Become a Fan
By J C Howard
Friday, April 15, 2011
Rated "G" by the Author.
Mistakenly abandoned in the middle of the night. Well, accidents happen when going to the bathroom, right?
Not unlike African water buffaloes migrating across the Sahara desert, my family travels one thousand four hundred and seventy nine miles, each year, every year and twice a year. This is the distance from our home in Beaumont, Texas, to my grandpa’s cabin near Dent, Minnesota. And yes, Dent is the name of a real town. Now, I know this number is exact, as it’s recorded in a little black book kept in the door pocket of my father’s 1962 Mercury Wagon. You see, my father is a stickler about record keeping. Well, truth be told, it’s really because as the trivia king in our home, he has a compulsion for minuscule details. But, he would never admit to that. In reverence to his father’s family, he’s committed to “opening up” the family summer cabin at the beginning of each season. But, more importantly, this trip is a pilgrimage for my father.
Towards the start of every summer, just as the peony blooms begin to fade, my grandfather patiently waits for his only son to bring his family across country, to his home in Nebraska. From there, we then complete our journey to Minnesota, where my Grandfather’s “home away from home” is. His second home is small simple cabin nestled in a woodland backdrop with rolling waves washing up on miles of sandy beaches along one of Minnesota’s remarkable lakes. My grandpa takes great pride in owning this summer property. It is his “American dream” he would explain in somewhat broken English, as he raises his hand to cross his heart. To the uninformed, it may appear only to be a run down, two room, one bath, clap board shanty. But my grandpa takes great delight in educating anyone who will listen to his version of reality. As you see, for him, it is a piece of heaven carved out as a magnificent summer retreat for his friends and family.
For me, although my father would argue the fact, this trip is certainly no retreat for the rest of us. I mean, between setting up the dock, cleaning out the storage shed, clearing the beachfront, mowing the yard (with a push mower) and a sundry of other tasks, it takes my father, my mother and us kids, one full week to air out and make habitable, this old cabin. And that my friend is our entire allotted time for this (I smirk to say), vacation. So, by the time all our chores are completed, my father is ready to renegotiate the I-29 South, back to Texas.
Then, as the summer heat fades, just before the calendar is flipped to September, it’s time to close the cabin for the summer. And we make this trek again. In the past, as a family we’ve tried to revolt against this annuity and choose a “real” vacation spot. But, we always lose to my father’s reminiscent stories about past picnics, great fishing and glowing bonfires on the sandy beach. Frankly, even without his stories we’d lose, it’s not like my family is a democracy or anything. I am mean really, was yours? Anyway…
The road trip from Beaumont to Dent is a grueling three days, with very few “pit-stops” along the way. Oklahoma City is always our first stop where we get to spend the night. Here we stay for free with my grandmother, my mom’s mom. Now even for me, one night with her “highness” is plenty. If pretentious means something like boring or delicate, then my mom is right. But then again, my grandmother does descend from royalty, as she rather frequently reminds us. Now, interestingly enough on that subject, my mother refuses to comment. Which, when interpreted by a twelve year old, means that mom is “living the lecture,” as we say in our house. I think that particular sermon is one of the top ten from the well-worn “lecturing mother” handbook that my mom has memorized. You know the one, “if you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all.” So, as there is no true blue blood, we say nothing at all and indulge her like some delicate orchid. Her true character, if you know what I mean.
Then as the sun rises early the next morning, it’s off to Nebraska for our next free stop, at my grandpa’s home. From there, with grandpa crammed in the backseat with us kids, we forge ahead to the cabin in Minnesota. Now seriously, I ask, have you ever wondered if you were adopted? Well, boy, I sure have. The adventurous pioneering spirit my father crows about, is just not in my blood. As a matter of fact, I despise any form of travel and particularly, I loath car travel. And frankly, my mom has long since exhausted her repertoire of car games. However, instead of three boring days in our old unairconditioned Mercury Wagon, this year my father bought a new truck “with a color coordinating camper”, my mom chimes in. What a thrill to ride in a camper, I think. I can see myself now, comfortably lounging around, stretching out and napping in the overhead bunks, leisurely reading or playing cards at the table. This may be the first migration across country that I might really enjoy!
