Saturday, November 20, 2004

Death in the Mojave, or Why I'm in Awe of People Who Don't Kill Their Kids

As the eldest child, one of the ways I amused myself while growing up was to devise new ways to make my brother and sister scream. While I was always pleased with this game, my parents didn’t find it quite so amusing. One such time nearly killed us.

It was the Great Family Vacation of 1974. I was 9, my sister was 7 and my brother was 5. The parents decided we would live the American Dream. We packed up the two-door Chevy, with no air conditioning, and began the trip from Cedar Falls, Iowa to Los Angeles, California. Destination: Disneyland!

Each day we would drive for a hundred hours (kid time), stop and see some historical/educational shit, drive some more, and then spend the night at a motel. Mom was wise about insisting the motel have a pool. She could relax with a cocktail at poolside while her car-crazed offspring burned off enough energy to pass-out before she did.

Several days into the trip, somewhere between Yellowstone and Los Angeles, I found myself bored and seeking amusement in the backseat of the wretchedly hot car. Although tensions were as high as the temperature, my egocentric little 9-year old ADHD mind could have cared less. I completely ignored the random warnings from my father about making us walk to Disneyland if we didn’t settle down. Instead, I searched my little micro-world for anything more interesting than looking out the window at the fucking desert.

Our Barbies and Ken doll were spread chaotically across the back window. As a testament to the heat, Barbie had turned a golden peach color in the sun. I looked from peachy-Barbie to little brother’s Ken doll and finally settled on my plan. It occurred to me that Ken would look fantastic in Barbie’s chiffon ball gown and matching tiara. While brother was distracted, I stealthily turned macho Ken into a stunning cross-dressing Princess. Proud of my success and creativity, I presented the new and improved Ken to the rest of my sweaty clan. However, little brother was not as impressed as one would have thought. So, while little sister and I immediately began the ever-popular, “keep a-way” game, brother launched into blood-curdling screams.

That was the proverbial last straw. The car pulled over to the shoulder of the highway and my father got out. Everyone instantly became silent; except for mother, who turned about to give us a hastily whispered “I told you not to push your father too far” mini lecture. We knew she was really saying that conditions had gone beyond her ability to protect us. As we pondered if one or all of us would get a spanking right there on the side of the road, Dad slowly re-opened the door.

“Get out.” he said calmly.
We were frozen, hoping if we didn’t move he would forget we existed.
“All of you. Get out of the car.” he repeated.

I was the first one out. I quickly moved past him, in case one of his huge hands meant to crack me on the ass as part of the punishment. My brother and sister joined me, hovering close, as if I was now their great protector.

Dad got back in the car. He turned to Mom and she nodded as he turned over the ignition and put the Chevy into gear. The three of us stared blankly at the tires which were actually moving. He leaned out the window, and with a surprizingly pleasant look on his face said, “I warned you that you’d have to walk if you didn’t settle down.”

As we watched the car slowly pull ahead of us, brother began to whimper and sister began to wail. We shared the same fear. Soon, we would all be dead from multiple rattlesnake bites. The only thing to do was chase the car and hope we made it to Disneyland before dark. So with the car moving slowly ahead of us, and narrowly avoiding many imaginary rattlesnake attacks, we walked . . . and our parents finally had a chance to enjoy the scenery.


At 12:24 PM, Blogger Kay said...

Wow, thanks for the childhood memories. My favorite was the time we drove to Galveston, Texas, where my mother forgot to put sunscreen on us and we all got severe sun poisoning. We spent a good day and night throwing up in a cheap motel room. Of course, the rest of the trip was fun as my brother and I tried to gross each other out by peeling long strips of dead burnt skin off our bodies and using them as paper and musical instruments and such. I think I still have a piece of skin pressed between the pages of my diary from 1978.

At 1:39 PM, Blogger theresa said...

Sometimes childhood trauma is much funnier decades later ... but dead skin is a hoot any time. It sounds like your family made the best of a bad vacation beginning.

The fact that you still have some of that peeled skin stashed away is both creepy and charming. Should we ever need to clone you, we needn't search beyond, "Dear Diary, It's the vacation I've been dreaming of for weeks, but thanks to my space-case Mom, I'm peeling like a leperous snake. See, this is what it looks like..."

At 4:13 PM, Blogger Kay said...

Yep, there's a lot about me that's alarming. Be careful with the cloning project, though. You might end up with my brother. I'm not sure exactly whose skin it is.

At 12:25 PM, Blogger dwduck said...



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