Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Summer Time and the Livin Was Easy

As a kid my family didn’t take a lot of vacations but the ones we did take were memorable. The first trip I remember was when my brother Mike and I were about 7 and 8 years old. Because dad traveled for a living and because he had an expense account this offered us the opportunity to combine business with pleasure. This particular opportunity took us on a trip through the southern states. It also provided a great history lesson for Mike and I. We visited civil war battlefields,
plantation homes and learned about the war first hand. It really was a great trip and though I was fairly young at the time it left an indelible impression on me.

One memory, and a somewhat educational one at least for Mike, was the lesson we received on fine cuisine. Mike and I were typical American kids with limited appreciation of fine dining but we did like a good ole hamburger and ordered it wherever we ate. I always ordered mine plain with meat and mayonnaise only. During this family vacation my father tried to introduce us to a larger pallet of food experiences. He explained that there was much more to eat in the world than hamburger. Now Mike proved to be a more willing student than myself. Nothing would persuade me to try anything other than my usual but Mike was willing to explore the possibilities. One evening dad convinced Mike to try lobster tails. Not only did Mike find the food to his liking he developed a real craving for this newly acquired taste and began ordering lobster at every meal. At some point daddy had to dash the boy’s epicurean taste buds and tell him that the bank would soon go bust if he kept this lifestyle up much longer.

Another memorable vacation was the summer we went to Colorado Springs, Colorado. On this particular trip my father’s sister, Aunt Esther, and her husband Cheesy, and their youngest son John Max accompanied us. Now, I was about 8 or 9 and John was 5 years older. He was our favorite cousin since he was the one closest in age. Uncle Cheesy was a very big man with the most beautiful white hair. He was sweet and gentle and a bonafide food connoisseur.

We departed Norman one summer morning before the sun had risen in the east. Behind the driver’s wheel of our Ford station wagon sat my father with Uncle Cheesy riding shotgun. Mother, Aunt Esther and myself took up the back seat while Mike and John sprawled out on a pallet in the luggage area. Our trip began with little fanfare other than a reluctant farewell to my older brother Butch who had to remain behind to work and to fulfill his ROTC commitment. We were traveling along in the dark feeling pretty comfortable until the sun began to rise. As the sun got stronger the car got hotter. Though we had the luxury of an air-conditioned car the two very large men in the front seat completely blocked any air from reaching those of us in the back. As if this wasn’t bad enough my father, being the avid cigar smoker, was also choking us to death at the same time our brains were being boiled. It didn’t matter how high they cranked that air conditioner up no air was going to get past Uncle Cheesy and dad.

As our journey progressed the route became less familiar so daddy asked Uncle Cheesy to serve as navigator and watch for road signs. Uncle Cheesy diligently
watched out the window calling out the passing signs, “Eat at Joes, Bob’s Barbeque 10 miles ahead, or Uncle John’s Fabulous Frankfurters”. To heck with road signs, Uncle Cheesy had only one thought in mind and that was food. In addition to our frequent quests for food on this trip daddy took it upon himself to attempt to cure his youngest child of a bridge phobia acquired at an early age due to the collapse of the old Canadian River Bridge. This was no childish, unsubstantiated fear this was fear based on eyewitness accounts. It was papa’s plan to cure the phobia once and for all by taking the vacationing clan across the Royal Gorge and he began preparing me for the event well in advance by telling me that it was a necessary crossing in order to get to our final destination. Therefore there simply was no other way to accomplish the task at hand other than crossing the great wooden suspension bridge. Finally the moment of dread arrived. We were on one side of the gorge looking over the edge at the tiny observation train below. Mom and Aunt Ester had decided to walk across the bridge leaving me in the capable hands of my father and uncle. Uncle Cheesy had a grip on my suspenders as I cautiously leaned through the railing to check out the water below. I was just about to kick up a fuss about our impending vehicular drive across the bridge when papa took me inside the souvenir shop. Papa promised me an Indian princess doll and a 50-cent root beer if I would go quietly. Unable to refuse the call of the doll I agreed and so the journey began with me sitting under a blanket on the floor board of the back seat, Indian princess in one hand and a giant 50 cent root beer in the other we began to cross the bridge like settlers in a wagon train. Slowly we inched our way across the swaying wooden bridge. I could hear the clackity, clack sound of each wooden slat as we crossed gulping down my fear with ice-cold root beer. Fear had never tasted so darn good. Eventually we were on the other side. Fate had not been cruel, we had not plummeted into the gorge below. After we had all stood about looking at the Gorge from our new vantage point papa announced it was time to go back. “GO BACK”, I said. “But you said we had to cross the bridge to get to where we are going.” Papa mater-of-factly replied, “This IS where we were going…………..and now we are going back.”

My lesson on how to overcome a phobia was not the only lesson I learned on our trip to Colorado. On our way back to Oklahoma we made an unscheduled stop at Boot Hill, Kansas. The purpose was to pay a visit to the tourist attraction “Boot Hill”, a western amusement park of sorts complete with a saloon and a gunfight. Though all of us kids were excited by the prospect of seeing this attraction daddy was however not so impressed. He wasn’t one to wait in lines or be easily amused for that matter. Just as we were pulling into the parking lot of the park daddy remarked, “Ahhhh, just one more bastard with his hand out”. Before everyone could exit the vehicle I ran straight to the admission gate and yelled back to my family, “Here’s that bastard with his hand out daddy”. Having no idea the meaning of what I had just said I was shocked by the sudden reaction of those in attendance. Mother gasped and began to berate daddy for the corruption of his children. “You have my only daughter talking like a sailor,” she said. As mother continued to admonish him daddy pointed to the car and we all climbed back inside. Mike and John could hardly hold back their obvious enjoyment of the fact that I was in trouble and for once they were innocent. Mother was still letting daddy know that he had forever destroyed all her attempts at good parenting as papa turned around to the 3 of us and said matter of factly, “Don’t repeat what I say……understand?” I stammered through my tears, “I won’t”. Lesson learned.

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