Now we’re not Jewish, but for me, Bat Mitzvah has occurred. My mother, having a watershed moment decided that this year I am old enough to bring a friend along. I’m usually very deliberate to make decisions around important matters like this, however in this regard, there was no hesitation; I immediately called my best friend, Marcie. She’s an imaginative mix of smarts and animation. Just the opposite of me. While Marcie is short, I am gangly. While she is a scholar, I am a dreamer. And as I bite my nails with worry, she was awarded class clown. But, not unlike Abbot and Costello, we are an inseparable pair.
“Jenny, hurry up! Your dad’s already paying.” Marcie shouts again through the concrete wall.
“Quit hollerin’ at me.” I shout back to her from inside the small, dank bathroom, attached to the outside of a Phillip 66 gas station. “I am hurrying!” But, in reality, there is no hurrying the personal hygiene routine of a twelve-year-old female. It has been rumored that the hygienic practices of a young woman can be compared to that of a most fastidious I.R.S. auditor suffering from a compulsive disorder, but I wonder. I mean really, the sanitary conditions of a public bathroom at a gas station are less than desirable and must be thoroughly scrutinized, before utilized.
At twelve, I may not know much about disease but I do know that I don’t want anything touching my body parts that have touched anyone else’s body parts. The stink alone in here really grosses me out. I see some sort of body grunge and yellow pee on the seat, male or female I do not know. The seat is down, but I question the validity of that clue to be a determining factor. First, I carefully arrange the toilet paper squares along the toilet seat in a manner where no porcelain can be seen. But not wanting to leave anything to chance, I then calculate that two layers of toilet paper squares are safer then just one. Thank goodness there is even toilet paper in this hovel of a facility. Now, for the sake of brevity, I won’t go into the other painstaking details that are involved in the “not what to touch” inventory in a public bathroom. Let it be enough to know that it includes, but is not limited to, the toilet flushing mechanism, water faucets, the paper towel dispenser handle and/or all doorknobs. The sequence of events is assiduous to be sure, but in regard to this matter, I am a Michelangelo. My true character, if you know what I mean.
“Jenny, hurry up. I’m serious, you’re dad is fixin’ to leave. I mean it!” Marcie pounds again on the door. But, her slim balled up fist barely makes a noise on the heavy metal door that acts as a barricade between my modesty and the street.
“Ok, Ok.” I holler back again, “I’m coming!”
“Now, Jenny. Now!” As I open the heavy door, I see real panic in her eyes. In disbelief she yells, “Jenny, your folks just left!”
The door swings open wide. It’s a beautiful Indian summer night. The cool evening breeze brushes across my face. My nostrils gently flare at the change of odors. At last, I can breathe again. I step out under the buzz of a security light with the shadow of flying insects swarming in the night sky. I slap a mosquito on my leg. The blood squishes out. “Yuck!” I flick off the remaining body parts.
Outside of the bathroom, there’s a green and tan paneled station wagon with a couple in the front seat. With the patience of a hunting dog on point, they wait to use the facilities. Their car windows are rolled down, allowing the cool air inside. I look up and see my dad’s truck pull away. I look back at the station wagon. The vinyl dashboard is cracked and a front headlight is hanging loose, like an eyeball from its socket in a horror film. I hear the lady in the front whisper in astonishment, “Wow, they just left those kids.” I glare at the lady in the green and tan paneled station wagon. She then calmly opens the car door, steps out and extends her hand towards me.
I think to myself, I don’t understand. What does she want?
Curtly, she says, “Key, please.”
“Huh, oh, yeah of course.” Like a marathon runner passing the baton, I hand her the bathroom key, which is attached to this humongous billy club size wooden rod. I suppose that I will never understand the extreme measures that are taken in regard to the security of a bathroom key, however that was then but what about the now?
