One mid-summer day, in 1967 in his old red, Chevy pickup truck we are seeking respite with humor. Here we were, two teenage girls and their father, driving down Highway 1 and then onto Route 128, driving the beautiful curvy roads of Mendocino County. Here we are, rattling in the old pickup, bumping against each other, our vibrant hair of cinnamon and ginger locks thundering around our faces weaving into the cab. Dad, wearing a plaid, cotton, short-sleeved shirt, with his white crew neck T-shirt underneath, grinning from ear-to-ear … and ... singing the Purple People Eater song.
Our Dad had pulled off the most rebellious moment a parent could muster. He had hijacked his daughters that late-summer day. He knew he was breaking the family rules by not telling my mother his plans. He lit his Camel cigarette, and took a big drag, blowing the smoke out the open window. My younger sister was sitting in the middle, while I claimed shotgun. We would shift to the left or to the right, pushing against each other in the momentum of each turn. No seat belts (they weren’t required at the time) were in this truck, just gripping the seat below our butts, to keep ourselves in place.
At 11:00 p.m. the previous night, my Dad thought to himself, “I have the best family in the world. I have so much structure in this life, which I have to let go. The control of a family plan, an agenda. Just for a day, I want to do something different.”
He hatched his plan that night in that beautiful house in Mendocino. “I will wake up my daughters and take them to Calistoga,” he thought to himself. “I will create something so memorable, that they will never forget.”
On that wonderful morning, in 1967, I was just 16, my father creeped into my room, and then into my sister’s. He quietly woke us up … and whispered, “put on something comfortable, pack your bathing suit and a towel, where going to Calistoga.” We were sleepy-eyed, but could tell that there was mischief in the air. We quietly moved around our house, making sure that Mom didn’t wake up. He was always the early riser, and she was the night owl. We were out of the house by 7:00 a.m.
Once we were in the truck, my dad was singing songs to his delight, trying to get us to join his own euphoria. My arm was hanging out the rolled-down window, elbow curved, with my younger sister sitting in the middle. I could feel the sweat in my un-shaved armpit. We wandered through Philo then into Boonville. We made our way east on the curves of Highway 128 over the hilly crest from Boonville to Cloverdale. The drive was wonderful. I can remember leaving the fog-soaked coastline on Highway 1, that old red Chevy truck, moving us away from the coolness, into the sunshine and heat baked interior of the California wine country. The air was still crisp in Anderson Valley, but by the time we got over the mountain to Cloverdale, we could feel the interior valley heat from the Sonoma Valley.
The road dipped and rounded through small rolling hills, finally dropping us into the Northern part of the Napa Valley. My dad pulled up in front of the Calistoga public pool, now the boutique Indian Springs Hotel/Spa. We were ready for our day of hooky.
We enjoyed our day of release. We watched the geyser spout its hot water 50 feet in the air many times that day. We jumped into the public pool, the wetness feeling good from the parched sunlight of the Valley. The smell of Sulphur permeated our nostrils. We could feel its realness. It’s wetness. It’s glorious rejuvenating luxury. We could feel the healing in our pores. Most of all, we could feel the vibration of a moment of spontaneity.
Then we went home.
When we got home and saw Mom’s face – the tightness of her lips pursed together – we knew there would be hell to pay. She was not happy. She had been left out. My Dad smiled at her and then we scurried off to our rooms, depleted from such a wonderful adventure with our dad. Pubescent children, on the edge of adulthood, sometimes know when it is time to leave the room and let the adults work it out, so my sister and I escaped to our bedrooms. Their 38-year marriage was a model that I would use in my own life. Ups, downs, trials, and tribulations, but we always knew our parents loved each other all the way to the “until death do us part” vow.
My Dad had a plan, and it worked. We all played hooky and he selfishly did it with us. He wanted to highjack his daughters to have an adventure of total spontaneity. At age 46, living a safe life of happiness, and perhaps now a bit of mid-life boredom, he very likely felt confined and without purpose. This was my father, a man with some serious issues – from a broken family, raised by a single mother, and life in juvenile hall.
Him surviving the odds of his upbringing, only makes him a hero in my eyes. I didn’t know his whole story then, and didn’t know it until he died in 1981 when Mom shared the story of his youth with us. She told it with compassion, that from a life of eternal love for him. We rarely saw them angry at each other, but when we did…we saw a relationship of enduring strength within each other.
As teenagers, we rarely see instances of our parent’s personal turmoil and journey. Most parents shield us, allowing us to live in our little “safe harbor” of a family in happiness. Growing up, we are oblivious of their own journey. The resistance of letting us be independent in our decisions were real. Perhaps because they knew from their heart of hearts, they knew that we would make the right choices. My parents did this well. They were a well- matched couple.
This is one of those memories that will never go away, that “Dad” date in Calistoga. A memory that I will always remember, happily, fondly, and with a definite presentation – “you just have to live in the moment.” That’s why I try to remind myself of those words. Now, I understand it. Now, and often, I write those words, “live in the moment, because you never know when your past will catch up with you.” The challenge is to remember only that … just this moment.
I will always love Calistoga……….