Starting Over – Sometimes It’s Tragically Bumpy

This is for the DPChallenge “Starting Over”  - I wrote this a bit ago – but it works for this challenge; so I’ve got it here again but with a couple of changes.

So let us begin….

It is said that the Road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  I think pavement would have been an improvement.

This is the story of my family’s ill-fated move from Shoreham, NY to Tucson, AZ in 1978. I was 8 and my brother was 12.

I was going to start with the garage sale story, but really, I need to start with Velvet and Mittsy.

We had a 5 lb cat named Charcoal. She was really tiny – so tiny, that we never suspected she’d been ‘Jezabelling’ it up with the neighborhood toms.  One day when we arrived home after school, we noticed Charcoal had given birth to two wee black kittens on our couch.  I was OVERJOYED!  My mother and father, however were decidedly not overjoyed, keeping two new pets was not in the cards as  we were about to embark upon a move across the United States in a matter of months.  We got to keep the kittens for 6 weeks – and of course we fell in love with them – but it was not to be.  So it was off to the local Walbaum’s grocery store to stand in front of the entrance with our two kittens and a ‘Free’ sign.  We’d even named the kitties Velvet (mine) and Mittsy (my brother’s) – it’s never a good idea to name kittens that can’t be kept.  So of course, my kitten (the cuter of the two) was the first to go.  Right after that my brother FREAKED OUT and started crying hysterically, clutching that poor terrified cat to his chest, saying that he wasn’t going to part with Mittsy.  My mom was so stressed about the move to Arizona that she gave in and let him keep the cat.  The only thing that kept me from being completely devastated was that Charcoal was my cat so even though I lost Velvet, I still had Charcoal.

As the clock ticked down to our move, my parents decided to have a garage sale.  It didn’t go so well. My father ended up in an enormous argument with one of our neighbors. Apparently the neighbor took an item, said he was going to pay for it, and then denied taking it later on. To this day, even mentioning the incident will piss him off. We are skilled at holding grudges in my family.

The move is mere days away. No one wants to move but my father. No one in my family – on either my mom’s or my dad’s side has ever moved out of New York (with the exception of moving to Ottawa when my father was growing up – his father was Canadian).  No one in my family even knew that there were states beyond Pennsylvania.  The move was hardest on my Mom’s parents because we lived 10 minutes from their house and saw them all the time.  In the true supportive Italian Catholic tradition of bestowing guilt at pivotal moments in life, my grandfather’s parting words to my Mom were “Your moving is going to kill me”.

It’s time to get into the van and go. My mom, dad, bother, two cats, a golden retriever and me – we all pile in. I do not want to move. My mother does not want to move. My brother does not want to move. My father can’t get on the road fast enough. Now I’m the hysterical one.  I’m crying so hard that I start to gag. My father throws a garbage bag towards me – so I promptly puke on it (not IN in) and all over myself.  This is not a propitious beginning to a new life.

Obviously puking in the van before we left the driveway was not going to change my father’s plans – and the fact that he had a job waiting for him in Tucson.  So we drive away.

And then it begins…

The first highlight of the trip happens on day two.  Just as an aside, I’m already sick of Denny’s and Ned Nickerson’s restaurants.  So are my parents, so we stop at a Dairy Queen for lunch in some small town in another state (quite possibly Pennsylvania, quite possibly one of those mystery states not associated with the Northeast).  I’m waiting outside – it’s rather windy and dusty.  I get sand in my eye.  It blinds me.  I can’t open my eyes – they can’t get the sand out.  I spent two days this way.  I wonder if it kept me from talking incessantly.  Probably not.

During day two of sand-induced blindness, our van breaks down. Triple A has sent us to an ‘approved’ mechanics garage in another small town in another mystery state. My recollection is that we’re in Missouri by now – but I could be wrong. All I know is that I can’t see anything happening and something really scary is about to go down.  Here’s how it went.  Two burly mechanics fixed our van; we are the only people at the garage.  They approach my father while he’s getting into the van – my father asks them how much repair costs. The mechanics are holding crow bars in a threatening manner and respond with “how much ya got?”  My brother, meanwhile, is so scared he’s having chest pains. My father is unperturbed – he pulls out a machete knife from under his seat and the mechanics have a change of heart.   My parents take my brother to the ER because they’re afraid he’s having a heart attack.  And while we’re visiting the ER, I might as well get my eye flushed out.  At least I can see again.

The trip continues – I wish I could say it improves.