So, I know that my parents wouldn’t just leave us at some creepy gas station in the middle of the night. As I helplessly stand there, Marcie runs into the street, frantically waving her arms and shouting, “Hey! Hey! Hey!” But, the buzzing light drowns out her tiny voice. Like a lost lamb I obediently follow her. Off drives my dad’s blue truck, with the color coordinating camper on top. We watch as it swings off of the overpass and then back on to the interstate. We both strain to follow the red glow of the taillights until they disappear into the darkness. Dazed, I wonder what in the world are we goin’ to do now?
I bite the inside of my lip and turn to Marcie, “Gee, not to great of a way to start our vacation, huh?”
Marcie laughs a big belly laugh. She says it’s the best vacation ever and she can’t wait to tell everyone. She then reminds me of what my mom told her mom as to assure her daughter’s safety when she would be more then a thousand miles away from home. She attempts to mimic my mom’s voice, and in some bizarre high pitch she begins, as if reciting from a summer camp brochure. She starts out, “You have nothing to worry about while your child is with us. We will ensure to take exceptional care of your little one and keep a watchful eye out for her safety and wellbeing.” She busts out laughing, “Yeah right, then your folks go and leave us in this Gawd forsaken place in the middle of the night.”
Together, we turn around to walk back to the safety of the gas station. With the moonlight as a backdrop, it stands like a crumbling stone fortress; silently waiting to offer it’s protection to two abandoned princesses. The station was deserted; even the beat up paneled station wagon was gone. Only mosquitoes and mayflies visit near the lights. The light buzzes loudly. Marcie and I walk up the drive. I silently wonder, are we safe here? How will my parents find us? How will they know that we got out to use the bathroom when they stopped and got gas? I think to myself, “we should have let them know we were getting out “to go”, oh gosh, now what?
The station attendant walks out and meets us half way, “What’s going on girls? A customer said you were left here. Is that right?” I faintly smelled Juicy Fruit on his breath.
In another time the police or even worse, Children Services might have been called. But in these days, most folks first try to work things out themselves. I bite my lip and think about the motherly lectures I’ve heard, about not talking to strangers. I’m not sure what to say, but then Marcie gushes, “Yeah, Jenny’s folks just left us. Gawd, they must think that we’re still asleep in the back of the camper. I’m sure they don’t know we got out to go to the bathroom.”
Hearing these words bring about a new dread for me. Now this total stranger knows everything. He could be a common masher, I think to myself. Marcie on the other hand, is snickering and giggling. Bewildered, I bark at her, “Stop laughing. It isn’t funny.” My brow furrows, as I’m almost in tears.
The station attendant didn’t think it was funny either. As he smacks his gum with an open mouth, he says, “Don’t worry girls, I’ll call the cops, they’ll locate your folks and git them back here for you. Everythin’ will be okie dokie.”
Now, I’ve been in love before, but this time I know it’s real. Relieved with his strong words, I dreamy eyed look at this tall, handsome, young man and think to myself, “What a great guy. I wish he were my boyfriend. He’s so smart and handsome too.” With a deep sigh, my eyes glaze over and his words ring in my ears, “Don’t worry girls, everything will be okie dokie, everything will be okie dokie.” I think to myself, he must be the smartest and wisest man on Earth.
“Just tell me what the plate number is,” he continues.
“Huh?” I asked.
“The plate number, you know the license plate on the back of the car. We’ll call the Hiway patrol with the plate number.”
Puzzled I say, “I don’t know what the plate number is.”
“H-m-m, Ok. Well, do you know the make and model?”
“Huh?” Is all I could manage to spit out. “What’s that?”
Exasperated, he says, “Do you know what kind of car your folks drive?”
My mind empties, like when the teacher calls on me in class. I can’t think, I can’t concentrate, but I mean how would I know any of this, I’m only twelve. “Uh, it’s a blue truck with a coordinating cream camper”, I recite. “Is that what you mean? Does that help?”
“No, that doesn’t help,” he snaps like a crusty turtle.
Suddenly, I now see him for who he is. He’s not my one true love or my knight in shining armor. He’s a heel; I think to myself, a real square and why’s he being so mean?
