Saturday, September 24, 2022

Road trips in my family's van: They were cramped, boring, and created some of my favorite memories

My mom brushing out my unruly hair.
Much of my childhood was spent in a van, especially the 1968 Chevy that my parents drove across California, Nevada and Arizona.

I remember feeling trapped and bored on those trips, spending countless hours just staring at the globe compass on the dashboard and willing its dial to stop wobbling. Because if the compass was still, that meant the van had stopped and I could finally go outside again.

But all that time we spent crammed together in that van also created some of my favorite memories with my family. Like when my sister and I put on shows for the other cars on the highway. 

That was cool. 

Since this was the 1970s and we didn't all carry interactive screens everywhere, my sister and I entertained ourselves by reading, drawing or playing with toys in the van. Until my father caught us and exclaimed, "Look out the window! Who knows if you'll ever be driving by here again." 

So I looked out at the landscape, but not for long. Soon I was watching the other cars, with all the other bored people inside, and decided to entertain us all.

Photo of me with Legos, taken by my cousin*
I went to the back windows and opened my case, and my sister joined me. First we showed them all our toys, including what we made with our Legos. Then if the car was still behind us and the people seemed to be enjoying our show, we wrote out greetings on pieces of paper. And if I was sure my mother wasn't watching, I'd put pairs of underwear on my head to make them laugh.

I love imagining what these people thought, watching these girls waving at them from the back windows of their van, especially the one with the panties on her wild blond hair.

But my absolute favorite memories of that van were the times I got to crawl on top of it, into the wooden box my father built on its roof for extra storage space.

The box ran the length of the van and was several inches in height, so it could easily fit our whole family, let alone kid me. I was constantly begging my mother to let me ride up top, but she always said it was too dangerous for me to be up there unless the van was parked. Except for one trip to Yosemite, when she finally relented and said when my father was driving slowly inside the park near a famous redwood grove, I could ride up top.

I still remember how it felt to be lying there, looking up at the sky full of redwood trees and thinking I had the coolest dad in the world, who was always building cool things and letting us do fun things in the van.

(Another cool memory: My father and I listened to "The Catch" together on the radio while in his van.)

Even when we weren't on road trips, he made the van our playground. He'd drive off with the sliding door open, forcing us to chase after it and jump in if we didn't want to be left behind. Once inside, he let us lie on our bellies above the holes in the floor so we could watch the road fly by underneath. Even though I saw mostly just a blur of asphalt, I found it fascinating, and never considered that I could easily lose an eye if a big enough rock came flying up to hit it.

Because I always felt safe in that van. Even when we were driving in the middle of the night and I woke up in my sleeping bag with no idea where we were. But I didn't need to know, because my parents did. So I would just watch the trees and telephone poles flying overhead until I fell asleep again, knowing that it didn't matter where we were going, just that we were together.

And to this day, nearly 50 years later, my favorite vacations are in cars, especially the long road trips my husband and I take with the dog. Just me and my family on the road, creating new favorite memories.

Another cool tidbit: I recently learned that my mother's love for camping and road trips was nurtured by her own childhood, as my grandmother took her on many such adventures, including one epic journey to three national parks for my grandmother's 40th birthday.

*A little more on the photos in this post: They were taken by my 11-year-old cousin Kirsten, who was visiting the United States from Denmark for the first time with our grandfather in 1975, whom we called fa-fa, which means "father's father." Their trip is what inspired my father to build the box on the van's roof, as he knew we would need more room for suitcases and such. I had never seen her pictures from that trip until she sent them to me this week, and I am so grateful that she took them, and saved them all these years. That was very cool!

Friday, September 2, 2022

My Grandmother’s Journals: September, 1997

Grandma traveling in 1972.
In tiny notebooks, my grandmother wrote each day when she woke, where she ate breakfast, any movie she went to see, any mail and calls she received, then what she read and watched on TV before bed, where she seemed to struggle to sleep most nights. 

