Without a Guide

Despite his alcoholism, my father was a brilliant man. He was in the Army Intelligence, so he had to be smart. It was that part of him I patiently waited to come out day after day. Walking home from the school bus, I used to wonder, What I am I coming home to today?

He wasn’t abusive, it’s not that. He did tend to have depression and would sometimes accuse us of things we did not do or complain about things we did not do enough of. The thing is, the alcoholism was a mask that went between what was an amazing person and the rest of the world. He would turn into this obnoxious and embarrassing person. Sober, he was a quiet and pensive man with an endless amount of patience.

That was when I had a real father. He had worked all over the world and knew so much about so many different cultures. I was fascinated with this. Still am. He was the sort of person to step off the trail or go past the “end of road” sign and explore The Beyond without a guide. He especially liked seeking out nomads in the deserts of North Africa and in the jungles of South America. I greatly admired his fearlessness with regards to the world and The Unknown.


This is a photo someone took of my dad in Tunis

At home however, the things he did know caught up with and devoured him. Too much time to think about them, I guess.

One trip he never talked about was that two year hitch in Korea. The War. We always thought that was the thing that made him drink.

If my father was working Stateside, he was extremely unhappy and restless. He was always mumbling, “I want to work overseas.” That was his mantra. But we never thought he was trying to outrun us. He wasn’t.

One time, he tried to take us with him. When I was fifteen, we were inches from moving to Spain. Everything was lined up, he had a place there, and the details sorted out. He was working in Libya at the time and the plan was for him to meet up with us in Spain during his off days. At the last minute something happened between the US and Libya and the entire thing was called off. Americans were forced to leave Libya, so he lost that job.

So I never did get to travel abroad with my father. Not physically. Through his stories and thousands of photographs, I did. I also inherited his restless spirit, that need to explore new places, new people, to get the flock outta here.

After I became a nurse, when I’d get new issues of my nursing mags, I’d skip all the way to the back, to the ads about traveling nurses. I looked at all the different places I could go and daydreamed. There’s been a worldwide nursing shortage for a long time and I worked with a lot of nurses who did this thing.

All I could do was dream though, Blane always had the higher paying job, so his career plans trumped mine and eventually I stayed at home to raise the kids and quit nursing.

This I want to go overseas thing became my mantra, but not until after my father died. I didn’t need to have a job abroad to travel. We could just go there. And we did, many times. Always took the kids with us, too.

I can’t say I took them to all these places because that is what I wish my father had done with me. I don’t wish I had a childhood like them.

I’m glad I didn’t go until I was an adult and wanted to explore all these new places. It is very different when someone takes you somewhere versus you taking them along.

I still have these daydreams about being a traveling nurse. I haven’t worked in the field in years, but you know where I see myself one day? On a medical sailboat (it exists) that travels the world giving immunizations to people in remote locations.

Not all of my dreams are nomadic in nature. I also fantasize about sitting at a typewriter in a cottage somewhere in the English countryside writing a novel. About what, I don’t know, but the image is in my head along with one of me in a wooden house near the French Quarter doing the same thing.

None of my “visions” have me here where I sit writing this blog post. Not one.


That is a a photo one of the girls took of me on this trip.


20 thoughts on “Without a Guide

  1. I love this post, especially the photograph of your father. It has everything you write about him in it. Beautifully illustrates his need to explore, yet something about the composition says ‘haunted’ to me. This is not a post easy to forget.

    I hope you’ll join one of the health services boats or with other organizations! If it’s something you’d like to explore, please email me and I’ll happily put you in touch with organizations that I can vouch for in terms of the quality of their interventions. (Just like anything else, not all international aid groups are made alike!) As for NOLA… YES, the nursing shortage is definitely extreme here. Really, for all medical fields. I know of a clinic in the Quarter who is hiring… 🙂

  2. I think maybe the horizon being shifted is what is a little odd about the photo of my dad. The boats at right are beached but they appear level. I’m guessing the person who took it was looking more at the boats.

    I’ll keep that in mind about NOLA, Holly, thanks so much. I can’t do it just yet, my youngest has a few years left of high school and she wants to finish here. Maybe one day, though.

  3. You write of all the things I wish I had done while I was still able. Money, or rather, the lack thereof, is what keeps me from traveling these days. No use playing “what if”, however. Next lifetime, maybe.