Marcie pipes up. “Jenny, let’s call your grandma. She’ll know what to do.”
Helplessly I respond, “I don’t, uh, I don’t know my grandma’s number.”
“Well, that’s what the telephone operator is for, you spaz.”
“Yeah, Ok.” I mumble slowly.
Timidly, I dial the number the operator gave us. In my twelve-year-old
mind, I think of my grandmother as a delicate flower pressed between the plastic cushions of her couch, I mean, grandmother must be 50 or so. Fear races through my mind, what if the shock of this news kills her? I expect that her fear for us will strike some primal instinct and that her heart might race wildly out of control. Could she have a heart attack or something? Silently, I say a prayer and continue to dial. My fears increase with each ring of the phone. Finally, she answers. With eyes open wide and a lump in my throat, I say, "Grandmother, it's me." Hesitantly, I continue, "Yes, everything’s Ok, but grandmother....” Slowly I explain the entire story, waiting to here her drop the phone from her dainty hands and gasp for air.
What did happen was the farthest thought from my twelve-year old mind. Like a hyena, she howled with laughter. Dumbfounded, I silently listened on the phone until she became hoarse. Then in her usual graceful voice, she tells me to sit tight and wait. Marcie was right; my grandmother did know what to do. I felt safe in her laughter; at least I think I did. She said that it might be several hours before they make the round trip back to us, but just sit tight.
So, that’s just what we did, we sat and waited. Like sitting in the principle office, the time seemed endless. At first, we walked across to the overpass and counted passing trucks, cars with only one headlight, or…. Finally we walked back to the station, plopped down on the curb and turned our attention to swattin’ mosquitoes. The light buzzed loudly, it was a starless night. In the background, the radio played “Hey Jude.” We talked about what the chances would be to grow up and marry Paul McCartney. Yeah sure, I know, slim to none, but a girl can still dream you know.
What I didn't know was that when my parents arrived at my grandmother's they still were unaware that we were missing. After parking in grandmother's driveway, they knocked on the camper door. In the stillness, they assumed we were asleep and decided not to wake us. The story goes, that as my grandmother was curious about my parent’s silence, she inquired.
In their innocence, my parents explain that we were asleep in the camper.
Did I mention the pretentious nature of my grandmother? Well, my grandmother still fills the room with her howling laughter when she tells the story of how my folks left us at a deserted gas station, in the middle of the night, and being the conscientious parents that they are, didn’t even know it.
I laugh out loud too when I think back on my childhood, particularly, the summer of 1969. I reminisce about the strong friendship forged that year, and the new eyes that I saw my grandmother with. My grandmother changed a lot during the summer of my twelfth birthday, or was it me? I no longer saw her as a dainty and delicate orchid, but see her as the fun loving, strong and spirited Sunflower she always knew herself to be. Her true character, if you know what I mean.
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|Reviewed by Michael Hollingsworth
|This is a well written story that brought several chuckles. The tale also took me back to the sixties and similar experiences.|
|Reviewed by Joyce Bell
|WHAT A GREAT STORY! I ENJOYED IT FROM START TO FINISH. THANKS FOR SHARING. LOVE, BLESSINGS & FAITH...JOYCE * HIS INSPIRATIONS|
|Reviewed by baz busbe
|Really enjoyed reading your childhood memories, you write so well, I guess it was scary at the time but funny to look back on. God bless. Baz|
|Reviewed by Karen Nivens
|Thanks for sharing your story. The words took me traveling back in time between two worlds, living your experience and reliving odd moments in my childhood at the same time.
Hope you and yours are safe from the tornados.
|Reviewed by CJ Heck
|JC, this is a delightful memoir -- at first blush, people and things never truly are what we think they are. What a wonderful childhood full of tender memories.
Hugs to you,
|Reviewed by Donna Chandler
|What a wonderful, well written memory. I enjoyed reading of your adventure. There have been times I wanted to 'accidently' leave a child or two behind but never actually did it. Your parents did! :)