To make an incredibly long story as short as possible, my family drove some 13,000 miles on a 'cross country vacation in 1973. Our Volkswagen bus was filled above the brim. Mom and Dad alternated driver's seat and shotgun. Eldest brother, Gerry, had the most space in the 2/3 middle seat. Brothers, Chris and Sean, shared the back seat. And my sister, Cathy, and I made a little fortress out of the "wayfarback." All of our clothes, food, and sleeping bags were packed in two massive, silver fiberglass cubes secured to the full-size roof rack. We must have been a sight to behold.
Despite the fact that I was only seven years old at the time, I remember a good deal of this trip. Some things stand out -- riding a cable car in San Francisco and better still driving the bus down Lombard Street, fog and chipmunks (but no giant stone presidents) at Mt. Rushmore, red mud flooding into our tent at the Badlands, the "four knuckle knocker" scaring the pants off Sean who was sleeping in the bus, waking up with the bus parked inches from a cliff at the Pacific Ocean in California, eating a very late dinner at a place I'd never seen before called "Taco Bell" and not understanding why I couldn't get a hot dog. I remember a lot of games played in the car. I remember every minute of a whole day at Disneyland.
One memory is partial but permanent. It goes like this. We were in the desert Southwest somewhere (give me a break, I was 7). We'd stopped at a gas station for refueling and a bathroom break, and then headed back out on the road.
This is the part I don't remember, so I have to retell it as my Mom tells it. We were about half an hour past the gas station when a little voice in the back (that would be me) said, "Where's Cathy?"
Oops. We'd left one behind.
This is the part I do remember. My father drove faster than I'd ever seen him drive to get back to the gas station. And when we arrived, Cathy was standing in front of the huge plate glass window -- her long, brown hair braided, her arms folded tightly across her chest, her face twisted in anger, and her foot tapping impatiently. She scolded us, hopped back on the bus, and off we went. Again. With all present and accounted for.
Now, I can't speak for Cathy. I can't imagine how she must have felt. We had a plan in case anyone got lost on the trip (everyone was to call my father's secretary, and she would coordinate a location to reunite). My sister had followed the rules and called Diane. But there hadn't been any phones in the half hour trip past the gas station for us to use, as well. Remember, 1973. So, my poor sister had to wait almost an hour for us to come back.
In hindsight and for me (the one who didn't have to go through this), it's kinda' humorous. You know, one of those stories she can tell her grandchildren. She doesn't need to tell her children, because our mother's been doing that for years.
So when I saw the trailer for the new movie, Little Miss Sunshine, I laughed more loudly than I have in a long time, and with such force that I cried. I immediately called Cathy. I hope the past 33 years have created enough of a buffer for her that she might be able to laugh at it, too.
I think Fox Searchlight should pay my sister a royalty.
Cool to catch a Sufjan Stevens song in there, too.