Friday, October 21, 2011
The year was 1978. My parents had been divorced for a few years and my father was remarried to a woman with three kids of her own, although I think only two were living at home by then. And lest you start thinking we were like the Brady Bunch incarnate (since I am one of three kids, also), I should dispel that little myth right away. My dad is no Mike Brady and my sisters and I, well, we are sisters, as in, girls and Mike Brady had boys, as you recall, so that kind of ruins that parallel. And my step-mom had two sons and a daughter so you see that is distinctly un-Brady-like, as well. Plus I lived with my mom, not my dad. And I’m the youngest and I definitely do not want to be compared to Cindy Brady because my hair could never in a million years be that bouncy and cute and I cannot tap dance and sing ‘On the Good Ship Lollipop.’ And, in case you haven’t noticed, I really should have abandoned this whole Brady Bunch compare and contrast exercise a couple sentences back but I can’t help myself. Maybe if I had grown up with an Alice in my life things would have been different for me. How many poor souls before me have made the same lament?
Ok, so anyway, my dad wanted to take his new, blended family on a big, happy family vacation that summer. It was going to be epic. We would traverse the country, see many sights, visit many relatives and friends, swim in many awesome motel swimming pools, and eat at all the best Ihops in the country. It would be grand. With my dad and step-mom, her two younger children, my two sisters and I and my grandmother, our ensemble would total eight people. Well, that’s a lot of plane fares, plus if you want to make several stops there is only one way to go, no? Yes, we were going to drive across the country, our cozy little crowd of eight packed into one car. You better have a big-ass car for that car trip and what better reason to drop a good bit of cash on a new Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon? Well, as it turned out, we only had seven passengers because my older sister refused to go; she was 15 and any self-respecting teenager knows you cannot afford to sacrifice two weeks of summer vacation to a family trip. And we also dropped my grandmother off in Chicago so for the Chicago to Pennsylvania/upstate New York to Michigan and back to Chicago portion of the epic family vacation by automobile, we actually only had six passengers. But we still needed a big-ass car, because if I had had to sit too close to my younger step-brother for long I would have poked his eyes out with a broken crayon and everyone could recognize the pure malice in me so I guess the “Olds” turned out to be a pretty good investment.
Our trip originated in Denver, since that’s where I grew up. The farthest eastern point of our journey was western Pennsylvania, which was where my dad grew up and a stop at his father’s home was included in our itinerary. We spent about two weeks getting there with several stops made along the way. My dad always referred to his childhood home as the farm, which was very curious to me since there were clearly no farm-like accoutrements there. But the farm was kind of fun because there was a pond there for “fishing” and skipping stones and there were trails through the wilderness and it felt very rustic to this city child. Plus my grandfather had this kickass organ we liked to play with and this unbelievably tacky rain lamp that had little drops of oil that dripped down nylon wires surrounding a tawdry, bizarre, 70s scene of funky-ness. And those right there are pretty much all of the highlights of visiting Pop-pop’s house in 1978. Sure, the liquor bottle hidden in the closet was worthy of a little wonder and the playboy magazine stash held our interest for an hour or so but the pond was really the coolest part.
By far the most interesting part of the epic car ride, though, was the “mix-up” over the actual timeline of the excursion. When my bitterly divorced parents met for the bitter parent conference to discuss the proposed vacation that would take my sister and I away from our mother for an extended period of time, the one where dad pitches all the benefits to my mom and she relinquishes control of us for the good of the father-daughter relationships, he presented the trip as a two-week long affair. Ok, two weeks, fourteen days, that seemed like a doable separation from the parent to whom I had always been extremely attached. It would be hard for me to say good-bye but I would have my sister with me and we would be doing fun stuff, so okay, yes, I could go away for two weeks with my dad. But, as you may have noticed, astute reader, two weeks into the trip we were located in western Pennsylvania on “the farm.” My 10-year old brain spent many, many hours calculating out distances we had covered in 8-hour driving shifts and again and again I just could not make our trip end in two days. Or three days. From Pennsylvania we were going to head up to Niagara Falls and then drop down into Michigan for a visit to my step-mother’s sister and then, of course, we had to get back to Chicago to pick up grandma before we turned our assembly westward and headed home to Denver. It began to dawn on me that, perhaps, I had been lied to.
But what father would lie to his child? More to the point, what father would lie to his ex-wife who just happened to be a woman with some serious rage issues? My mom could be scary. She was not a woman to be trifled with. Unless you were her youngest, adolescent daughter, then she definitely needed some trifling but that would come later. After much thought, I brought up the mysterious time discrepancy to my sister and we agreed that, yes, there seemed to be a bit of a problem. We spoke to my mom on the phone from Pop-pop’s kitchen and I revealed to her this small glitch that would seem to push our ETA in Denver back several days. She was none too happy. And although I recall sobbing and crying a great deal during that episode, I will also admit there was some tiny part of me that was pleased as punch to be ratting my dad out to my mom. He was so busted and since I was screwed any way you looked at it, stuck in the Custom Cruiser with my step-family for several more days than planned, I intended to find some remote sense of vindication in this deal. Ah, the joys of divorce…
Needless to say, I survived the epic-cross-country-car-ride-vacation-that-was-supposed-to-be-two-weeks-long-but-turned-out-to-be-three-weeks-long relatively unscathed. And I guess my dad survived the wrath of my mom. I suspect he didn’t really care how mad she was. In the end, we made it back to Denver and life continued although I did have a few moments in fifth grade when I was convinced my social standing had, indeed, suffered, as a result of my three-week absence during the preceding summer. Eventually I would claw my way back.
The only other thing I should mention is that I am taking a bit of a risk by writing about this for the whole world to read. In a recent phone conversation with my dad, I learned that he had read my “digging for treasures” post but was previously unaware of this blog. Whether or not he will return here to read more remains to be seen. He is not terribly tech-savvy. However, since I really have no idea who my potential audience could be at any given time, I do try to write for myself only. And I really don’t feel that I have told any untruths, this story is simply a fact of my life. If I have embellished at all and my dad should find his way to this page, he might feel a sense of pride for if humor and the art of story-telling are genetic, they most definitely came to me through the Thompson side of the family. My mom, while quite nice (although sometimes a little scary) is a fairly unfunny person. This story is just where my mind turns as my family and I make our way along the interstate from Minneapolis to Chicago. I’m not even exactly sure how long this trip is supposed to take. Initially I told Martha it was an eight-hour drive but when she balked at that prospect, I revised it to six. I hope she’ll forgive me when she figures out the truth.