Searching for the elusive ‘J’

Sean Pearson
Growing up in the Pearson household consisted of yearly vacations to a variety of destinations — as long as it was someplace you could get to by car, and involved endless, mindless, dreary, droning hours of tree after tree zooming by at 75 miles per hour. (This was before the whole “55 saves lives” campaign.) Back then, I think it was pretty much acceptable to drive at whatever extremely high speed you saw fit, and an “airbag” was something you vomited in if you got airsick on a plane ride. Watching the world whiz by from the back seat as my father rocketed down the highway, I always considered those friendly little “speed limit” signs as merely friendly suggestions.
Same thing with seat belts.
Vacations were a fairly regimented process in my father’s world. Had computers been invented at the time, I have little doubt he would have printed out itineraries for each of us at least one month prior to our scheduled time of rest and relaxation.
Nothing says “vacation” like sitting on the beach going over your father’s itinerary of fun —
My father hated going to the beach. Being of relatively light complexion and missing a very large portion of hair on the top of his head, my father would sunburn if he kept the refrigerator door open too long. One year, he decided to throw caution to the wind and began planning a family vacation to Panama City, Fla. “White sand” was the key phrase for that year. My father was going to experience those white sands if it killed him.
And he had certainly done his homework. He wore long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and donned a new hat with a brim large enough to shade all of his face. Back then, no one even knew what harmful UV rays were. Sunblock was generally non-existent. In fact, if you were a REAL “tanner,” you used baby oil to literally fry your skin to a golden brown.
Mmmmm. Something smells like fried chicken.
So there was my dad, covered in black pants, a long-sleeved shirt and a floppy hat to protect his expanse of a forehead. He was covered in some kind of protective clothing from head to ankle.
Ahhh yes — the feet.
In his near-perfect skin occlusion, my father had neglected to consider what kind of effect hot Florida sun and white sand would have on his feet.
He was wearing thongs, of course.
This was the 1970s. Thongs were “flip-flops” back then. My father was not some sleazy lounge singer donning a speedo.
Are you trying to ruin a childhood memory for me?
Dad spent the better part of the rest of our vacation in our hotel room. His feet swelled up to a good three times their regular size, but we had an awesome time on the beach.
My mother decided — during every vacation — that my sister and I needed to pay attention to everything along the side of the road. We should appreciate the beauty of nature.
We wanted to sleep. (Hey. Travel can take a lot out of you.)
Kids: The following story contains references to pre-electronics. Please don’t be afraid. If you are concerned about “pre-electronics,” ask an adult to help you understand this world before technology.
In lieu of Mp3 players, portable DVD players, Gameboys and texting, we listened to AM radio and played endless games of “how many different state license plates can YOU find?” Another of my mother’s favorites was the alphabet game, in which you had to find all 26 letters of the alphabet, in order, in signs along the roadway.
And Mom’s rules said we couldn’t include license plates on other cars as “fair territory.” It apparently ruined the integrity of the game for her. I’m still not sure how.
To this day, I am consistently haunted by these very same 26 letters of the alphabet. They stalk me relentlessly, invading my brain with a ruthless penchant for a lot of alliteration and an endless quest for the letter “Q” on a remote, country road.
One year, my father had some kind of mental “break” somewhere in eastern Colorado when my mother and I spent three solid hours looking for the letter “J.” What can I say? It was one of those things I just couldn’t let go. I think my father finally lost it after I spent another two hours teaching myself how to say the alphabet backwards.
You know, it didn’t seem so odd at the time.
After the “ABC incident” — as I like to call it — my father relaxed and settled in to make that long, thrilling drive across western Oklahoma. We helped him feel better by singing “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”
Mom said it was his favorite. But I can’t remember if that was before or after he yelled at her for telling him to take the wrong exit.
Boy, vacations sure were fun.
You know, we never did find that “J.”

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Posted by on Jun 9th, 2010 and filed under Spiew. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses for “Searching for the elusive ‘J’”

  1. Meredith Morphew says:

    This has brought back very special memories of family vacations from my youth that I spent years in therapy to forget! Just visualize a brown station wagon with a file cabinet (yes, an actual file cabinet) strapped to the top in lieu of a luggage carrier, 3 children under 10, a teenaged Aunt, a dog plus Mom and Dad. Yep! The Griswalds ain’t got nothing on us! Anyway, we could always count on the “Antiques” for that Q during the alphabet game but the J remains elusive for me as well.

  2. Ardith says:

    I remember those days of searching for the elusive ‘J’, along with the Burma Shave signs that flew by a such a high speed that it took 3 of us to read all the signs!!! And you didn’t mention the melted crayons that inevitably ended up on the dashboard!! You really struck my funny bone on this one…thanks for the memories.

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