Thoughts from the ammo line

Ammo Grrrll recalls A FAMILY VACATION TO REMEMBER. She writes:

One of the greatest things about my late, great Mama was that she had zero ability to be jaded. She grew up with nothing, achieved a modest middle-class life with some nice cruises and wintering in Florida, but she never lost that “gee whiz” sense of wonder – or of gratitude. I have prayed to emulate that. I have been fortunate to do a lot of fun travel and meet some very interesting and celebrated people. But I continue to be capable of being delighted by small treats.

On one trip we stayed in the gorgeous Sanctuary on Camelback resort and one starlit evening on our way back from the fabulous restaurant to our well-appointed private casita, I fell in step with a fella from New York. I swept my hand around and asked enthusiastically, “Isn’t this WONDERFUL?” And he looked at me like I had two heads and said, listlessly, “It’s alright.”

I actually felt sorry for him and again prayed never to be that jaded.

My Papa was a small businessman who had fulfilled his dream of owning his own drugstore. I got to spend every summer from age 14-19 working in the store from 9:00 to 6:00, six days a week for seventy-five cents an hour! (A dollar the last two summers!) Because the state law was that a drugstore had to have a registered pharmacist on duty at all times, we never got to take a family vacation. Like a lot of men of that generation, he just WORKED. All the time.

My cousins’ father was a veterinarian and he took two weeks off every year to go somewhere awesome. They saw the Smithsonian and all the famous monuments in Washington, D.C. They visited Civil War battlefields. From Huron, S.D., they also drove to Disneyland – the Mecca for rural Midwestern kids who had to see the wonders of that Magic Kingdom flaunted on our newfangled television at least once a week. For most of us, it was like The Holy Grail and Shangri-La all rolled into one. With nary a Drag Queen in sight.

It held such a special place in our imaginations that when I went through the portals to “the Happiest Place on Earth” for the first time as a 36-year old adult, I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I burst into tears. My eleven year-old son, not for the first time, thought I had lost my mind. Sure, HE was seeing it at eleven. I had been waiting for over 30 years!

But back to the summer of my freshman year of college. One evening in the summer of 1965, Daddy announced he was hiring a professional substitute pharmacist and we were going on a family vacation to the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota!

The trip did not begin as auspiciously as it might have. My brother was the photographer for the journey, with his Brownie camera clutched in his hot little 9-year-old hands. “Composition” was not his strong suit at that time. After we returned home and had the pictures developed, we had some snapshots, suitable for framing, of my sister’s and my skinny bare legs in front of the driver’s side front tire. It’s a shame that he could not have captured our expressions because at that point we all still liked each other. We had not yet backed out of the driveway.

On the route we visited a peacock farm that had been advertised for many miles, so we also have a nice totally blank frame captured from perhaps 50 yards with a teeny tiny peacock in the bottom left corner. People who had been to the Black Hills told us that real live donkeys would come up to your car and socialize! You can see how much it took to excite young people back then versus today when your average teenager would not lift his eyes from his iPhone to cast a passing glance at the Eiffel Tower or the Great Wall of China.

But those were simpler times when a donkey coming up to your car was a pretty big deal. And what aggressive little asses they were! Not until I met my first Amway salesman had I experienced greater aggression. We were warned to keep our car windows up, but my brother, the auteur, had his window down the better to capture – up close, personal and inside the vehicle — many many many donkey nostrils with snot dripping from them.

We got into the Black Hills area and – although I’m a little foggy on chronology – at some point, visited Crystal Cave. There were kiosks of postcards featuring the amazing stalactites and stalagmites, though without consulting DuckDuckGo, I could not tell you which was which for a million dollars, even recognizing that I’d have a 50/50 shot. Part of the reason for that is that I never made it INTO the actual cave part.

Up till that moment I had no idea that I suffered from extreme claustrophobia. We started into the tunnel leading to the cave in a very cozy single file. There were probably about as many people ahead of me as behind me and at some point I panicked, sat down, and demanded to be let back out. The whole line behind me had to turn around and go back in order to let me out. You can only imagine my popularity at that point. My father who did not like scenes at all, was mortified to look back and discern the source of the holdup. The rest of the family continued as I sat on the ground outside the tunnel, shaking and pretending that I had had an epileptic fit which seemed more dignified than a panic attack.

