Leaving a Funeral, Looking For My Own

My grandfather, James Krumwiede, had rare courage, for which he was honored with a Purple Heart .

I spent nine hours on the road yesterday. It was three-and-a-half hours up to Grand Rapids, Minn. for my grandfather’s funeral and six-and-a-half hours coming back. In that time, I found that I’m equal parts stubborn and paranoid, which, like last night’s rain and snow, is a terrible mix.

First off, my grandfather passed after suffering a heart attack a few weeks ago. He’d suffered through emphysema, COPD and bladder cancer the past few years. As a young man, he was awarded a Purple Heart after being severely wounded in the Korean War. He’d asked (and received) a lot out of his body over the years. It was hard letting him go yesterday, but it was truly a beautiful funeral, complete with a 21-gun salute.

I had no choice in leaving Grand Rapids last night. I couldn’t afford to stay over night and miss work today, because I’m paid hourly and Thanksgiving’s already slashed my next paycheck. So, I pushed off around 4 p.m., just as snowflakes the size of coasters started to fall.

Funerals make everyone think about death, namely their own. I’m not alone there. Here’s a bad combination: Funeral + 5.5 Hours in a Car + White-out Snow Conditions + Rural Highways + Every Possible Reminder of Death Along the Way.

Even before I made it out of Grand Rapids, I heard The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young” on separate radio stations. (“The sharp knife of a short life/ Well, I’ve had just enough time.”) National Public Radio celebrated the life of actor Leslie Nielsen and discussed war crimes alleged by the latest Wikileaks report. Garrison Keilor lamented Minnesota winters, how they bring people together, because rational Minnesotans don’t drive through blizzards. I saw deer signs. Many deer signs. I saw ninja deer signs. I saw a sign that said, “Hope you got Jesus, buddy. Deer don’t appreciate your type.”

Here, I had left a funeral — friends and family — and decided to barrel through what was, no kidding, the worst conditions I’ve ever driven in my life. And it wasn’t even close.

How bad did it get? On a road where the speed limit is 60, I never once topped 25 miles per hour. At times, my windshield looked like an intergalactic screensaver, as my headlights — not even my fog lights — illuminated every last snowflake. It was like driving into one of those 3-D puzzles you see in the comics section of the newspaper. You stare and stare and stare until you’ve got a lazy eye and a headache, but finally, the hidden image jumps out at you. That hidden image was the road.

I relied upon mile markers, the limited oncoming traffic and the ruts on the right shoulder to define my lane. In two hours and 25 minutes, I covered 70 miles, and all the while, I battled two trains of thought:

  1. You’re going to die on the day of your grandfather’s funeral because you just had to make it back to work.
  2. You have to make it back to work, no matter how bad the weather is. It might take 13 hours to get home, but damn it, you’ll be at work tomorrow.

By the time I made it to Interstate 35-W South, the roads were better, but only one lane was drivable — for cars. Seemingly every four-wheel drive vehicle felt it necessary to turn on their fog lights, creep up behind me, and finally blast by, shooting ice chunks and road muck all over my windshield, as if to say, “I drives me a souped up Ford Excursion, boy, so check out my Jimmie Johnson bumper sticker as I try to put you in ditch!”

Luckily, my rage subsided with the snow, and by the time I reached Mora, Minn., the snow turned to mist, which then turned to harmless fog. I got home, grabbed a Grain Belt Premium and conked out immediately thereafter. During the drive, I thought I was defying death. This morning, it’s 700 words, a good story and the promise I’ll make it to work on time.

I don’t have anything original or profound to offer after my grandfather’s funeral. Of course, funerals make us think about our own death. And, it’s amazing the stupid things we do to put ourselves in harm’s way. It’s so me to go out and drive through hell or high water to be sure my plans aren’t altered.

Stubborn? Sure. Bold? Maybe. Courageous? Not even close. My grandfather had courage, and frankly, I wish I had done a better job of taking notes.

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