Ok – there was something rather amusing that happened …comic relief before we reach Texas and everything completely falls apart.

We notice that the cats have not used the litter box once in 3 days. Neither cat had ever used one before. And they aren’t in cages either – they’re free-ranging it all over the place in the van along with our dog, Kinyon.  Charcoal has always loved being in a car (she also liked swimming – she was a very interesting cat). She loved to ride sitting on the dashboard and Mittsy was fine just in the back.  But they were getting seriously weird because they needed to go to the bathroom but refused to use the litter box.  Finally, Charcoal can’t take it anymore and she jumps in and relieves herself. Well Mittsy just about flew in there and took a dump right on Charcoal. It was rather comical.

Ok – so it’s time talk about Texas.  We’re staying at a hideous pink motel right next to a cemetery. Who builds a motel next to a cemetery? My mom wouldn’t allow us to sit on the toilet seats. Every time either my brother or I would venture to walk to the bathroom her germ-radar would go off and she’d insist on making sure we put toilet paper down on the seats.  If you’d seen the yellow & brown toilets, you’d have not needed to be reminded to put paper down first.

So cast your memory back to the beginning of this story – where my grandfather says that my Mom’s moving was going to ‘kill him’.  Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever say that to your child. Never.  Do you know why? Because when you say something like that and you do die during your daughter’s move across country, it is detrimental.  My grandfather did die – it stunned us all. When my mom called her sister when we reached Texas, she had to break it to my mom that their father had a massive heart attack and didn’t survive.  My mother has carried that guilt around with her for her life ever afterwards. And it was not my mom’s fault that my grandfather died. He died because he was overweight, had high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  I loved my grandfather – he was a wonderful man and he loved his children. But he made an egregious error in ever saying something like that to his daughter.  If I could take anything back in her life – I would take back what he said.  She did not deserve that. No one does.

Obviously, plans change at this juncture. My mom flies back to New York and we go to Scottsdale, AZ to stay with my parents close friends, The Tribuzio’s.  They take us in – and I can’t even imagine how my father must have been feeling at this point.

The Tribuzio’s have a dog – so we have to keep our two cats in the bathroom in their house.  One morning we wake up and my brother and I go to check on the cats. I open the bathroom door to see that the screen in the small window has been clawed though. Mittsy is gone –and Charcoal was sitting in the windowsill looking out. Again – my poor father…my brother goes ballistic and we spend the day trying to find Mittsy – but to no avail. Because I was 8 – and empathy and sympathy were not my forte, I was secretly happy Mittsy ran away because I was still smarting over the fact that my kitten was taken at Walbaum’s. In retrospect – I feel horrible about it.  But then? Not so much.

My mom comes back from New York and we eventually arrive in Tucson.  You’d think we would have been finished with all the trauma foisted upon us by the universe. Nope – it had another surprise in store for us…my father’s job.

My father was tool & die maker – he’d landed a job a Hughes Aircraft. That’s why we moved to Tucson – so of course as soon as we are settled and he is ready to start work – there was a strike.  I don’t remember much of the details because I was very young and my family did not talk about money and things of that nature with us. I knew that money was tight – we lived in an apartment and my brother and I shared a room. That was a horror in and of itself. Sharing a bedroom with a 12 going on 13 year old boy is enough to scar/scare anyone for life.

Once we moved into our house, things eventually things started to smooth out and we adjusted to the culture shock leaving New York to live in Arizona – sort of…

And that’s my story.

About Rutabaga the Mercenary Researcher

I'm a research librarian for Public Television, story teller, bike commuter, baker, music fiend, lover of reading & books, mother, wife, friend - and many more descriptive adjectives and nouns.
This entry was posted in Childhood, Family, grieving, Injury, Random Thoughts, Relationships, Story, Travel, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

91 Responses to Starting Over – Sometimes It’s Tragically Bumpy

  1. I thought you’d taken a looooooong break; I had to sift carefully through my reader to find this. And I love it!!! I’m subscribing through email in a sec, thankyouverymuch. Eff this where are the GOOD blog posts nonsense. Anyway- there is so much going on here! We used to drive 13 hours one way with 2 Labrador retrievers, 4 kids, and both of my parents twice a year. My grandparents lived in Illinois so we had to make the trek “home”. Once my dad got pulled by a trooper for falling asleep while driving, my mom managed to rake in at least one GIGANTIC speeding ticket on every trip, and we have a very funny story about how Bojangles “don’t got no biskits”. This is AWESOME.