Where it fits into the chronology, I do not remember, but if you haven’t seen Mount Rushmore, it is a “must see before you die” kind of thing. Sonny Bono said Cher believed it was a natural phenomenon. Do NOT let the Maoist loons destroy it!

We did pay $1.00 for the whole family to go into some kind of historical museum where there were a series of truly terrible displays narrated by a poor South Dakota girl, bored to tears, slogging through her memorized script for possibly the 45th time that day. She said her name was Harriet Johnson and that was the highlight of the spiel.

One display was of an Indian figure sitting slightly askew around a campfire wearing a filthy black braided wig. My father, sister, and brother were near the display and Mama and I were in the back of the crowd, the better to make sarcastic remarks to one another. Did I mention Daddy hated scenes? Well, as clear to me as if it had happened last week, Mama leaned over and said in a stage whisper, “That poor Indian girl will never be a Breck Girl.” And several people around us cracked up, causing poor Harriet Johnson to lose her place in her memorized script. Daddy and my sister looked daggers at us and we assumed the exaggerated “Who me?” expression of any random NBA player being called for a foul.

There were some tense moments as we all piled into the car in silence and Daddy shook his head more in sorrow than in anger to convey, “I can’t take you two ANYWHERE!” The tension dissipated when we arrived at our destination in the Black Hills — a group of cute little 2- and 3-bedroom bungalows with a swimming pool in the middle of the cluster. I never gave it a thought at the time – a Daddy was just someone who took care of things – but I now wonder, without the Internet, how he ever found the place and booked it?! Some friend or relative must have stayed there and taken a brochure.

In my memory, they were pretty spiffy, though Mama immediately scrubbed the bathroom and the entire kitchen with the Hi-lex she never left home without. Of course, at that time I had never stayed in a Ritz Carlton, Concierge Floor – or for that matter, in a Holiday Inn Express.

On the morning of our last day there, my sister opted to tan in the front yard of the little bungalow while my brother and I walked over to the pool. As I mentioned, he was 9 and a decent swimmer and fearless little devil. Being an 18-year-old girl, I soon noticed that the lifeguard was quite an attractive young man and decided to chat him up, casting occasional glances at the pool to make sure my brother was still above water.

And then, at some point, he was not! He had been wearing blue trunks and here was a kid about his age and build wearing blue trunks floating face-down on the water. My scream brought him out of the “Dead-Man’s Float” and I saw it was not Jimmy. Relief turned to more panic when that raised the inevitable question: “Where WAS Jimmy?” The lifeguard dove in (or possibly dived in) and said he saw nobody on the floor of the pool.

It has often been said that there are no atheists in foxholes and I can assure you that there are no atheists (even though I was NOT one) among distracted young women tasked with minding their baby brothers. I doubt I have ever prayed harder for anything in my life. I ran “home” to the bungalow trying to imagine how I would tell my parents, and – you know the ending, don’t you? – THERE was the little [rascal] sunning himself on a beach towel beside my sister. At which point I could have KILLED him myself for not telling me he was leaving! It’s been 58 years now, and any day I plan to forgive him.

Well, it turned out that Daddy often took a sleeping pill to help with his insomnia and Mother had “forgotten to pack them” according to him who, in 1965, found no hint of irony that he was a big boy who could have packed his own bag. That’s why men had wives!

Things did not go well after that and I remember a very long drive home to Alexandria with several people not speaking to several others. I’m not a particularly well-travelled person but, I’ll tell you this: I have been to Israel three times; I have been to Maui five times; I have been to Amsterdam and Paris; I have been to 46 of the 50 states.

But that trip is burned into my memory.

When I can no longer remember anybody’s name or what I had for dinner last night – wait, I’m already THERE! – I will still remember that trip. And what is YOUR most memorable family vacation?

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