When I was ten years old, my father set out to take us on the ultimate “from here to there and everywhere in between” vacation. Our trip started in Salado, Texas and took us all the way to Anaheim, California. We saw everything from here to there including the Painted Desert, the Redwood Forest, the Grand Canyon, Hollywood, Redondo Beach, Universal Studios, and of course the pinnacle of our trip was the destination DISNEYLAND! I can still close my eyes and vividly imagine those days. I’m sure my dad is glad to know that, since he probably spent the next 20 years paying for that trip…
A normal day with five daughters can be challenging, but five daughters in a car for two weeks, well I’m surprised our dad survived that endeavor. I’m betting it was sprinkled with more headaches than his 30 years of being a First Responder! Five little girls…. all stair-stepped in age (two 10-year-olds, one 8-year-old, and two 7-year-olds), all with dirty blonde hair and big sassy attitudes.
To keep up with the five of us, Dad had devised a system where we would count off every time we got in or out of the car. We obliged at first… 1….2…..3…..4…..5….. but we were quickly bored by this little ritual and we started our own little game… one that might be reminiscent of “the boy who cried wolf“. Dad would say count off, and it would go something like this: “1….2….3…. oh, Amber, Amber, where are you? Dad, Amber’s not in the car… we lost her.” That was followed by giggles and warnings until Dad would finally say “you better get out from under that seat right now, hot damn it.” (Hot damn it was his expletive of choice that summer.) Then, a little girl with eyes rolling would crawl out from under the seat, try to wipe the grin off her face, buckle her seatbelt, and off we’d go to the next adventure.
Amy and I were by far the most sophisticated of the group. We were ten years old. We got to sit in the back seat of the station wagon, the one that faced out the rear of the car. We got to make faces at passengers of other vehicles, and we spent our time painting our faces with entirely too much make-up, but the best part was we had Lee Press-On Nails. They were a brand new invention! Little sticky tabs of glue that promised fabulous nails in 10 seconds flat… the perfect manicure. They worked quite well for a young girl sitting in a car staring at her fingers for hours at a time. However, they created the biggest crises of our vacation (next to losing our ice chest on the L.A. freeway, but that’s another story).
We were at a rest stop on the side of the highway, and we all made our way into the bathroom. My younger sister Courtney was the inspector, she had to see every porcelain throne from here to Disneyland so that she could rate them on her “Bathroom Scale”. Amy had to powder her nose, again. Mandy, Amber, and I actually had to go pee… and that was something I had never done with Lee Press-On Nails! Of course, I broke a nail, and lucky for me right there in my little pink striped purse I had an extra page of the sticky glue tabs. (Hmmmmm…. I guess they knew extras would be needed.)
As I sat in the stall concentrating so diligently on getting the plastic fingernail positioned perfectly under my cuticle, it never occurred to me that the noises of my sisters had left the building. I finally emerged, so proud of my fake french manicure, and very carefully washed my hands, and put the little pink purse back over my shoulder and head back to the ….. wait…. where was our car??
“Oh, no! Where’s my dad?” Panic hit me immediately. I looked over at an older lady, and trusting she would have noticed the spectacle of a white station wagon filled with little girls, I asked her “Did you see a man in a white car with a lot of kids leave?”
“Sweetie, he’s been gone 15 minutes by now…” My heart sank! And I mean sank. I stood there, knees shaking, stomach quaking, wondering what on earth should I do? There was no such thing as calling his cell phone. I couldn’t text him to turn around. I don’t even think he had a beeper yet, and I didn’t have payphone quarters! So I stood there, for what seemed like an eternity, tears streaming out my face. The world was in slow motion, and I know the lady was still talking to me, but I didn’t hear anything else she said until I heard the honking and squealing of tires. I looked up, and there he was… My dad!! Never had I felt the feeling of utter relief like I did at that moment. It was like the Prince on the white horse really showed up. To this day, I can still remember everyone jumping out of the car and running towards me.
Later I would learn that he thought I was hiding under the seat… and by the time he realized I really wasn’t in the car, they were a good 15 miles to the next turn around. At one point, I think he had to drive the wrong way down a one way street to get back to me. I’m glad to know he was just as panicked to have left me at a rest stop in El Paso, as I was to have been forgotten in some West Texas roadside park. The hugs I got from my parents at that moment were probably the best hugs I have ever gotten.
When my sisters said I was still in the bathroom, and our dad pulled off anyway, we all learned a very important lesson. When Dad makes us count off, its best to just oblige him. Hiding under the seat- not a good idea! I should have learned my lesson about Lee Press-On Nails, but to be honest it took me a few more years to give up on those…
Of course Disneyland completely made up for being stranded at a rest stop. Like they say, “it’s a world of laughter a world of tears….”