It was September of 1966, and the girls were too excited to sleep, concentrate on their homework, play in the yard or even watch their weekly shows.
Grandpa was coming.
They hadn’t seen him in over six months. He’d bought the camper after mother passed and had been seeing the world ever since, fulfilling her dream of wandering the country trying to see all of the best places.
National landmarks? No. Famous museums? Nope. Skyscrapers, cities, overlooks, natural wonders? I only wish.
She wanted to see all of the sideshows.
As a little girl, her father had a business venture out in the middle of nowhere, and due to reasons never fully explained to me, there was one time that he had to bring a young version of my mother with him. On the way home, he was particularly exuberant due to such a successful meeting that, in his good mood, he detoured at a sign that said, “Come see the world’s largest frying pan.” And that’s when she caught the bug.
I always thought it was about the rare moment she shared alone with her father. Her mother never really left her father’s side, which is why I’ve always been curious as to the events that lead them to this trip without her. But she always told me it was about the sheer size of it, the fathoming of how a job that large could even have been completed. The pan was the size of a house, she’d said.
Anyway, she spent so many years talking about traveling cross-country to see these monuments to human wastefulness, but they’d only seen about seven or eight; father was all about the history of our great country, not oversized objects. So he started this adventure and spent a chunk of their savings on a camper to see as many of them as possible, I think out of guilt.
So now, my girls, who love their grandpa very much, who have spent the last half of a year missing him, are excited at the prospect of his arrival.
Every car that drives down the street calls them to the window.
“Is it him?” I would ask.
“Nope,” Linda would say with a dejected look on her face.
“Uh-uh,” Nancy would respond, slumping back onto the couch.
“You know, girls, he may not even get here today. He’s driving a lot, there’s traffic, accidents, and he’s old, he needs to sleep and rest sometimes.” They hated hearing this.
It was the next day when he finally showed up, and the girls were distracted by a new board game I’d set out for them. It was the loud bang of the camper’s old engine that made them jump up and run to the window. “He’s here!” Nancy shouted as she ran to the door, Linda’s little legs trying to keep up with her big sister.
Nancy threw the door open and ran out to my father, who was coming up the drive. “Hello my princesses, how I’ve missed you!” he exclaimed, reaching out and wrapping his arms around the two of them, lifting them off the ground to a chorus of giggles. “My how you’ve grown!”
As he put them down they blushed and then became shy.
“I hope you girls are ready, after dinner I’m going to put on a slide show!”
Oh no. A slide show. My parents had been putting us through those for years, and they were one thing I didn’t miss. And to think those were shots of historical landmarks and beautiful, picturesque landscapes. The last thing I wanted to see was a photograph of the world’s largest artichoke.
“I even got one of the world’s largest artichoke! Well, it’s a photograph of a photograph, of course, but it’ll do.”
The girls ran around a bit and as they tired themselves out I approached.
“Hey dad. How are you?”
“Couldn’t be better! When’s dinner? I’ll get the slide projector set up for after!”
Dinner came and went, a bit too fast for my liking, when dad got up and went out to the camper, returning with a brown paper bag. “We’ll do the slide show in a moment, it’s still a bit light out. But first we’ll do gifts!”
The girls got excited and started smiling as he rooted through the bag.
Stephen, at the head of the table, was the first recipient. “Okay for my favorite son-in-law, a t-shirt!” It was a shirt that had a drawing of a man leaning against an artichoke that was almost his size, and it said “I Got Choked Up at the World’s Largest Artichoke, Castroville, CA” and he smiled.
“Wow, thanks Bill,” he said, barely containing a laugh.
I got a mug that had the words “Come Say Your Prayers at the World’s Largest Rosary” and it had the rosary around the lip. “Wow dad, this is great. Where did you see this, again?”
“Oh it says it on the bottom, Newport, Rhode Island.”
“And for my special little granddaughters, I got you these!” They were two stuffed strawberries.
“World’s largest strawberry?” I asked.
“Yup, Strawberry Point, Iowa. Stood on top of a pole. It was a statue, of course. But quite large, even for a statue!” He looked out the dining room window. “Well, kids, it’s dark enough, everyone get ready for the show!”
We assembled in the living room on the couch as he doused the lights and turned on the projector. It started with a shot made from a titling set we bought him before he left. “World’s Largest” it said.
“Clever title, Bill,” my husband stated dryly.
“Thanks! Okay here we go!”
