903 miles: Richmond to Tucson

Door to church where my grandmother is buried in Tucson.
Door of church where my grandmother is buried in Tucson.

Miles traveled create memories.  Cherished ones that can’t be replicated or replaced.  I was given the opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime road trip with my father prior to Christmas.  As a 40-year-old woman, it was an adult child getting that chance that won’t most likely occur anytime soon.

Our relationship was complicated from early to a young adult due to divorce, miscommunication, and my immaturity.  However, today the bond is authentic and natural.  Twenty years ago, could have never predicted today’s outcome and how grateful I am.  As a result, flew from San Francisco to Tucson where my grandfather resides to start the journey on the road with my father to Madison.

Grandpa and me...
Grandpa and me…

My 84-year-old grandfather Tom likes his routine: McDonalds by 7:00 am, run errands, pay bills, watch MSNBC/CNN/sports, eat, nap, and repeat.  He’s worked hard all his life and scarified much.  His mother was Choctaw and he grew up in Oklahoma.  He watched his brother die at the age of eight in a cold river during Winter.  My father and I provided company during the holidays.

While in Tucson, visited the University of Arizona Museum of Art to supplement the routine.  The venue had an impressive collection of artworks including a Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and a missing William de Kooning.  According to the wall text: “In the early morning of November 29, 1985, the painting was taken from its home on the west wall of the second floor at the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson Arizona.  On that morning a man and women enter the UAMA shortly after the museum opened.  The couple proceeded upstairs and carefully out William de Kooning’s Woman-Ochre from its frame.  Wearing coats, the man and woman managed to hide the 30 x 40 inch painting under their clothing as they walked out of the building.  The painting has never been found.  Witnesses say that the painting was taken by the couple who were seen leaving the museum in a rust colored sports car.”

University of Arizona Museum of Art.
University of Arizona Museum of Art.
Mark Rothko, Green on Blue (Earth-Green and White), Oil on Canvas.
Mark Rothko, Green on Blue (Earth-Green and White), Oil on Canvas.
Jackson Pollock, Number 20, Oil on Masonite game board.
Jackson Pollock, Number 20, Oil on Masonite game board.
Willen de Kooning, Woman-Ochre, Oil on canvas.
Missing Willen de Kooning’s Woman-Ochre, Oil on canvas.

My father and I spent the rest of the visit, looking at maps and deciphering electronic devices plotting the route for the upcoming trip.  The excursion in Tucson would be a short 72 hours.  We had guides but weren’t worried how to move East or the weather conditions driving to Madison, Wisconsin.  We just wanted to see beautiful country.  It didn’t matter how long it would take.

Grandfather Tom Balisle and father Mike Balisle.
Grandfather Tom  and father Mike.

At 6:00 am on December 21st, my father and I loaded up his truck with luggage, snacks, caffeine, and started our journey.  Prior to sunrise, said goodbye to my grandfather and good morning to the road.  The adventure ahead-seemed familiar yet new.  We were searching for an unknown that was comforting.  It took me 903 miles to get to Tucson and it would be another 1772 miles to our final destination.

*This blog will be the first of four chronicling a journey from Tucson to Santa Fe to Kearney to Madison with my father: an adventure of self-discovery, awareness, acknowledgment, and acceptance.

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