This post will be added to The Wonder Years section of my autobiography
Our first Christmas without my sister Margie was spent in Arizona. My maternal grandmother lived there with her youngest son, my Uncle Kevin. Many vacations were spent in Phoenix, Arizona and we always traveled by car. This visit we were one less but it was still a cramped, long, bickering voyage. If you ever traveled from San Jose, California to Phoenix, Arizona you will understand this well. If you haven't, I will endeavor to illustrate it for you...
Imagine, if you will, a brown Buick. Mother and Father are in the seats up front. Three girls ages 13, 15, and 17 in the back and you are the 13 year old. Stuck. In the middle. This is before walkmans. This is also before you've discovered how great books are. Your parents have an eight track playing old country tunes that you've been programed to actually like.
There is a long stretch of desert as far as the eye can see (sorry, it's cliche but true.) In the middle of the desert is a road that looks and feels as if it was paved over a rolling ocean. Your family has dubbed these waves dippity-do's. As this is an annual trip, you are expecting the waves and as soon as the first one approaches, the entire family starts to sing:
Dippity do da, dippity ay!
My, oh my, what a wonderful day!
Plenty of sunshine headed my way.
Dippity do da. Dippity ay!
Yes. It is corney, but it is what you do. Suddenly Mom yells, "TURTLE!"
All the girls groan. Dad blows out a long breath of air.
"John! Stop the car! I saw a turtle!"
"Syl...You said that, what 10 miles back. You thought you saw a turtle..."
"This time it really is a turtle. Stop the car!"
Your mother has always had some strange obsession with finding a turtle on the road. You have not the slightest idea why. Dad knows that Mom will never, ever, stop talking, moaning, nagging if he does not pull over and check for the turtle.
We pull over. Immediately you are hot. Yes, it is Christmas time but you are HOT! And your two sisters have decided to sprawl all over 'their' sides of the car leaving the tiny mid-section for you to sweat in. Since Dad had taken his time hashing it out in his mind whether it was worth the nagging to not pull over or not, he has a much longer walk than he anticipated.
Bicker, bicker: "You're on my side!"..."You stink!"..."Don't you EVER brush your teeth?"..."I hate you!"...
Mom has had enough. Now it is time to pull the age old threat: "If you girls don't shut-up, I will spank you with a cactus!"
This used to work. In fact, we all have had nightmares of picking cactus needles out of our butts. But now we are teenagers. And now we have a common enemy. Our bickering is solved! Now we can rag on Mom!
"As if!"..."I'd like to see you try!"..."Do you actually think we'd fall for that one?"..."Where are your gloves, huh?"
Mom now regrets pulling over for her long sought turtle. We all watch for Dad. FINALLY we see his itsy bitsy figure coming from the dippity-do's. He is carrying something! It is dark and looks a little heavy. Mom gets so excited that she forgives us all and promises that at the next gas station we will all get an ice-cream bar.
Dad's figure gets bigger. Yes. He is definately carrying something.
He arrives and presents Mom with her prize. "Here you go, Syl. Here is your turtle."
A black rubber piece of tire is placed in her lap and we resume our trip.
*A special note*
In the last two years since Mom and Dad have moved to North Carolina, Mom has fulfilled her life's ambition. She has found not one, but THREE real turtles on the road.
They live in a glass aquarium in her kitchen.