And thus started a cavalcade. A stuffed steer that almost reached the ceiling. A statue of a sharptail grouse (I didn’t even know what one was until then) that he’d driven all the way to Canada to see. A doorknob (I’m not kidding). A dog dish (again, not a joke). A shot of a penny with Lincoln’s head larger than my father. A potato. Yes, a potato. Followed by a huge pierogi statue on a fork. The shots went on and on until about an hour later, when we were finally saved by that giant white light of emptiness in the slide cartridge.
Stephen and I clapped, the girls snored.
The next morning as I served breakfast he had a surprising announcement.
“I’ll be heading back out after breakfast.”
“Oh I’m sure whatever you need we have here, dad,” I responded.
“No, I meant back on the road.”
I looked at the girls, who both teared up.
“But dad,” I said to him softly. “You just got here. We were going to take you to the pool today. The girls-“
He looked down at the eggs I’d placed in front of him. “I’m sorry, dear, but they’ll understand one day. This is something I have to do.”
After breakfast he brought his already-packed bag down and had his camera.
“Come on, girls, let’s ask your mother to get a photograph of us outside of the camper.”
We all went outside and while the girls checked out the inside of his vehicle, he hugged me. “Sorry darling, but you have to understand. I still have a lot to see before-”
I didn’t want him to finish so I hugged him again. Stephen came up and shook his hand.
“Girls, come out and let’s get your photograph with grandpa.”
They came out and posed with him in front of the camper as I took the shot. They looked a bit sad to see him go so soon, this man whom they adored.
“Drive safe,” Stephen said to him.
“Always,” he said, gave me one last hug, then picked up each of the girls and giving them a kiss.
He pulled himself up into the driver’s seat with some difficulty, shut the door, started the engine and then rolled down the window.
“Where will you go, dad?”
“Circleville, Ohio. World’s largest pumpkin, which they then made into the world’s largest pumpkin pie.”
He smiled a huge smile, waved and drove off.
How sweet your memories. It sounds like he had so much fun. Thanks for posting.
Your writing is so eloquent and romantic. I really enjoyed this.
Man — I didn’t expect this to make me cry. Maybe it’s because I never had a grandpa. Good story. Is it silly of me to ask you to hug your dad for me the next time you see him?
Wow…I’m so touched that it hit you so emotionally, what a compliment. Thank you.
We have the worlds only Corn Palace here. So I guess that would make it the World’s Largest! Nice post; thanks for sharing!
What a beautiful story…thank you so much for sharing…
The World’s Largest Perogie is only 20 minutes from where I live. In the summer, I’ve seen people napping underneath. Great post. I’ve always wanted to do the same!
To be honest, so have I! It’s part of the inspiration for the story. Someday I’ll veer off a road to follow the sign to the largest typewriter or something 🙂
Made me smile…just what i needed tonight.thanks for posting!
Glad to make you smile!
Thanks for a very immersive and touching story, makes me wish i had more time to visit my grandparents. Fantastic post.
Wow! This was a great post! I love your writing. Would love it if you turned this into a series – it seems like I’ve been drawn in and now need to hear the rest of the story. Great job!
I really enjoyed this story and love how you linked it to the photo. It made me smile and reminisce…it was wonderful. Thank you.
Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed it.
Really nice–the story and your writing. Your simple words gave me the freedom to imagine how everything must have been happening at the time. I could just see your daughters on that couch at the window waiting for their beloved grandpa, and being dissapointed when it wasn’t him afterall.
I will be sure to start checking back more, for I love the written word.
Wow thanks for the comment! Although it is a fictional story 🙂
This was a very touching and heartfelt story, Den. I can see why it was selected for today’s posting. Keep on writing so I can read more of your works.
This made me smile. My 13-year old and I just spent 3 1/2 weeks driving across the country and back, and made a point of stopping at the World’s Largest Easel, the World’s Largest Cross, the World’s Smallest Cathedral, etc. We made some marvelous memories. Thank you.
Oh man…that sounds GREAT! I’m so jealous!
Great story, great imagry. The message I got was that often in life, the “biggest,” the “best,” the whatever, is sometimes love and when you get really lucky, it rolls right up to your door. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.
