The Road to Hell

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.

© Rutabaga and The Mercenary Researcher 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Rutabaga and The Mercenary Researcher with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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.
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48 Responses to The Road to Hell

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  5. That was quite a story, Ruty. I can’t believe all those things happened in such a short time.
    My family also moved halfway across the country back then – OK to OH. Here’s all that happened, though: Parents and I came out here and looked for a house, we moved out here and stayed in a hotel for two weeks while the closing crap happened, and then we moved in. The end.
    So, if you were 8 in 1978, that means you’re… 29 now, according to my calculator. Hmmm – I thought you were younger.

  6. lolabees says:

    I love the way you tell this story. It’s actually so simple but has so many things going on. The casual way you describe the incident at the repair shop is great. I guess it’s not a big deal compared to your grandfather telling your mom her move is going to kill him. How awful! Also love how you confess that you were secretly happy that the cat ran away. That’s such a real emotion a kid would have. Anyway, great stuff, and it looks like you survived it quite well. 🙂

    • Thanks! I think if I’d actually SEEN the mechanics, I’d have been a bit more scared.
      Hee hee…I loved that my brother’s cat ran away and my cat just sat at the window watching …. she knew a good thing when she had it!
      Yes, I survived fully intact! Thanks for reading ~

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  8. haha! Remember when I confused you with Tracy Fulks? I’m actually from NY, too so when I say that story is EXACT, I’m not kidding. (It was proably A&P, Gristedes, or Waldbaums). When my parents divorced I was 14 and my mom moved us to Texas. The trip was VERY similar – especially the animal antics and car breaking down. Oy Vey!

  9. I LOVE, LOVE this story. It sounds just like my family. I think the story about the kittens and Walbaums is identical to my story. Of course our kitten names were different but otherwise, same exact story. I seriously think this could be a screenplay. It’s just the right length, packed with drama and most of us can relate.
    It’s times like this, when everything possible goes wrong, that you wonder about Chinese astrology and their belief that certain times of the month/year are best avoided for travel, etc. haha! If you had left a month earlier or a month later, things might have been different? At least you have this great story now to laugh about. Great post. I had a real visual in my head so the pictures weren’t necessary.

  10. H.E. ELLIS says:

    This is a really good story, and I enjoyed it very much. However, I couldn’t get past this:
    “In the true supportive Italian Catholic tradition of bestowing guilt at pivotal moments in life…”
    All I can say to that is, “Ciao, familia.”

    • Hee hee – I think my family is given to hyperbole more than anything else. I could never give them up – but having lived in Arizona so long, I’ve changed a lot and find that I love living with less drama. I remember the first holiday I spent with my husband’s family – it was so nice and calm…no fighting, no yelling…but at other times I miss all the calamity.

      I know that my grandfather would have never uttered those words had he known he was going to die (that sounds weird and morbid -but you know what I mean).

  11. I find it hilarious that your parents took a 12 year old to the ER for a suspected heart attack but would’ve let you go blind from sand in your eye. I can’t believe your grandfather actually died during the trip. Your poor mother! I never tire of hearing about your life. 🙂

  12. RFL says:

    Wow that was a crazy story. Well done! I’m sorry about your grandfather and the words that stuck with your mom.

  13. Kim says:

    Great story. Your poor mother. It’s a good reminder to be careful of what you say to people.

    I love the part about your father and the machete under the seat! Badass! My father worked at Hughes then too. He would not have had a machete under the seat, but we did have a gun on a gun rack on the back window of his truck. A very Tucson thing to do back in the 70’s. Tucson must have seemed so wild west compared to the East coast!

  14. Brigitte says:

    Wow, Ruta…that’s some story. I can’t imagine how your Mom felt when her father died. Oh, the things people say without realizing it. I was really enthralled in the story so I can glean what a great storyteller you are. The tension moment of the mechanics (scary!), the humor, the reflective moments — all of it worked. This was a kind of slice of life and coming of age story. Enjoyed it very much.

    • Brigitte – thank you so much. The mechanics part was so weird – I probably was lucky I couldn’t see anything that was happening. I am always curious what is like being on the outside of a story looking in –
      It took me years to get over being angry about the move – in fact it took moving away from Tucson (and then moving back) to realize that I’m more comfortable in my skin in the West than the East. Eventually, I’d like to move to the Pacific NW –
      Thank you for reading and commenting!

  15. theabrasiveembrace says:

    What a story! Do you still live in AZ?

  16. lexiesnana says:

    I love reading posts like this.I will be back.

  17. Wowzers! That’s quite the roller-coaster of a story.
    Your poor, poor, poor mother. How can someone EVER recover from that kind of awful coincidence. Ugh.

    • I know – and of course it’s something that we NEVER talk about in my family (I am a little anxious about her reading this post – but she’s in Italy for the next few weeks and so I somewhat hope she doesn’t read it).
      But I eventually came to realize that Tucson is not Hell.

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