  2. Oh, Denise! Another fabulous story. Well told, entertaining, lots of highs (funny parts) and lows. I felt so bad for your mom! How horrible. That must have been a big starting over. I always wanted that when I was a kid because we never moved anywhere. Maybe it’s better we didn’t move. I enjoyed this very much.
    (p.s. you’re not mad at me, are you?)

  3. Maggie O'C says:

    Why am I just finding you? This is outstanding. Your family was the Italian version of mine or we were the Irish version of yours but equally insane.

  4. calahan says:

    I kept hearing “Holiday Road” playing as I read this. It had a sort of Griswald family vacation element to it, especially the mechanics.

  5. The Hook says:

    Thank you for the trip down Memory Lane. It was moving and enlightening.

  6. mairedubhtx says:

    Moving is always traumatic, and moving from NY to AZ must have been doubly traumatic. Total culture shock. And with all the things that ahppened and your grandfather dying…Sheesh. How did you ever settle in and survive?

    • It took a LONG time for me to reconcile myself to living in Tucson. After graduate school my husband & I moved to Raleigh and within the year we moved back to Tucson because I realized I’m totally a gal from the West now. Sometimes moving away shows us what is really important! I wish I took moving with ease but it’s really hard for me.

  7. MissFourEyes says:

    Oh family road trips, why can’t they be like movies? (the kind where everything is perfect and people grow and evolve and stuff, not the kind where everything goes horribly wrong to the point where they contemplate eating each other alive)

  8. Rufina says:

    This story was riveting, I’m tellling you, I cannot believe the things that happen to you!! And I am also amazed at the level of detail that you can remember from being 8!! 8!!!?? All I remember from being 8 is that I was in Grade 3. I also am glad that you didn’t start with the Garage sale story, because we would have really missed out on the background on Velvet, Mittsy and Charcoal. Dare I ask why your Father travelled with a machete under the seat? Was it a special keepsake of some sort? And your poor Mom! What a story.

    • I have an uncanny memory for details like that – I think b/c I tell the story enough that it’s committed to memory like the epic tales of the celts :)

      I have no idea why my father does what he does! Yes, my mom did not get a fair shake with that particular story.

      Thanks for reading!!

  9. indytony says:

    Ah, nothing like the joys of travel to really bond a family together.

  10. Wow….what a lot to handle during an already traumatic time. And your poor mom!! I’m glad you are happy in AZ now.

  11. cshowers says:

    How traumatic. I’m so sorry for your mom too. I hope she recovered from that trauma.

  12. stephrogers says:

    This was a great read. How sad that those were his parting words to your mother.
    You inspired me to have a go at this creative writing challenge, because your an inspirational kind of gal.

  13. Theena Theen says:

    This was great. It does remind me of “A Christmas Story”. Anything that could go will go wrong. Your poor mother though. What a wicked coincidence (if that’s even an appropriate word for this situation) for that to happen after what he said. Great post!

  14. I love this story. Is this a re-blog or am I losing my mind??? If it’s the latter just smile and say nothing.

  15. Vicki Wright says:

    Hilarious! I loved the line about the machete! Sad because your grandfather died – and the tragic irony it happened after saying that to your mom. Interesting story all the way through. AND coincidentally, my father is also a tool & die maker!

  16. samantha045 says:

    I loved this! Though the trip was unfortunate, the way you told the story was hysterical!

  17. Kylie says:

    Oh. My. God.

    I would ban you from taking any more road trips, but the resulting stories are so tragi-comic, I think you should take them more often.

  18. OMG what a horrible move ! Maybe the given away cat has caused all that trouble, because it was a bewitched one ;)

  19. Carrie Rubin says:

    And what a story it is. I enjoyed reading it, though I can’t imagine the burden your mother had to carry with her. Of course it was not her fault, but at times like that, our brains tend to speak softer than our hearts, and we are racked with guilt as a result.

  20. happyzinny says:

    What an awful (and needless) burden for your poor mom to carry!

  21. "HE WHO" says:

    That was a road trip “through” hell. I’m like you in that I think that West is best, too. I wish I could be in British Columbia, or better still in New Mexico. But, it always looks greener…I guess I should be glad I can play hockey all winter (not).

  22. A. Good One says:

    This reminded me of some of Jean Shephard’s stories. I really enjoyed reading it.

  23. twindaddy says:

    What a horrible story. Are you still out in Arizona or did you eventually move back to NY?

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