The heat in Los Angeles feels particularly brutal this summer, but I wouldn’t trade this unmerciful baking for any of the summer vacation road trips that I took as a child in Florida. Those excursions with my mom, Aunt Frances and two cousins – Lance and Susie – were a nightmare. The fighting began the moment we walked out the front door. It always started with ear-piercing screams of “I call the front seat!” Lance and Susie would then jump into a heated debate of who actually “called it first.”
That would quickly degenerate into a furious shouting match laced with more profanity than a Richard Pryor concert. Finally, my adorable cousins would engage in a no-holds-barred, hair-pulling wedgie fight. They would grab each other’s underwear and yank upwards as hard as they could, hoping to hear a “ripppppp” followed by crying.
And this was all before we left the driveway.
Winning the front seat wasn’t enough. The victor would turn around and taunt the loser with an ultra-snotty repetition of “Lucky me! Lucky me!” That, in turn, would set off another fight, complete with flying hairbrushes and CDs hurled at high speeds. My Aunt Frances was always embarrassed by her kids and often reminded them that, “We have a Christian fish sticker on the back of our car.” This spiritual warning always elicited laughter from her godless offspring.
While my mother sat in the back seat, silently praying and singing hymns, my Aunt Frances tried to keep order as she drove. Calling on a higher authority, she would remind her little angels that “God was watching.” To which they would respond, “Who cares? We don’t believe in God.” Worried about divine punishment, my Aunt Frances would quickly tip her head towards heaven and say, “Yes, they do God!” With a smirk on their steely braces, they would respond, “No, we don’t God.”
No doubt, God had his TiVo set to record our vacations.
The worst one that I can remember (and cannot forget, unfortunately) was when we drove from Orlando, Florida to North Carolina. My mother and Aunt Frances had bought some property, sight unseen, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A real estate agent, over the phone, told them “this property has a wonderful view.”
Traveling north through several states meant hours of battles between Lance and Susie. They fought every way that was humanly possible inside a car: glaring at each other, repeating each other in a mocking tone, pinching each other, and the cardinal sin of all junior highers – using the other’s hairbrush without permission!
Much of the trip included stops at Indian-themed souvenir shops where my Aunt Frances bought several Cherokee-carved paddles for spanking via the Native-American way. She was truly at a loss when it came to her kids. I recall her saying over and over: “It’s all that violence that they watch on Saturday morning cartoons.” Funny, but I can’t recall Scooby Doo ever giving Shaggy a wedgie that tore flesh and needed medical care.
When we finally got to the “beautiful” property, my Aunt Frances and mother were shocked to find that their newly-bought land was a lot that sat on a 70 degree angle on the face of a mountain. Building any type of a structure there would require suspending the laws of gravity. My mother, ever the optimistic one, promised me that, “someday that property will be yours… along with Lance and Susie. You can bring your children up here, son!”
Gee, I can hardly wait.