How I Became A Civilian - Part I
The Trip to New Hampshire
In 1976, my father retired from the air force. I was twelve years old at the time. Picking up and moving was not a new experience...but this one had me a little more excited and nervous at the same time. I was going to become a civilian!
As children, we are moved around at the whim of our parents' lives. I was not consulted on where I'd like to live. I was not even privy to the entire plan. Nonetheless, my presence was required on the day of departure.
So early one morning in August, we packed up the two family cars, loaded our boxes of clothing and personal necessities and finalized the passenger lists. The latter was just a matter of practicality. While the dog got along with both of the Siamese cats and the family parakeet...the same could not be said for the parakeet. So in the spirit of everyone arriving intact and not as somebody else's lunch, the two cats went into one car and the dog and bird into another. Four kids were split evenly and as long as I was not in the same vehicle as my sister, Ronda, who is infamous for throwing up in nearly every single one of the 48 contiguous states, I was fine.
It should have been a simple trip...three hundred and twenty miles from Rome, NY to Manchester, NH. We were going to visit friends and family that we had not seen in a while and once that had been done, we were going to pack up our cars again and head west to New Mexico...where we would enjoy a blissful life as civilians. Yeah...right.
My father had thought it would be a great idea to install CB radios in each vehicle. This way, in case of any road emergency, the two cars could stay in touch with one another. Wisely, before starting out, he decided to make sure the system was in order. He pulled his vehicle up alongside my mother's car...
Dad (putting microphone to mouth): "Lazy Daisy...this is the Zookeeper...do you copy? Over."
Mom: "Lazy Daisy? What does he mean by....oh, don't press that button until I'm ready to talk? Dick? Dick is that you? Uh...over."
During this brief exchange, I could hear, in the background, what can only be described as a noise best left to the sound track of a horror movie. As I glanced to my left, I saw a deranged ball of tan fur fly through the air and land with a splat against the passenger window of my mother's car. The cat's face was frozen in a mask of fear...its mouth wide open in a silent yowl of terror. Great ropy drools were dripping from its chin and in her paws were strands of my sister's long blonde hair. Judging by the position of her droopy inner eyelids, I guessed that the kitty tranquilizers had finally kicked in...but were definitely not having the desired effect.
I was very glad I'd chosen to ride with the dog and bird.
And so we set off...my father in the lead and my mother bringing up the rear. While my father's car was a relatively peaceful ride, I discovered upon comparing notes with my sister that things were not as calm in my mother's vehicle. Sheba, the possessed cat, finally exhausted herself after a couple of hundred miles and hid under the seat. The second cat, Sammy, was still a kitten...and a mellow little guy at that. During the trip, he felt the need to use the small litter box perched precariously on the boxes in the back seat. While relieving himself, my mother hit a bump, which caused Sammy to lose control of his balance. He was still peeing as he fell, rolled onto his back and finally regained his footing after a few seconds of dousing everyone within two feet.
Sammy was not the only passenger of my mother's vehicle that had a bladder. Eventually, my mother decided that she needed a break as well...and that it was imperative to alert my father...
Mom: Dick...uh...Zookeeper? This is...well you know who this is. (My mother was not about to refer to herself as lazy....)
Dad: This is Zookeeper...I read you Lazy Daisy. I can't see you in the rear view mirror...what's your twenty?
Mom: (to my sister) My twenty? Twenty what...oh...the button...oops.
Dad: Lazy Daisy...this is Zookeeper...what's your LOCATION? Over.
Mom: Oh! I think we just passed a Howard Johnson's...what? Oh...it was a Holiday Inn? Anyway...I just wanted to tell you...uh...Zookeeper...that we need to stop and see John.
My father had been pretty much beating his head into the steering wheel during the entirety of this exchange...however, upon hearing the name, John, his brow furrowed and he looked over at me. "Who's John?" he asked.
I shrugged. "Dunno..."
Dad: Lazy Daisy this is Zookeeper. Did you say....John? Over.
Mom: (exasperated) Yes....John. We need to stop and see...JOHN! Now!
Dad: Lazy Daisy...this is Zookeeper...umm...John...who?
At this point in the conversation, we had evidently come to the attention of the trucking community. I can only imagine the amusement....
Trucker (trying hard to control his laughter): Zookeeper...this is Red Rover...I believe that your wife needs to use the bathroom.
In effect, the decision to end the road trip in New Hampshire belonged to my mother's bladder. And that...is how I became a New Englander for thirty years.