“This is gonna be a trip you’ll never forget!” my husband said. Unfortunately, these were his only words of wisdom for the next 3,000 miles. I winced, telling my own kids to listen to their father and get into the vehicular trap — the upgraded Audi Quattro SUV. Seems like yesterday when I was a kid, entrapped in our ’56 yellow station wagon we called “The Lemon,” and endured those “heart to heart” talks during the dreaded family vacation road trip.
Not much has changed. In a way, it’s still the same “Dad” behind the wheel with that Willie Nelsonesque sparkle in his eye whenever he heads out on the road like one of the Highwaymen. The more lost we get, the more he seems to enjoy the trip. It has nothing to do with where we’re going, as long as we’re going somewhere.
My husband reminds everyone for the kazillionth time — “Yeah, back in the 60s, I went cross-country five times in my camper that I named Wally . . . did I ever tell you that?”
We look at one another, then at the retired hippie, imagining his days when he was trying to find himself. It’s a shame, ’cause he’s been working nonstop ever since to pay for all the accumulated stuff — now that he’s found out who he is.
I, the mother of offspring often wonder why we we’re held hostage to his personal quest to find the grungiest tooth-pickin’ truck stop in the United States. It’s always the same, everyone anxiously waddles back to the car, cranky and bloated, and then we drive until exhaustion, as we pass one threatening motel after another.
Our American Princess daughter has tears in her eyes, as her younger brother remains oblivious. I’ll be darned if I could figure out which is worse — the car entrapment or the motel entrapment. The accommodations all look the same — the flashing signs: Color TV and Air-Conditioning, $29.95.
“Hold on,” Dad yelps with excitement. “It’ll be worth the wait — we have reservations at a lodge by the Grand Canyon.”
“Oh my God,” the Princess blurts out as she enters one of the lodges cabins. “This is what we’ve been holding out for? It smells like something died in here!”
From then on, we were coined with new names: Prudent and Prissy stay in one cabin, while our adventurous male counterparts stay in another. There’s something about the dark wood; makes you feel like you’re still outdoors. At nightfall the temperature drops to 100 degrees. The Princess takes it upon herself to call the front desk. “Excuse me, concierge?” she says, with the most polite New York accent she can muster, “but it seems our air-conditioning is not working.”
“Well,” the woman on the other end of the line snorts, that’s because you don’t have an air-conditioner.”
After days of driving and singing campfire songs like “Dum dum dada dada, dum dum dada dada . . . and after days of driving, we succumb to delerium. “One more dusty trail, and I’m gonna kill something,” our teenage Princess cries, while examining her manicure. “I need a shower so bad, these flies buzzin’ around my head won’t even land.”
But, Dad, the optimist, sits behind the wheel, pondering what could possibly be beyond the next bend. It’s another day of family closeness, and Dad has this need to prove himself. One day he has to show off his adventurous side. “We got lucky,” he announces. “I just got the last of the canoes, this side of the Mississippi.”
“That thing’s at least 100 feet long!” the Princess cries again. Of course the wonder boat capsizes in the muddiest of waters, leaving our foursome sloshing away below circling buzzards.
Yep, Dad certainly did prove something, and the following day, he wants to prove his dexterous side. After waiting for him in the parking lot of a ranch, he finally exits the stables with extra exuberance in his step. We have a bad hunch.
“Don’t tell me,” the Princess said. “You got the last of the horses, this side of the *%#@*%$ River . . .”
The young fellow, who actually wears a cowboy hat, walks the four horses to each of us, one at a time: Sunshine, Sweet Cakes, Old Chum, and Lightnin’. And it sure does run like its name, with poor dad’s dexterous arms clinging around its neck. Lightnin’ ignores the “No-U-Turns” sign and bolts clear around the lake with unyielding determination, back to the stables to eat its dinner which was awaitin.’ Regretfully, we failed to warn the cowhand about Dad’s finicky back.
Sometimes I think my father and my husband are the same man. No wonder television has often portrayed the father-figure as the bumbling idiot. Yet somehow, after passing years, and having grown children, I realize that father may have known best, after all — because after putting up with all the moaning and groaning, Dads somehow know that their kids will wear perpetual grins on their faces from having been “on the road” as family.
While cleaning out the attic, recently, I found some old photos of our vacations, and I did a double-take at one snapshot in particular. It’s the one with my fashion plate of a daughter standing on the edge of a rock at the Grand Canyon wearing a white suede cowboy hat and a red bandana with a short denim skirt. Then I look at her feet. Funny, I don’t recall her hiking three miles in those six-inch open-toed silver metallic platform shoes which have also been packed away under cardboard boxes with the rest of our memories ingrained in our souls . . . thanks to dear ol’ Dad.