On this particular late-July day, it was typically hot and humid across most of Iowa, including our fair city of Cedar Rapids. Who doesn’t love 95 degrees Fahrenheit and 90% humidity, where your shirt sticks to your body like Saran Wrap as soon as you walk out of air-conditioned paradise?
Our family made the four and a half hour trek back to our hometown of Omaha, to visit grandparents and other assorted relatives, every couple of months.
Fortunately, to start this trip, we now had a brand-spanking-new 1972 Chevrolet Kingswood Estate Station Wagon.
What a sweet ride it was: Power everything, before everyone had power everything; an eight-track player (wow!); a REAR facing third seat in the “way back” as it was known by our family; and a luggage rack that could hold the carrier so we didn’t have to take valuable people-space away from those inside the vehicle.
This might not seem so special, but consider packing seven children, two parents, and approximately five large suitcases into one conveyance … before the advent of the mini-van.
Think level 100 on Tetris and you get a rough idea of how difficult it was to shoehorn our lot in to the wagon prior to hitting the road!
As we embarked on this particular trip, we popped in the Dean Martin’s Greatest Hits eight-track tape, and quickly struck up the familiar:
“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie,
When the world seems to shine like you’ve had too much wine,
Bells will ring ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting-a-ling-a-ling,
And you’ll sing “Vita bella.”
Hearts will play tippy-tippy-tay, tippy-tippy-tay,
Like a gay tarantella.”
I’m sure we could have passed for the Von Trapp Family Singers of Sound of Music fame (at least in our minds)! Hey there were seven of them, as well, and we had that eight-track we could sing along to as good as the next 70’s family.
As we over-listened to all three eight-track tapes (Dean Martin, Sound of Music, and the Chevrolet Variety Hits that came with the car), completely played-out the “license plate” game, the “I’m going on a safari and I’m taking a …” game, and started bickering and outright fighting with each other, dad decided it was time to stop for food.
Getting food for a family of nine, back in those days, was an adventure of epic proportions. You didn’t have an exit full of fast food choices every 20 miles or so. You got food – and gas for that matter – when you had the opportunity. If not, you might have kids gnawing off each other’s arms just for sustenance. You know, only the strong survive!
Dad spotted an A&W Drive-In restaurant where we would be eating, and turned off at the exit. We pulled up to one of the ordering stalls – one that was not under the protection of a an overhead roof. As we placed the order
from hell for twelve hot dogs, three hamburgers, eight orders of french fries, and seven root beer floats, the weather began to take a turn for the worse.
If you’ve lived in the midwest, you know it can be sunny and hot, and then suddenly the temperature drops … and BAM: thunderclaps, lightning, and torrential downpour.
It was at this point, that all eyes turned to the head of the household. Drops, and then what seemed like puddles, of rain began to plop on us inside the brand new car, and we wondered why dad wasn’t getting our new “power windows” rolled up with the flick of a switch.
You see, we didn’t question the old guy. That’s just the way it was back then. So we waited, getting wetter by the second.
As the silence – the most unusual of occurrences for our passel of children – stifled the vehicle, we realized something was seriously wrong. It appeared that somehow the battery had died during our A&W pit-stop, and our “power windows” were now as powerless as Superman around kryptonite.
After much finagling, asking for help, getting a new battery, and trying to dry ourselves and the inside of the car off, we were back on the road. We had gained yet another memory-arrow to store in our quiver called “childhood.”
How much did this incident stay with me? Let’s put it this way: I was so afraid that a vehicle with power windows would have the battery die, that when I purchased my first four cars, I insisted that the windows had manual-crank mechanisms to roll them up – couldn’t afford to be stuck at an A&W with a dead battery in the rain!
Did you ever have anything like this happen to you?
This memory was triggered by Melissa’s wonderful story at Play101. Be sure to check it out.