Thursday, August 16, 2007

What did you do on your summer vacation?

The summer I was eleven my mother took my two older brothers, my younger sister and me to a cabin on a little lake near Minocqua, Wisconsin. Dad wasn't with us for the first few days because he had a big work project that he couldn't get away from. It was August but the weather was cold and gray. My brothers weren't too keen on fishing, so mom took us into Minocqua for t-shirt shopping and salt water taffy. We also went to see the movie "The Deep" which launched my two older brothers into fits of professed love for Jacqueline Bissett. Our little house-keeping cabin wasn't much. Tawdry comes to mind. The vacation itself was feeling a little tawdry. We just didn't seem right without dad there.

Our usual family vacations have been portrayed with painstaking accuracy by National Lampoon in their movie of the same name. Our green station wagon had wood siding but the rest was pretty much spot on. In fact, a vacation to a northern Wisconsin tourist town where we stayed put was very unlike us. Our trips were marathon drive through the country affairs. Ball of Twine? Yes. Flintstonesland? Yes. Rickety fricking bridge over some gulch 1000 feet below? Oh, we'd go out of the way. We had driven through South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa on one trip. We looped the Great Lakes and drove on to Quebec on another. Another trip was south to Knoxville, where dad attended an Ace Hardware convention. He owned a hardware store just long enough for us kids to get a lifetime supply of left-over ice skates in every size. From there we went to Georgia (See Rock City!) and to Florida where he bought a piece of investment property in the panhandle for $5000. 32 years later he unloaded that same piece of panhandle property for $5200. We got to go to Disneyworld that year, which must have been a stretch for my dad because he hated crowds, cities, large groups of people. My dad's favorite move on vacation was to drive on mountain roads as close to the edge of the road as was physically possible. My mom would scream for dear life each and every time clutching wildy at the door handle as if to throw herself out before the car caromed off a cliff.

The best part of these road trip vacations was getting up early in the morning and getting on the road. My parents big metal thermos filled the car with the smell of coffee. We'd stop after a while and have cereal in those little boxes where you can cut an 'H' shape in the box and pour the milk right in. We got to buy comic books. My brothers were all 'Conan the Barbarian', which I really liked, too, but my sister and I felt compelled toward the Archie comics. The worst parts mostly had to do with my big brothers trying to out-fart each other in a closed-up car. And the time we drove through Utah and it was my turn to ride in the back of the station wagon where the greenhouse effect raised the temperatures to 160 degrees farenheit and the air conditioning couldn't hope to reach that far back in the car but the fart contest miraculously could. I laid in the back of the car and croaked out my very last dying words for at least three hours.

So the Minocqua trip was static. It lacked my dad, lacked the good times on the road, lacked movement. Finally after three days dad drove up and met us at the tawdry cabin. The weather got colder. We had to turn on the furnace in cabin to keep warm at night it was that cold.

Dad woke up during the night and felt odd. He realized the pilot light had gone out on the furnace and that we were all being gassed. He managed to wake us up, got us out of the cabin and threw all the windows open. I can't imagine we'd have survived if he wasn't there.

The next day the sun was shining but it was still brisk outside. We drove a little west of Minocqua and dad pulled the car over on a stretch of highway that had nothing of any tourist value whatsoever. It seems he found out about a small lake that was for sale. Technically you can't buy a lake but this one was small enough that you could buy all of the property surrounding this lake. I'm sure that today that lake is utterly surrounded by condos that go for several times the asking price of the whole lake back in the '70's.

We started out down a trail and were maybe four hundred yards from the road when my little sister, who was nine, stepped on a ground hornet's nest. In an instant hundreds of bees were on her. I remember crouching down and seeing bees swarming up the inseam of her jeans and collecting in yellow fistfuls in her crotch. Dad picked her up and ran for the car.

We all climbed in the station wagon. Before car seats and seat belt laws four kids could sit on one bench seat. Dad had just pulled out onto the road when I casually informed him that my sister was puking on the floor of the car where my feet had just been.

Have you ever seen a Pontiac station wagon, green with wood side panels fly? Dad got that car up to a speed that passed the 90 mile hour top out on the spedometer. There was a hospital in Woodruff, a town right next to Minocqua, that mom and dad knew all about because somehow the hospital got Elizabeth Taylor to come and cut the ribbon when the hospital opened, just a year or so earlier. So dad, who had EMT training knew how serious her condition was when she started vomiting, and knew right where to go to get her help.

We raced into the hospital, dad carrying my sister. An intern ran up and took her from my dad just as she passed out. I must have been hanging on the glamour of Elizabeth Taylor, because it seemed like the most romantic thing I had ever seen. She might have only been nine, but to me watching her being carried away by the young doctor- oh, Hollywood. Cue the music.

They gave her adrenaline and kept an eye on her for a while. When we left the hospital it was late in the afternoon and we were all starving. Dad stopped at the Hardees on the way out of town. Just as I opened the door of the Hardees my sister walked in and barfed so copiously that the puddle was a solid four feet across.