In 1997, she turned 82 while living alone in a mobile home park in Santa Cruz, Calif., but I wouldn't describe her as lonely. She was an extremely independent and persnickety woman whom I never knew to live with another person or even a pet. (I wrote more about her life in an earlier post.) 
Close to her home was the famous surfing spot called Pleasure Point, and she loved walking on the cliffs above the ocean and watching the surfers. When she died at 97 in 2013, I took her ashes to those waves with a friend of hers and we each dropped some at the sand. A moment after I dropped mine, a surfer emerged from the water where I stood.
That was cool. 
In September of 1997, she quietly turned 82 while watching plenty of tennis, baseball and football. At the end of the month, she drove down to Southern California to attend a reunion of people raised at the orphanage she grew up in, a Masonic Home in Covina, Calif.
Monday, Sept. 1, 1997
Jerry Rice out for year.
Driver of car containing Diana drunk? He “security” man. Real driver sent ahead as decoy.
McDonald’s, got Chicken sandwich.
Wrote Mina.
Tired. Heat is fatiguing.
TV: News, Poirot.
Tuesday, Sept. 2, 1997
Up  every 2 hours: 2-4-6. Up 8.
Took anti-freeze to dump, plastic bottles to Greybears.
Tennis: Chang, five sets! Both exhausted.
To Kmart, ate lunch.
Wednesday, Sept. 3, 1997
Breakfast McDonald’s, sausage biscuit.
Home, Ronn Owens.
Longs, BP & Xerox. Man hogging machine.
Home, garbage cans being delivered.
TV: Tennis, X-Files. 
Thursday, Sept. 4, 1997
Ronn’s last day in London.
Walked East Cliff.
Longs, got diuretics. 
Home, forgot paper.
Gottschalk’s, got binder.
To Albertsons, bananas on sale.
Worked on taxes.
Friday, Sept. 5, 1997
Called Mina. Talks better with inhaler.
Mother Teresa died. Heart.
TLC arrived. He sat with me to watch Venus Williams.
Called Mina again, she pleased about Venus also.
Rested a bit, watched Diana’s funeral til 5 a.m. (Taped six+ hours)
Saturday, Sept. 6, 1997
To Longs. Got melon at Albertsons.
Swept some under couch.
To bank for balance.
TV: Tennis, women’s doubles.
Mail: Letter from Prudy.
More cleaning.
Slept good, tired.
Sunday, Sept. 7, 1997
Up 8, ate here. 
Back to sweeping, cleaned pebbles up.
Football: 49ers v. Rams, 15-12, surprise.
Tennis: Hingis, of course. Venus choked.
To McDonald’s on Ocean, got chicken san.
To show, “Career Girl.”
Monday, Sept. 8, 1997
Ate, got paper.
To OSH: Got Liquid Gold, Black Flag, Rust-oleum and brush.
Worked 10:30 to 1 p.m. (2 1/2 hours).
Cleaned fridge.
TV: Poirot repeat.
Fertilized lawn.

Tuesday, Sept. 9, 1997
Awake 6. Quiet?
Took it easy. Shower, hair.
Longs, BP. McDonald’s, got salad.
Wrote TLC.
Watered lawn.
Burgess Meredith died, 89.
Wednesday, Sept. 10, 1997
To McDonald’s in mall for coffee.
Looked around Gottschalk’s.
Kmart, got chicken sand.
Painted stove hood, walrus.
TV: Geraldo, Law & Order, Star Trek Voyager, TNG.
Thursday, Sept. 11, 1997
Awake 6, back to sleep til 9. Static on radio.
Checked hood of stove and walrus, some spots redone.
Started on rose bush.
Kmart, BP. “Doctor” there.
Scotts Valley, ate at Chinese place. “Joe” TLC came in.
To show, “Men in Black.” Me alone
Home, ate. Worked on transplant: Got big Easter/Xmas plant in Big Pot.
TV: X-Files. Read a bit.

Friday, Sept. 12, 1997 [Her 82nd birthday]
Worked on transplant to big pot, 9:30 to 11.
Fog in am, hot later.
Gottschalk’s, looked for brown to wear with brown. Nothing.
Kmart, found ecru. Ate lunch.
Home, neighbor helped with plant hole.
TV: X-Files, JAG!
Baseball: Giants won, Dodgers lost.
Saturday, Sept. 13, 1997
Read until 3:45 a.m. Slept until 9.
Longs, BP high. Got tuna.
To Burger King in mall. Mervyn’s, got denim.
To video store, got 3 videos: Bull Durham, Stargate, Crying Game.
Read papers, more work on yard.
Ran more of Diana’s funeral. 

