A Penny a Minute

My family had driven out of state to my folks’ place for the 4th of July, and something my father said in his living room took me back to the days of years gone by. . . (Picture a wavy transition to a flashback sequence here).

In my parents’ family, (as well as the one that my wife and I made) the father ALWAYS drove the car. In fact, as a four year old, I clearly remember feeling sorry for dad because he had to stay awake by himself on long drives, late into the night, while everyone else in the family was able to sleep. Poor dad, stuck in the driver’s seat with no one to talk to.

Then one day, he happened upon a brilliant solution. Dad loved to have his hair combed, so he made a standing offer to pay a penny a minute to anyone who would sit directly behind the driver’s seat and comb his hair as he drove. He reasoned to everyone that we were sitting idly in the car anyway, so we might as well make some easy money while we drove along. (Keep in mind this was eons before game-boy advance, PSP, portable DVD players, or even the walkman.) He also knew that, unlike my brothers or sister, I would get sick if I read in the car, so it seemed like a mutually beneficial deal to both of us. None of my brothers or sisters cared to take him up on his offer, so the seat behind his, officially became mine on long trips.

The situation worked very well. I would comb his hair and watch the clock like a hawk. I would mentally calculate my pay for every minute that passed. This went on for a year or so but then I had an idea of my own. Knowing my siblings still didn’t want the job, I held out for 2 cents a minute. Since he couldn’t get anyone else to do it he quickly agreed. This went on for several years, but something in me began to change. My focus shifted from how much money I was making on the trip to how precious the time with my dad was. (Although as a child I never did comb his hair for free again.)

Our family drove everywhere on our vacations, so my father and I spent a LOT of time combing and talking, combing and laughing, and often combing and quietly being together as the only two people in our family awake. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute or our time, and it became a special treat to me. Just my time to be with dad, even though everyone else was only inches away.

Even now, when visiting my parents’ house, I’ll sit behind my father’s recliner and ask him for his comb. It was pouring rain yesterday, so everyone was stuck in the house when he asked if anyone wanted to comb his hair for a penny a minute. None of the 12 grandkids, except my oldest daughter took him up on his offer. I can only hope that she continues to comb his hair as years go by.

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