People tend to think of themselves as part of this generation or that. I felt like I was a crossover with a foot in three different generations. Our father was a quite a storyteller, regaling us with many colorful happenings in the neighborhoods of downtown St. Louis during the 1920’s and 30’s. Much of what they did would likely land a kid in the juvenile detention facility today. It seemed like an interesting time and place and he made us feel like we were somehow a part of it.
Being the youngest of my family by a good number of years meant that there was a time when I still went on family trips that consisted of just me and my parents. These weren’t as exciting as the early years but were laid back and pleasant just the same. I fit in well with their friends and as I mentioned, felt a little bit a part of their generation with all the stories and time for reflection.
My nieces and nephews were only 13 plus years younger than me, and as they got older, I felt a little as if I was in their generation too. Empathizing with people in different places in their life is a good habit to get into.
One summer in the mid 1980’s, we drove to the East coast with my two oldest nieces who were six and five, or perhaps five and four, years old at the time. It felt like there was a little bit of a question mark as to whether I was an older person or a friend.
Jennifer, the oldest niece had a good imagination, as I suppose most young girls do, and was quite industrious about designing her fairytale world. It was interesting watching her build it. First thing’s first, she was the Princess! Her younger sister was the Queen, and I became the Prince. I tried to explain to her that a Queen is more powerful than a princess but she was not having it. She’s watched the movies. Who ever remembers anything about the queen? I relented as it wasn’t my fairytale world and how much does a upper teenage boy really care about this stuff anyway? My dad, her grandfather, was driving at the time and showed some interest. They decided that he was the Guard. Jennifer and Elizabeth were just getting started with how this world worked, when my Mom asked “what am I”? The Princes thought for a bit and then proclaimed, “Cooker Women”! We all laughed. My Mom was such a good egg. Each one of them had matching, long blonde haired Miss Piggy dolls that went everywhere and were integral parts of all the fairytale stories.
We all were a little hesitant about how the trip would go as it was the first time they had been away from their parents for an extended period. Everything was going swimmingly well until one night, a few days in. We were at a campground somewhere around the Smokies and decided it was time to call home. Each one happily took turns talking to their parents on the campground payphone in the dark. After hanging up, and while walking back to the campsite, some tears started to flow. Add to this, Jennifer was just starting to read and on the sad walk back to the campsite, we passed a sign that said “BEWARE OF BEARS!” Not only is she missing her parents, the Princess is going to get eaten by a bear!
We slept in the homemade “The Box” camper of my youth. Mom and Dad were in the bottom middle as always, I was on one of the fold out wings, Jennifer and Elizabeth were on the upper hanging bunk. One night as dad was trying to read by his little light he had rigged up, the girls were sticking their heads over the edge of the bunk and being mischievous. They would not go to sleep. At one point dad said that the next one to stick their head over the edge of the bunk was going to get spanked. There was silence, then some whispering, then two Miss Piggies slowly stuck their heads over the edge of the bunk. Poor Miss Piggies were disciplined.
After some time in the smokies, we made it to the ocean. I don’t care for beaches much myself unless the waves are big, then it can be exciting, and big they were. Dad was standing in the surf with Jennifer hanging on his back. I was a little further out and we were all having fun. All was good until a larger than normal wave knocked dad over in a tumble. He came up with nobody on his back. He immediately looked down into the water, stuck a hand down into the foamy surf and pulled up a long clump of hair with a little girl swinging off the end of it. After a little gasping, coughing and couple of tears, she seemed no worse for ware.
That night we found the campground pay phone for the scheduled call home. When Jennifer got on the line, the first thing she said was “Grandpa tried to drown me!”