  4. You could do some exploring in your own backyard, I bet. Get a bus ticket, cross town and go see all the things you haven’t ‘hit’ in your area.
    I’ve heard it’s quite beautiful in Washington State. Never been there or anywhere in the Northwest. Maybe we’ll run across each other one day, Silverstar.

  5. This is a good story about your father. I met your father a few times and our fathers were a lot alike. Except my father only traveled during the war. He also never spoke of the war, but had pictures that told the stories he could not.

  6. beautiful post.

    have you ever thought of doing a month’s volunteering overseas? that could be manageable.

    after I volunteered in vietnam several of my friends signed up and two of them actually took their teenage daughters with them to work in the orphanages as well. I have an amazing photograph of a 13 year old australian girl sitting on the floor behind a row of tiny babies she has just fed and changed. she looks so proud of her accomplishment

  7. “Sober, he was a quiet and pensive man with an endless amount of patience. ”

    This is one reason I’m so glad I never took to the drink. I may be distant and think way too much, but I am me . . . most of the time.

    I have never been out of the states. And the one place I’d love to visit is Ireland. Someday . . .

    Beautiful post, my friend. I, for one, am glad you’re here . . .

  8. Michele, little by little I am doing more and more of the things I dreamed about doing. They seemed so silly way back when, so impossible to accomplish. Now it really does seem to be within reach. Like my arm is growing. LOL.

    Max, I wouldn’t trade. Not that I think their childhood was bad, I just love where I come from, all of it. The good, the bad, the ugly. Scars can be good, I think they make people more creative. Talk to any artist and they usually come from a screwed up background. My kids had things way too easy, all they ever had to fight for was good grades.

    Voodoo, you HAVE to ask my mom about the time my dad shot the train. LOL. Funniest story, ever. I can’t really tell it here.

    Thanks Ginny. I hadn’t heard about the “Best of” selection before reading your comment. That made my day.

    Nursemyra, I’ve thought about doing that, oh yeah. Lots. I have to bring Blane with me, too. So that’s great if he can come along.
    I’d love to see that photo of yours. Do you have it online?

    Brian, I did my fair share of partying before I had kids and a little here and there. But I was lucky and never took to it much. Same reason you mentioned, “I am me.”
    I never did like not being able to think straight and all it takes is one drink to get me wasted. My mom was like that. I only saw her drink wine one time while I was growing up.

  9. Lovely Kitty. Thanks for the glimpse of your dad. Even though I have only just met you online in the past year, part way through reading it I put the travel bug connection together. I’m glad you have been able to travel over the years. I have no doubt that you will make all of those visions come true. Why not? A few years on a boat, a few years in the Quarter (I’ll visit you then!), and wherever you are, you know you will write.

  10. I’ll never stop writing. I’m yet to meet a person who has been able to quit writing. No such thing. I know people who gave it up and tried to quit only to come back all freshened up and with a vengeance.
    I’m glad it works that way.

  11. Your dad was really nice the times I saw him. Those darn trains. My dad’s blind horse tried to jump one with dad on it. It is so true the things we saw and did in life make us who we are. Would not change a thing.

  12. Kitty,

    Lovely post. I was drawn to your childhood wanderlust. I grew up an “anywhere but here” kid and it hit a deep cord with me.

    Your kiddos are lucky, lucky pups!

  13. When you get that cottage in England, let me know. I want to live in the same village and we can walk to the pub together.

    Beautiful post about your dad. It’s really wonderful that you can have such fond memories of him in a situation where many people might not. He was gone a lot but somehow you knew he wasn’t trying to distance himself from you. I think that says a lot about him, and about you, and most likely your mom, too.

  14. I don’t have that particular photo online but there’s another one from vietnam on my “more” page. you have to type in the password so email me if you’re interested and I’ll give it to you

  15. Voodoo, you’re going to have to tell me more about that blind horse and train story one day.

    Julie, we’ve got vagabond blood. I’ve never lived in a place that I’ve wanted to stay.

    Hey Pooks, hanging out with you in the pub sounds ideal.
    Yeah, my mom used to read a lot of books on alcoholism and she attended Al Anon meetings. She kept us educated about it. We always thought of it as an illness.

    Nursemyra, I sent you an email.

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