Anywhere Is Possible
Today –– August 8th –– is my father’s birthday. It’s been 20 years since he’s been with us on this occasion, and more than that since we celebrated with a special supper, my mother’s homemade chocolate cake, an enthusiastic rendition of Happy Birthday to You, and brightly wrapped presents.
On his last birthday in 1994, there was no cake or singing or presents. He was so completely in the grip of Alzheimer’s by then that my mother could not bear a celebration he couldn’t understand. Any such attempt would have only added to the already overwhelming stress of those last months anyway, so as much as it broke our hearts, we knew the decision was the best one. I couldn’t let the day go by completely unmarked, though, so I brought him a single red rose and a card. My dad wouldn’t know me when I arrived. He wouldn’t be able to read the card or likely even register that it stood on the dresser beside the bed where he fitfully dozed. And chances were he wouldn’t know the rose was for him or remember it’s special significance even if he did see it. But at least the symbols of love would be there for him.
My father passed away less than three months later. After my mother and I had visited the funeral home to make all the arrangements, I called my brother Steve who lived in British Columbia to tell him everything had been taken care of and I’d picked out the best casket I could find. He chuckled and said a casket wouldn’t do –– we needed a Land Rover because that was about the only thing dad would be comfortable in. I chuckled too, saying no, I hadn’t quite been able to manage that, but I had selected a sturdy, green casket –– the best copper one available. Not many people would understand I’d made that choice because of my father’s love for his green Land Rovers, but Steve and I did.
Possessions didn’t mean a great deal to my father, but he loved his Land Rovers and we did too. The hours I spent in the garage with my father when he was working on them are some of the most precious of my childhood, as are the memories of sitting next to him on stormy nights to operate the controls for the snow plow he’d installed so he could clear our road and the nearby driveways… of piling my mother’s co-workers in to drive them all home when blizzards raged… of sitting in front next to him when my brothers were being dropped at cadets… of heading out late in the evening to pick up my mother from university… of heading out in the Land Rover to go trouting in the spring and fall, or picking berries in the summer…
Steve drove my dad’s Series IIA all through university, and my other brother Rick drove it as well, though less frequently. I never really expected to have the opportunity to get behind the wheel, but after I’d gotten my license using one of our automatic transmission vehicles, my dad asked me if I wanted to learn how to drive a standard. The answer was obviously and enthusiastically YES.
As I explained in A Daughter’s Gift, in the chapter titled “For the Love of Land Rovers:”
It was and still is the most stubborn and most wonderful vehicle I’ve ever driven –- the gears were hard to move, the steering was cantankerous beyond reason, and it actually seemed to jump over even the tiniest bumps in the road. Not to mention being totally unforgiving if I didn’t release the clutch at the exact second it wanted to be released. My dad lurched and chuckled his way through most of the early lessons, gently coaching me with a twinkle in his eye; I laughed too, even though I couldn’t help but feel utterly mortified as we hopped our way across vacant parking lots. It would be incorrect to say I eventually mastered the vehicle, but we did come to a happy understanding.
What did (my father) do for me when he trusted me to drive the last (Land Rover) he would own? He showed me he trusted me to care for it as he would. He showed me I could do anything my brothers could do (they’d also learned to drive the Land Rovers and had been driving them long before I could even get my license). I think he even helped me land my second, or perhaps third boyfriend, a Land Rover fan who said I was the only other person… he’d ever let drive his Land Rover. In trusting me to drive his Land Rover, my dad did what he’s always done; he showed his respect for me, his belief in me; he let me try something new without fear of his displeasure at my failure; and he treated me as an equal. For those gifts, I can never thank him enough.
Steve and I both own Land Rovers now –– have for many years. Steve is on his second Discovery. I still have my first –– a 2002 Special Edition Kalahari (Kal), brought home on May 23, 2003 –– and there’s now also a Discovery 4 in the driveway.
The Newfoundland release of the book about my father’s battle with Alzheimer’s and our remarkable relationship took place in that province’s Land Rover Dealership in early 2003. When the sales agent at our local dealership handed me the keys for Kal just a few months later, I handed him a copy of the book, and told him to read Chapter 12 so he’d truly understand what driving out of the parking lot in my yellow Land Rover meant to me.
People who know my family, people who remember my father and his Land Rovers… understand the emotional connection my brother and I have to these vehicles.
These days many people see Land Rover as a brand. But for us Land Rover isn’t a brand. Land Rover is a philosophy.
For the Barron family, and now the Tam family, Land Rover is the embodiment of my father’s personal philosophy that anything is possible, that anywhere is possible. In a Land Rover with my father, there was never a question of not reaching our destination. In a Land Rover with my father, we could do what others would not, go where others could not… not because it would be easy, but because we were willing to take the time needed, work through problems, and overcome whatever obstacles arose. In a Land Rover with my father, even the everyday was just a little more adventurous and exciting.
The Land Rovers we drive today honour my father and his memory, all that he taught us so well, and the remarkable father he was. We love our Land Rovers –– their personalities, their quirks, their very souls –– just as he loved his.
How could we not, when we loved our father so.
Happy Birthday, Dad. I’ll miss you a little bit more than usual today, but when I go out, I’ll be driving Kal… and as always, when I’m behind the wheel of a Land Rover, you’ll be right there with me.