Mortified, I ran away. Mom and dad were welcome to stay by her and admit to knowing her, but I couldn't get far enough away. I ran up to the counter and pretended to be a world weary traveler all on her own in northern Wisconsin. A gypsy kid, maybe.

Two teen girls behind the counter were talking.

"Did you hear?" the first girl asked.

"Hear what?"

"Elvis is dead".

That's how I learned the news. You?


Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Brilliant story. Your family vacations sounded alot like mine.

And Jackie Bisset still gets mad love from me. Conan not so much.

Dr. Zaius said...

Oh, god that story brings back memories. Especially the little cereal boxes that have a perforated 'H' shape pre-cut in the box that you pour the milk right into for some reason. I was never a big fan of Elvis, so I don't even remember what I was doing when he died. On the other hand, Jacqueline Bissett and I did have a deeply spiritual and emotionally meaningful relationship... In my imagination, of course.

It's funny that you bring Elvis up though, yesterday of Turner Classic Movies they played nothing but Elvis movies, and sat and watched them while doing laundry and stuff. They were actually really great! My favorites were "Double Trouble", "Harum Scarum" and "Clambake". They remind of those old Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon beach movies. I was going to post YouTube links to some of the dance sequences from the Elvis movies that I watched yesterday.

Conan? No. Fantastic Four? Yes.

Jess Wundrun said...

Good doctors: Whatever happened to J. Bissett? Farrah posters must have killed the Bissett star, eh?

I liked Conan until that stupid governor made those movies. Okay, that's kind of a lie. I liked the first Conan movie, given gravitas because James Earl Jones is the villain.

I had a Spiderman comic book on one of those trips that took place on the set of Saturday Night Live. With the original SNL cast. God I wish I had that now.

Here's what I am finding funny right now: In October Ben and I are driving the little Wundruns to Dallas. Past vacations with the kids involved flying and not driving. My parents are close to aghast because our vehicle is not equipped with a DVD player. What will those kids do?

I might make them sit in the 'way back' and let them smell my farts. (Fodder for future analysis, I'm certain)

FranIAm said...

Absolutely freakin' brilliant Jess. Wow.


I was riveted.

And honestly I have no clue where I was when Elvis died, but I will never forget where you were.

Suzy said...

Hilarious story. It sounds eerily like some of our family vacations too. God, the things we've lost.

But … where was I when Elvis died? I was living/working at a plant nursery in Norway. My Norwegian wasn't very good yet. My boss said "Elvis er død!" "Hva? Si det engang til … (What? Say it one more time …)" That went on for a little while, until in frustration she said, in English, "ELVIS IS DEAD!"

Distributorcap said...

the king is dead
long live the kind

Jess has left the building......

nice post

Tengrain said...

Great story, Jess. I know yesterday was the day Elvis died, but I have no idea what I was doing then.
The news said he was 42 when he died, and that startled me. I remember at the time he seemed so old, and now that seems so young.

I remember my older sister cried but then told me she always liked Ricky Nelson better. I'm not sure what to make of that.



Splotchy said...

Great story!

I had no idea where it was going, but I enjoyed the journey as well as the destination.

I think when I learned Elvis died was some time in the 80's. He came up in a conversation with my mom. At some point my mom mentioned that he died. "Really? When?", I asked "Seven years ago."

Suzy said...

Jess, I just want to add, good on you and Mr. Wundrun for not giving in to the DVD player in the car thing. I find that trend kind of ridiculous and disturbing at the same time. First of all, boredom forces kids to be pretty creative in their entertainment seeking (as your story so aptly illustrates.) They'll also look out the window and on some level register that Wisconsin looks different from Illinois, which looks different from Missouri, and so on. It also forces the adults to take breaks from driving, for God's sake. We've always played games, sung rounds, listened to books on tape. (Are you guys dog people? Check out "Hank the Cowdog." Each episode is 2 hours long and hilarious. Unfortunately, our library system doesn't have many so you have to buy them from the website -- or I can loan you a couple. They're worth it!

dguzman said...

I was riding with my mom in the car when the DJ on the car radio said Elvis had died. My mom had to pull over and compose herself.

Mathman6293 said...

My family traveled up that way for years. We went to Crandon until my dad died. Then we started going to St. Germain. My mother was insistant that we go to the same place every year. We often drove to Minocqua or Eagle River for groceries or entertainment.

A few years ago when Dcup and I went, she and I had a knock down argument. We went to our respective corners. Later, When I could not find her I thought she walked to Minocqua. Turns out she fell a sleep on a well hidden bench in the woods.

In fact even though my family has moved to the Georgia, the rest of my sybs still travel to St Germain every year. Old habits die hard.

DCup said...

Great post, Jess!

I miss those *^%$#& family trips to the Northwoods.

Really! I do.

Who wouldn't die for a week in a cabin with no television or radio, still having to cook and clean for one's family without the conveniences of home AND with one's inlaws?

Usually pregnant or breastfeeding.

I really miss those "vacations."

Bitter much? Not me!