This is my long post of the week – and it will not be accompanied by any pictures because I’m fairly certain this baby ain’t gonna be “Freshly Pressed”…
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 – nor 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 up 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 horribly overweight and had 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.
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