Sunday, Sept. 14, 1997
Walked cliff. Extraordinarily lovely day.
Home, watched “I Married a Witch,” Veronica Lake.
Football: 49ers v. Saints. 33-7.
To OSH, got flowers. Planted pansies.
Talked to Mary. 
Ran “Stargate.”

Monday, Sept. 15, 1997
Planted patients. 
To Longs, BP. Got beige watch, TV Guide, canned fruit.
Walked cliff, 45 minutes. 
Vitamin Center, got tea + ginko.
Football: Phila vs. Dallas. Phila ahead, blew it.
Tuesday, Sept. 16, 1997
Kmart, BP, ate chicken sandwich.
Home, ran tape of Ally MacBeal, sitcom, lawyers.
Dodgers vs. St. Louis. Eckersly on in 9th, but Dodgers got runs off him he out.
Dodger Radinsky, rock band.
TV: Frasier, X-Files. Washed clothes.
Wednesday, Sept. 17, 1997
Walked cliff. 
Longs, BP.
Vacuumed, bedroom walls good, other rooms casual.
Started “The Crying Game.”
TV: Geraldo, more “debris” in Paris tunnel, Fiat taillight broken.
TV: Star Trek TNG.
No sleep until 2 a.m.!
Friday, Sept. 19, 1997
Watered east side.
Larry searching his garbage.
Thirft shop, bought purse $.69.
To Goodwill, bought blouse, $1.95.
Wrote Mina & Prudy, took to post office.
Watered west lawn.
Ellie may have bed delivered. Medicare pays rent. 

Saturday, Sept. 20, 1997
Breakfast Kmart, got pillowcase, two shoe racks.
Very warm.
Home, wrote checks, read papers.
Baseball: Giants lost to Padres, Dodgers lost to Rockies.
Packaged 16 days of vitamins.
Couldn't sleep.
Sunday, Sept. 21, 1997
Tea 8:30. Up 9.
Called Pearl.
Walked on cliff.
Foned Mina.
Tennis: Sampras, Chang won.
Mina called back, I called her. Talked 1/2 hour. 
Tea. Slept good.

Monday, Sept. 22, 1997
Lunch at Jacks. Turkey burger.
To show, “L.A. Confidential.” Cops beat people. Much killing. 2 1/2 hours.
Got card for seamstress from Ample Annie.
TV: Part of new show “Brooklyn South.” Obnoxious woman named “Yvonne.”
Had sleep tea, no work. No sleep til almost 4 a.m.

Tuesday, Sept. 23, 1997
Walked on cliff.
Longs, BP, TV Guide, gum.
Trader Joe’s, got cereal, aloe, gingko, salad.
To be hot today!
To Kmart, ate pecan pie and ice cream!
Took melatonin, slept good.
Wednesday, Sept. 24, 1997
Awake 7:15. Tea, cereal.
Longs, BP.
Wherehouse, no “Candle.” To Blockbuster, got two cassettes.
Home, cleaned car, some packing.
Called Justine. Machine clicked off.
Spoke to Larry.
Called Justine again, she answered.
Baseball: Giants won today, Dodgers lost.
No sleep. Radio, Art Bell re: black hole.
Thursday, Sept. 25, 1997
Up 8:30. Longs, BP paper.
To Santa Maria Motel 6. Rest area 1:30 to 2.
Swam in pool 1 hour. Met two men from WWII.
Were in Phillipines. One graduated college in 1931, high school 1933.
Ate sandwich, went to Betteravia. [Betteravia is the road in Santa Maria on which my mother was killed in a car crash.]
To Seal Beach, inundated. Coastal waves high.

Friday, Sept. 26, 1997
Good sleep, awake 6.
Checked oil, water, left 10:30.
Got gasoline, probably 40 miles to galloon.
Rest area Gaviota 15 mins, Santa Claus 1/2 hour, than all on I-5 to Fullerton.

