The incredible journey

By Kris Ferrazza | Feb 28, 2020

“Wake up, I’m talking to you!” Dad snapped.

My eyes were heavy - so heavy - from a long and busy day, but my eyes flew open as I tried to listen to my bedtime story.

At age 51, it may come as a surprise that this ritual continues. But for as long as I can remember, my father has been telling me stories, and not just at bedtime.

Last night was no different. It was nearly 11 o’clock and I was ready for bed, but he felt like talking. What else is new? So I sat on the couch in my PJs and opened my ears, just like old times.

Over school vacation, my daughter Elizabeth and I visited him at his home in Providence, R.I. While her 13-year-old classmates headed off to skating rinks, shopping malls, arcades and sunny beaches, she spent her break listening to her 90-year-old grandpa reminisce about the way things were.

We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Suffice it to say, my dad has the gift of gab. He is a great storyteller, and even though I have heard many of the tales before, lately he has been testing out some new material. So I swear I was listening with great interest as he weaved his latest tale. However, my eyes were getting heavy and I was powerless over the sleep that was trying to overtake me.

The bedtime story dujour was about the time he thumbed a ride from Camp Pickett, Va., to Providence one weekend. He was stationed at the army base in Blackstone, Va., when he and two buddies decided to leave.

“We left at noon on a Saturday and I got home at noon on the Sunday,” he recalled. “All I had was a silver dollar.”

It was raining on the base and he was homesick. Although he had a weekend pass, he was broke, having lost his money playing poker. He and his buddies were sitting around writing letters home when the sergeant hit a jackpot on a small slot machine at the base. He gave each of the guys a silver dollar and told them to go buy a beer.

But my dad had a better idea. On a dare, he and two other guys decided to see who could get home and back.

“Back then people would pick up GIs, no problem,” he said. He stuck out his thumb and got a ride almost immediately.

After countless rides, he got to Washington, D.C., and was starving. He broke the silver dollar to buy a pack of cigarettes and a little pie. Then a bus driver gave him a free ride to the end of the line. That’s when his luck ran out and he found himself stranded in Hartford, Conn. from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m.

“I thought I was doomed,” he said. “If I didn’t get back, I would have been AWOL and I would have had a lot of explaining to do to the captain.”

He considered taking a train so he would be sure to get back in time for roll call. But he missed his young wife and parents, and eventually got a ride.

By noon on Sunday, he was at his childhood home in Providence. Everyone was thrilled to see him. He stayed three hours, took all the money his wife had, and hopped on a train back to Virginia.

“So when I got back to the base, they asked, ‘What did you do?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean what did I do? I went home.’ “

They didn’t believe him until he opened his duffel bag and produced the evidence: his mother’s homemade meatball sandwiches and a bottle of my grandfather’s wine.

“They were in a state of shock,” he said, chuckling at the memory. “So I gave them each a sandwich and a little wine, and we had a party.”

And the beat goes on.

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