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The Great Stone Head

2021-04-22 7 min read personal

I’ve been thinking about my father lately.

I’m not one for really remembering dates all that well. I constantly have to look them up - things like my wedding anniversary. It isn’t that those dates aren’t important to me - they are - but my brain just doesn’t work that way.

When I started writing this post this morning - a story based around a trip we took when I was young - I had a very specific point in mind: I wanted to compare that trip to this past year - The Year of Covid.

Because my father plays an integral part and I wanted to talk about him, I looked up to see when, exactly, he had passed away: April 22, 2011.

Ten years to the day…


Perhaps that’s why he’s been on my mind.

My father was an amazing man in many, many ways. There isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t think about him. There are so many things I miss about him - his easy laughter, his goofy sayings. Whenever anyone would ask him how he was, he would always answer the same way: “Amazing.”

There are so many things that I wish I could show him. So many things that I wish I could tell him.

Did I mention that I miss him?

My dad wasn’t much for vacations. When I was little, we went on very few trips. When he was older, he and my mom traveled more, but big family vacations were a rarity when I was growing up.

At one point - I was probably five or six - my dad took to the notion of setting aside a weekend every so often for a day trip. You know - visiting something that you can travel to, spend some time seeing, and return home from, all in one day. It was strangely out of character for my dad, so of course these trips became the stuff of legend.

One trip in particular stands out in my memory, because it was the genesis of a specific phrase that became part of our family lore. Every family has them - something that someone said or did that everyone remembers and brings up over the years. It’s an important part of the shared family experience.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

One weekend, we packed a lunch into the big, green, metal cooler with the white hinged lid and bundled everyone into the car. As was always the case for any lengthy road trip, the cooler was placed on the back seat between my brother and me - a method of staving off the inevitable fussing and outbursts of, “He’s touching me!”

My brother and I were like that.

And so we sat, each in our own little, green-metal-walled enclosure, for what seemed like forever. When you’re five or six, a three-and-a-half hour car ride is interminable. Back then, we didn’t have streaming Internet and Netflix to pass the time like my nine-year-old does today. We just had to “enjoy the scenery,” according to my mother’s instructions.

Five or six year olds don’t enjoy scenery.

In any case, during this interminable, scenery-laced, forever-taking ride, my father was dropping hints about where we were going. It was something that he had read about in one of the Sunday supplements in our local paper, and he apparently had all the skinny on this destination. This whole keeping-where-we’re-going-secret and doling-out-informative-hints thing is something I inherited from my dad. I do/did it to my kids too. I’m sure that it was way more fun for my dad than it was for my brother and me, and it’s just as likely that it was way more fun for me than it is/was for my kids. But hey, that’s life.

They’ll probably do it to their kids too. At least I hope they will…

As I recall, my brother and I were pretty horrible at this guessing game - so eventually my dad just flat-out told us what we were going to see.

The Great Stone Head.

When I think back about this trip, I always think of it as The Great Stone Head - but I’m pretty sure that the word “Great” may be a product of my imagination. I did a little digging on-line, and everything I can find simply references it as The Stone Head. Regardless, I will, forever, refer to it as The Great Stone Head. It’s quite possible that my dad - always one for superlatives - tossed “Great” into the mix to keep my brother and I enthralled.

We weren’t enthralled…

As we continued driving, my father launched into the story of The Great Stone Head.

In 1851, a relatively unknown stone mason named Henry Cross had carved a mile marker in the shape of a head. A small, unincorporated community had grown up around it, taking the name, “Stone Head, Indiana.”

Yep. That’s it. Nothing more to tell…

Back to looking at the scenery.

Time passed. We stopped in a rest area and ate lunch and then climbed back into the car to enjoy more scenery.

The heat-death of the universe came and went.

Still, more time passed.

Finally, we arrived.

The Great Stone Head

Seriously, that’s it. (Today, it even has a Wikipedia entry. A very short Wikipedia entry.)

We stood and we looked - and then we got back in the car and drove home.

There was more than a little tension at the beginning of the car ride back. My dad was tired from the drive. My brother and I were well and truly over scenery. My mom just stared out the window.

Then, there was the obvious disappointment - that creepy face that we’d spent forever driving to see.

That’s when the five or six year old kid - who grew up to be me - said it:

Well, that was a bummer…

It was one of those fixed points in space-time - a pivotal moment when everything hung in the balance, and reality could have tipped in either direction.

Then, my dad began to chuckle.

The car ride home was a lot of fun. We sang, we told jokes, we laughed. Somewhere along the way, I fell asleep. When I woke up, we were in the parking lot of a small burger restaurant near home. It was just beginning to get dark, and my dad was waking me up. We rarely went out to eat, so this was an unexpected treat.

When I was thinking about this story, I was going to use it as a metaphor for the past year. It’s been about a year since the whole world got turned upside down, and became… well… a bummer.

The thing is, over the years, as the bummer story was told and re-told, and as our family continued to use that phrase, the meaning of it has shifted a bit. Yes, it still gets trotted out when something turns out to be a disappointment, but disappointment can come in a lot of different flavors.

One of those flavors of disappointment entails spending seven-ish hours in a car, just to see some creepy carved stone head.

But its also a bummer when you’re doing something wonderful and you have to cut it short. Endings are another, sadder flavor of disappointment.

So, this story isn’t going to be about comparing The Year of Covid to The Great Stone Head.

It’s become about something else.

You see, ten years ago today my dad died - and there’s really only one way to describe that:

Well, that was a bummer…

Tom Liston
Owner, Principal Consultant
Bad Wolf Security, LLC
Twitter: @tliston
April 22, 2021

Post Script: Apparently, The Great Stone head had a rather tumultuous time of it after our visit. In 1974, it was stolen, only to be found four months later in an Indianapolis apartment where two teenagers had turned it into a hat rack. It was returned to its rightful place, only to be beheaded in November of 2016. Currently, the whereabouts of the severed head is a mystery.

I swear I had nothing to do with it.