Saturday, Sept. 27, 1997
Hot. Up 8, to Balboa.
Walked on pier, sat with Pearl. John Mark there, Dorothy Short, D. Poole.
To Fullerton 5 p.m.
Watched Bull Durham, read a bit.
Baseball: Giants won division.

Sunday, Sept. 28, 1997
Breakfast at Pollys. Listed thrift shops.
Left for Covina noon, arrived about 12:30. Very hot.
Signed in, talked to Pearl, Orin. Dorothy lives in Ojai. May visit?
Back  3 p.m., almost had accident: Van tried to pull into stop-go traffic, I hit brakes and skidded, near accident.
To Mina’s 4:45, talked, ate avocado, carrots.
TV: 60 Minutes, Siskel & Ebert.
Crossword puzzle,  read.

Monday,  Sept. 29, 1997
Up 8, talked. 
To McDonald’s, got coffee, decaf. $.57
To Goodwill, thrift stores. Got blouse.
Back to Mina’s, talked, Another hot dog.
Football: 49ers beat Panthers.
Watched Diana's funeral, science program.

Tuesday, Sept. 30, 1997
Tea, cereal, left 9:45. Mina not well.
Stopped 11:30 at McDonald’s 
Rest 2 p.m. in Buellton. Got Sobe drink.
Satna Cruz 6:45, nine hours. 
410 miles today, trip 980 miles.

How a chance encounter at the dog park led to a 10-year love affair — for my dog!

Sweet and happy Simon on a walk.
I had no intention of going into the dog park the day we met Simon. Still a brand-new dog owner who was nervous about everything, I was especially afraid of letting my completely untrained, 60-pound tornado off her leash anywhere in public, even inside a securely fenced area.

But as I tried to walk past the park, a sweet-looking dog ran up to the fence. Though he was very interested in meeting my dog, and she was just as interested in meeting him, I tried to remain outside. I told his owner all my fears, but she just smiled them off, assuring me everything would be fine — and something about Noreen convinced me to take Ripley inside to play with Simon.

That was not only cool, but one of the coolest things ever. Because we all fell in love that day: The dogs with each other, the humans with watching them play.

Immediately, Simon and Ripley began wrestling and chasing each other like they were already the best of friends. And they stayed the best of friends for the next 10 years.

The day Simon and Ripley met.
They bonded so well because they were both about a year old, and both herding dog mixes: Ripley a blend of German and McNab Shepherds, and Simon a cattle dog mixed with lab. 

Herding dogs can play fast and rough, often intimidating other dogs who don’t like to be chased, corralled or even nipped, but Simon and Ripley got along so well that his owner Noreen and I began meeting regularly at the dog park so they could play. 

Soon the dogs invented their own game we called The Ball Game. Simon would lie down with a tennis ball in his mouth, then Ripley would lie down next to him and try to pull the ball out. Simon would growl playfully, his stumpy tail wagging, as the dogs pulled on the ball, their heads bobbing back and forth. As the game progressed, Simon would lie on his back to give Ripley better access to the ball, while still keeping it firmly in his mouth.

When Noreen and I learned we lived only two blocks from each other, we started hosting play dates in our back yards, where the dogs were free to run, wrestle and play the Ball Game without interruption from other dogs. Sometimes Ripley would get the ball out, but most of the time the dogs were happy just to lie there together, “making out,” for as long as us humans wanted to watch.

Over the next ten years, Noreen and I walked our dogs together many times a week, so Simon and Ripley enjoyed hundreds of evening strolls together. We also traded pet-sitting duties, with her making many a road trip possible for my husband and me because of her volunteering to check on our cats. And those are just some of the countless good things created by that first play session in November of 2012.

Sad-but-happy update: I’m sad to report that Noreen died in early 2022 of cancer, but I am also happy to report that her daughter quickly found Simon another home. One of her friends in Oregon has a small child, and wanted to adopt an older dog like Simon who was calm and already trained.

I miss both Noreen and Simon, and am very sad that Ripley and Simon don’t get to see each other anymore. But I am so grateful for all the time we got to spend together, and cannot thank Noreen enough for convincing me to go into the dog park that first day.