smiled and waved. But my dad and I were too busy snickering.
“I wish I could experience Intercourse every day!” My dad joked.
“I loves me some nice, long, intense Intercourse.” I responded. Missing the point entirely.
“What’s so funny?” Demanded a prepubescent voice in the back.
My brother, in his eleven-year-old wisdom, didn’t get the joke. To him, intercourse was a meaningless word that had no relation to sex and sex was a thing you did when you lied on top of your partner, kissed, and rubbed belly buttons. I told him that.
My brother was also notoriously stubborn as a child and didn’t like being left out of the conversation. Every time my father and I made a joke, he would demand to know why we were giggling like school boys who just found their older brother’s porn collection.
All my dad had to do was say, “Intercourse is another word for sex.”
It’s a simple explanation. My brother would have nodded and laughed along with us for the rest of the trip.
But there was something in the air on that warm, summer day. Like a pollen, it floated through my dad’s nostrils and into his lungs, making his chest puff and fresh hair sprout on his ass. Maybe it was because we were on the last couple days of a week-long male bonding excursion and he felt as though we needed to return home with more than just a few pictures.
He decided, right then and there in Intercourse, Pennsylvania, to give my brother the sex talk.
“Stay here, Eric.” He said to me outside the Amish waffle house. “Your brother and I need to have a few words.”
As they walked in slow motion towards a park bench on the side of the dirt road, I saw my brother look back in terror shortly before a horse and buggy momentarily blocked my view. For the next twenty-three minutes, I watched from afar as my dad explained the inner workings of a vagina like he was putting on a shadow puppet show. My brother fixed his eyes on a nearby pile of horse manure and that’s where they remained for the rest of this one-sided conversation.
For the first time on the trip, I was able to watch a purely awkward moment from afar. I savored it, knowing that my brother will never be the same again. Knowing that he will one day tell his children stories about this very encounter. And I will do the same, when I’m not taking embarrassing pictures of my own kids. In front of every statue. On every road trip. In every place we visit. I’ll laugh as they cringe and plead, “Dad! Can we stop now? People are watching!” Because I know it may be painful at the time, but when they grow up they will wish I had taken more.
My dad was in the middle of miming an erection with his thumb, when I realized I instinctively had his camera out and was snapping away. Click. Click. Click. The tears in my eyes from laughter making it hard to see exactly what was happening, but I knew I had to capture every moment as this was the kind of uncomfortable part of growing up I never, ever wanted to forget.