He 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. He lit his Camel cigarette, and took a big drag, and exhaled the smoke out the rolled-down window. His girls on his right as he shifted that old truck through the turns along the road towards Cloverdale.
At 11:00 p.m. the previous night, he 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.”
I remember that day with vivid and loving anticipation. Tonight, with an extreme flashback – it was probably a TV series – or a movie, I don’t know which. I viewed a similar scene, a slightly dysfunctional parent, hijacking his grown boys, in the back of his truck. The sons were having different flashbacks of what they identified what the typical family should look like. Happy memories of being with their father. No clutter, no arguments, no disagreements. The inspiration of an identical family memory, brought from the recesses of my mind.
That wonderful 1967 morning, my father crept into my room, and then into my sister’s. He quietly woke us up…and whispered to us, “put on something comfortable, pack your bathing suit and a towel, where going to Calistoga.” We woke up sleepy-eyed, but could tell that there was mischief in the air. We quietly moved around our house in Mendocino, making sure that Mom didn’t wake up. We were out of the house by 7:00 a.m.
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.
My dad was singing songs to his delight, trying to get us to join in to 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, I wasn't allowed to shave, but did in my own secrecy. We wandered through Boonville, onto Philo, then through Cloverdale, onto Highway 101, onto the break on Highway 128 towards Calistoga. My dad took us to the public pool there, now known as the Indian Springs Boutique Hotel/Spa.
We enjoyed our day of release. We watched the geysers spout it’s hot water 50 feet in the air, every 15 minutes, it would seem. We would get into the public pool, the smell of Sulphur permeating our nostrils. We could feel its realness. We could feel the healing in our pores. We could feel the vibration of a moment of spontaneity and the hungry happiness of my dad.
It doesn’t matter what the beginning or the ending of that day was. It was the absolute anger that my mother had when we showed up that night, after our 14-hour adventure. You see, she had not been informed about this adventure by my father. He had decided to keep it to himself. My sister and I scurried off to our rooms, depleted of such a wonderful adventure. We knew, that we didn’t want to ruin the memory for ourselves. Our parents had to work it out themselves. We knew we weren't to blame.
You see, my dad had not informed our mother of his plans. He wanted to highjack his daughters to have an adventure of total spontaneity. He wanted us all to himself. I think he felt confined in his life at the time. He was all of 46. Probably going through his own mid-life crisis. He was a dad, with some real serious issues. He had a loving wife. He still had trauma left-over from an abusive father and being raised by a single mother. He survived several years in the California Youth Authority, and was raped by the bullies, there. When he was finally released, he went into the Army in 1939.
He tried to atone to "that incident" in his young life. He washed it away by trying to be something normal. That normal was his involvement with his community, and a wife who grounded him, participating in the template of what society thought what a marriage should look like, what a father should be. He struggled with his son, but he wanted to make better with his daughters. He had no role model.
This day in 1967, he decided to shake it up a bit. A memory that I will always remember, happily and fondly. It was his example – “you just have to live in the moment.” That’s why it comes easily to me, or perhaps why it is easier for me to accept now, after all of my "shoulds" and "examples".
Love you Dad….I am glad that I chose you and mom to be my parents.