Thank you! I’m so excited to be Freshly Pressed again! 🙂
Cool…looks like the grandparents had their priorities in line… It’s not all the “stuff” that creates happiness…it’s the people you love and the things you do with them…
Very good post, i’ve just been roaming around, trying to see some good posts to read, but this one actually made me think for my Grandma for a sec… She used to be like my mom, only a bit crankier at times, and somewhat sweeter at others. She passed away some time ago. Anyways, thank you for this post.
Congrats on being Freshly Pressed, AGAIN! I always see you commenting, now I get to READ yours! Great story, it felt sooo real! I was there with the family, what can say more than that! Good for you!
Wow thanks for the many nice things you just said! Glad you stopped by 🙂
Lovely. Have your father read Heinlein’s somewhat obscure story “The Man Who Travelled in Elephants.” I think he, and you, may just get more out of it than most.
Aww…I love this! So touching and adorable 🙂 made me smile!
This was a great read! Is this biographical, or fiction? Great writing.
It’s actually fiction. Thanks for the kind comment!
When I was younger (I am 36 now) I always had a this strange voice telling me that when free travel is restricted in the USA then America will be like Russia and will no longer be free. This is a strange thought for a child. I now see that the USA is indeed a police state and whatever freedom there once was in America is now sadly gone. I like stories about travel in a car but nowadays if you drive across the country, you are searched and treated like a criminal by the police.
I love the photo. The little girls look like my sister and I in the 70s but we grew up in Australia. Here we have the biggest pineapple, cow, banana, rock, reef, sheep, mango, guitar, koala, lobster, dolphin, crocodile (standing upright which is strange), blue heeler (a dog) and let’s not forget The Big Beer Can. There are over 150 such sculpture-type objects in Australia. No wonder there are so many grey nomads (retired caravan travellers).
You’re just making me want to visit Australia MORE! Haha thanks for the comment!
Very good sad bittersweet story.
Loved this. It reminded me of cross-country trips with my parents and brother when I was young. With my father in the military, we moved often and we occasionally stopped at World’s Largests, too. Thanks for the memories. And, like others, this brought tears to my eyes.
Sometimes its better to go gently and become a legend than it is to become a painful memory as the hero that is seen to have fallen. I have one of those sites less than I a mile from my house…”The world’ s Largest Totem Pole”. I’d bet a nickle that he saw it.
Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! I enjoyed your post, reading it brought back some wonderful memories of my grandparents. And memories of seeing a few World’s Largest on family trips.
Thank you so much for sharing this with us. It brought back memories of my very own grandfather, the moments I got to spent with him and those that I will inevitably carry with me for as long as I shall continue to live. Family is everyone’s biggest joy, a blessing, the only valuable reason for living, loving and creating.
Thanks again, and please, do keep sharing.
This made me cry and I don’t even know whether it is fact or fiction! But I am a grandfather with 13 grandchildren whom I almost never get to see.
I have to say thank you to everyone who has commented. I am so touched that this short has evoked such emotion and compassion from readers, it really means a lot to me to read your comments about how this story has touched you in some way. And while it is fiction, it makes me proud that so many people are unable to decipher whether it is fiction or nonfiction. Thanks for all of the comments and support, everyone!
beautiful story. thx for sharing.
Your story really touched a lot people and made them feel good. Real nice story and please keep up the great writing.
A nice, sweet story. Seeing those roadside attractions can be a lot of fun. And you really touched that connection between generations, and the loss of a loved one. Keep up the good work!
In the 1960’s and 1970’s my parents carted their 7 children across this great nation. We were exposed to some very amazing sights including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone Park, Golden Gate bridge, etc, but along the way to our destinations, we also saw plenty of “Muffler Men” along Route 66 and the big ball of twine, and the largest frying pan.
Great story, this brought back very fond memories.
My parents did that with us as well! Probably helped the story along, a bit. Oddly enough we saw similar spots! Yellowstone,Grand Canyon, Boot Hill, White Sands, Petrified Forest…thanks for the comment!
In the history of pies there are few as wonderful as pumpkin. It, more than any other, is linked to specific memories of specific days from the past. I like mine with whipped cream and Thanksgiving day football, of course. I sit with the world’s largest grin on my face.
Great post. Congrats.
Very well written. I poured myself a cup of coffee and let myself be transported by the story… lovely work.
what a wonder
Idolised this. It reminded me of cross-country trips with my parents and monastic when I was cohort. With my ascendant in the military, we moved often and we occasionally stopped at World’s Largests, too. Thanks for the memories. And, similar others, this brought tears to my eyes.