Archive for the ‘Road Trip’ Category

I would imagine it’s easier to be a young tomboy when your older sister is out there cutting the path for you than it would be if you had no perfect role model, no field hockey player or tree-climber to look up to.  My sister Gloria and her athletic friends were 14 when I was 5, ninth grade to my kindergarten.  They played catch, wore sneakers everywhere and excelled in P.E. class the way I hoped to do someday.  They were goddesses to me.  Amazons.  The coolest of the cool.

We’re not sure why our mom decided, as a young Navy widow, to head out from her home on Long Island and her family in Brooklyn, to San Diego as soon as school let out in June of 1964.  We had already taken the train out to the west coast the previous summer,  an old Pullman coach, to visit my dad’s family in Oregon and military friends in California.  My middle sister and I managed to get into all kinds of trouble on the way.  At one point we found an empty sleeper cabin and she lifted me up to the closet shelf to see if there was anything interesting up there.  Of course, there was no treasure.  No, all that was up there then was a frightened 4-year-old who refused to jump down into her sister’s arms.  It didn’t look so high up from the floor.  From the shelf, though, the distance to safety looked like a million miles.  An ancient, leathery porter with big soda bottle glasses finally got me down. 
Perhaps while we were out on the west coast that first time some of her California friends had been able to convince my mom that if she moved out there she’d meet another nice Navy man to marry.  She had been dating a man from our Long Island neighborhood just before our second trip but from my kindergarten point of view, it had never seemed very serious.  I liked him for pulling a splinter out of my foot, but he couldn’t match up to the stories I had heard about my dad.  Probably no one ever would.On the last day of kindergarten I was in the little classroom bathroom, playing with the water, when my mom showed up to get me and my classmates started banging on the door yelling, “Kim, get out of there!  You have to go to California!”
We took Interstate 80 west.  I sat behind my mom.  My middle sister, Georgeanne, sat behind Gloria.  There were no seat belts.  There was no air conditioning.  It was an old Pontiac LeMans and my mom had to have her mechanic affix a block of wood to the gas pedal so she could reach it comfortably for the entire long drive.  It took us five days.  All throughout the trip I secretly, occasionally, impishly reached across the seat for some of Georgeanne’s Barbie clothes and threw them out the window.  She never figured that out.  I confessed about 40 years after the fact.  We had a good laugh.  Near El Paso, we couldn’t decide if it would be better to drive with the windows up or the windows down.  We had come south through St. Louis to see the Gateway Arch under construction and then continued west through the golden desert heat.  It was actually hotter, we decided, with the windows down.  In New Mexico we screamed when we heard there were scorpions under some of the rocks.  In Arizona a roadrunner zoomed across our path.
When we finally arrived in San Diego we moved into rooms in a house my mom had rented from a chain-smoking older widow named Mrs. Landry.  We used to call her Mrs. Laundry.  She was creepy.  The U-shaped adobe house was nice, though.  It was on Coronado Island and we had to take a ferry to get to and from the mainland.  The bridge that’s there now did not yet exist.  We were in a neighborhood filled with military families, mostly Navy and Marines.  There were hills to climb and spent shell casings to find; a great environment for a budding baby tomboy.
The kids on our block were all Navy brats.  They had uniforms and toy weapons and military insignia and an indisputable pecking order that seemed set in stone.  They ran along the sidewalk and through the yards, giving and taking orders, pretending they were officers and grunts involved in some kind of skirmish I couldn’t quite decipher.  I stayed inside, watching through the screen door, intimidated.  They teased me because I didn’t have a uniform and couldn’t be a part of the war games.  After a few days of this my trusty tomboy sister had had enough and insisted that mom take her to the store.  I don’t know who paid for it but they eventually came home with a fatigue jacket and hat.  My mom went back out for groceries and eventually it was just us two tomboys left in the house, on that sunny, noisy afternoon.  I wanted to put the uniform on right away but Gloria said, “No way.  Just wait a few minutes.”  She proceeded to take out the iron and the ironing board and systematically ironed that uniform like a professional.  The arms had perfect creases, the collar was flat, even the hat was crisp and pressed.  When she was finished she reached into her pocket and almost ceremoniously removed one of my dad’s gold maple leaf pins.  My eyes widened as she stuck it to my new green hat.  Then she helped me get dressed.  And then she said it was okay for me to go out.  I walked to the door, my eyes focused and sharp.  I stood there on the inside of the screen for a few minutes, assessing the scene.  The kids were out there.  They were running around, yelling, as usual.  Then they decided it was time to come to my door again and taunt me.  But the sight they saw stopped them cold.  “Whoa,” I remember one of them saying.  Mouths hung open.  It was time.  I somberly walked out.  They made room for me.  They stared at my crisp uniform.  Then their eyes fell upon my gold maple leaf.  It made me either a major in the Army or a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy.  The new boss, in other words.  I had arrived.