My parents were very frugal people. We rarely ever ate out (“We can make that better at home!”) and we never took exotic trips to Disneyworld or The Grand Canyon. Our one BIG trip of the year was a road trip, taken over the course of three days, in a tiny car packed with five people and two coolers, from Texas to Indiana and then later, Michigan, where our relatives lived.
To today’s kids, this probably sounds like the most boring thing in the world, but my sister, brother, and I looked forward to our yearly road trip with excitement. Dad always bought us new books and we were allowed to drink soda. My favorite flavor was peach Nehi, which we always picked up at the same gas station in Arkansas.
Every year, my sister and I would get the new Days Inn motel (Dad’s motel of choice) guide and pore over which motel we would stay at during our journey. We disregarded things like location, the age of the motel, or nearby restaurants. The only amenity we really cared about was the pool. Any listing that didn’t have a swimming icon was immediately disqualified. Sometimes our choices were good, but mostly they had a pool.
One of our favorite places to stay was the Days Inn in Bentonville, Arkansas, which, at the time, was brand new. Within walking distance of the hotel was a Ponderosa restaurant, which my sister and I loved purely for the soft serve ice cream bar. Behind the motel, and up a small hill, was a McDonald’s. One evening, out of the blue, my dad told us that if we got up early with him, that he would take us to McDonald’s for breakfast. We rarely ever ate at McDonald’s, and certainly never for breakfast (because we could make it better at home), so the thought of having my first McDonald’s breakfast was too much to resist.
Around 6 a.m. the next morning, I heard my dad rustling around the room. I woke up immediately and got dressed. My dad looked at me confused and asked, “Why are you up so early?” I replied, “Because I want to get breakfast with you at McDonald’s.” I suspect my dad didn’t think any of us would get up early enough on our summer vacation to take him up on his offer, so the fact that I was awake and dressed probably took my dad by surprise.
It was still dark as we made our way across the parking lot and up and over the hill to reach the McDonald’s. Usually, Dad chose the best value items on the menu for us to eat (this meant we never at a single kid’s meal), but this time, he let me choose what I wanted. Of course, I ordered the largest thing on the menu — the big breakfast with orange juice. I think Dad ordered the same.
From then on, every time we stopped at our favorite Days Inn on day 1 of our road trip, I asked my dad if we could go get McDonald’s for breakfast. And every morning, we snuck out and ate breakfast together. It’s one of my most favorite and special memories that I have of my dad, because it was just us, watching the sunrise, eating breakfast. It reminds me that it’s often the most seemingly insignificant moments in life that are often the most memorable.
My dad died 11 years ago today, and on this day, I often like to remember him by eating breakfast at McDonald’s. Some years, Sly makes me a homemade egg and cheese biscuit (which is about a million times better than McD’s), but this year, I haven’t been feeling well enough to eat much of anything. So, Dad, you’ll have to take a rain check for now. I promise we’ll have breakfast together when I feel better.
Thinking of you, always, but especially today.