By Emily Woodbury
Happy Birthday, Dad (or Chuck Woodbury, as you know him)!
My dad has been “stuck” (I say that lightly because actually he’s quite enjoying his desert-bathing time) in Arizona during the pandemic. I haven’t seen him since November, which isn’t too unusual for us, considering I used to live nearly 3,000 miles away from him. I go to his house (about 15 minutes from mine) every now and again to tend to his hot tub, run my dog in his beautiful backyard, and see what kind of shelf-stable snacks he and Gail have in the pantry (not much).
Working for a parent is an odd thing. Maybe some of you have done it. I’ve worked for RVtravel.com for three years now, which seems hard to believe. Luckily my dad and I haven’t killed each other yet, or really even wanted to wring each other’s necks. Impressive, right?
He does like to tell the same story over… and over… and over again. And some days when he’s had three too many cups of coffee he can really blab, but wringing his neck? Nah, it’s not so bad.
I am his baby, his only daughter, and his only child. But this website, the one you so religiously read every day or every week, this thing right here is his real baby. It’s been an honor getting to know it.
Before he and Gail headed south in November, we had a weekly tradition of getting breakfast together. His order: a ham steak with eggs over-medium and a side of pancakes. Gail keeps him healthy enough at home, so when breakfast comes around, he’s not afraid to splurge. Breakfast has always been our thing, and in the shadow of a pandemic, I sure do miss those Tuesday morning feasts.
I have traveled to 31 states and 6 countries with my dad. Some of those were on our long cross-country road trip when I was a toddler, others when I was a terribly emotional pre-teen, and others were when I was in high school (still terribly emotional).
When my dad took me to Four Corners I nearly burned my butt off on the hot bronze plaque (they don’t warn you about sitting on it!). When he took me to Badlands, we fed prairie dogs together. When he took me to Las Vegas he paid for me to ride the New York, New York roller coaster until I was green in the face (how did I not throw up after a full buffet-belly?). When he took me to Bryce Canyon, we hiked in the heat until chugging four gallons of water wasn’t enough and we had to return to camp for more.
When he took me to Death Valley, I was 21 and missing my college friends in New York City and completely furious that he took me to THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE… until the first night when I saw the stars. After that, the place stole my heart. That’s what ya gotta do, ya know? Take someone out of their comfort zone, throw them into something new, and watch their smile expand into another galaxy.
When he visited me in New York, I introduced him to arepas and empanadas and fancy cocktails and my friends and my jobs and my apartments the size of dollhouses. Even though he would’ve rather had me at home in Washington close to him all those years, he always smiled and tried to understand the things he never, and would never, could. That’s what it’s like to be a parent, right? You show them the world and then you send them off into it.
I have been blessed with two travelers for parents. Two parents who, throughout my whole life, have never stopped showing me the wonders of the world. Two parents who are explorers, two parents who are endlessly curious, two parents who will always choose the road less traveled, two parents who have graciously shared their wandering eyes with mine: “Em, do you see that?!”
My dad, a man who, even in his 70s, has a curiosity about him much like a young child. A man who could guide you across America from a phone call away: “OK, do you see a big dinosaur statue ahead of you? Great, OK, make a left and then in three miles make a right…”. He knows the highways, the byways, and the dirt roads like the back of his hand. A man who doesn’t drive fast because he knows there is far too much to see on roads that appear quiet. A man who loves cowboys and the old American West, ghost towns and live music in saloons. A man who loves reading – another thing we share. A man with soft hands, forever tanned from a Southern California childhood. A man with an even softer heart.
My childhood and teen years are filled with memories of the American West and the American Southwest. The red rock and the cactus and the lake-blues and the salt-flat whites paint a portrait of a life I am so lucky to have lived.
What you get to read each week from my dad, these articles and these newsletters, you should be honored. He’s an expert in many fields, and his passion for writing to you is enough to spark a sunset. He works hard. We all do. But there is no “off” switch for him. If you told him to stop working it’d be like telling a chicken to stop clucking. It wouldn’t ever work. But that’s why we love him so much, right?
Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you endlessly.
If you want to do something for Chuck on his birthday, he’d want you to wash your hands in his honor. Or you could send a box of Good & Plenty. Those are his favorite.