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.
"Elvis is dead".
That's how I learned the news. You?