If you’re lucky, you have a lot of them to look back on from kidhood.
Holiday memories notable not for family squabbles or political disagreements, but for good times, warmth, and in my family lots of laughter over interminable games of gin rummy or Pit.
In those memories, grandparents, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, who in Charles Dickens words, “have since hid their luster in the grave,” dust off the corny jokes, sing us the sappy songs again.
Memories that time washes clean.
Here are some of mine.
July 4ths, when the Whale and McCurdy clans came together in our backyard to set off fireworks. In those days, the fireworks that really went up, and blew up, except for the sparklers, they’ve always been sparklers to placate the kiddie set.
Thanksgivings, dad did most of the cooking, with lots of colorful commentary from the kitchen — more about that below. Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodsman followed the yellow brick road to our television.
But it’s the trip my family took just after Christmas 1974 to our grandparents’ home in Oroville that really sticks out in my memory. Mainly because of my big brother, Jim.
To start off, it seems a wonder now that all eight of us, my three brothers Jim, Matt and Jack, and sisters Carole and Diane, and the two parentals — for brevity’s sake, let’s just call them mom and dad — actually fit into that standard of the American road trip back then, the station wagon. Ours was an Oldsmobile.
That day, the Cascades were under heavy falling snow, and the roads and passes were rough and slippery going.
Somewhere near Blewett pass, I think, the Olds blew a tire. As dad was outside fixing it, he loosed a barrage of, shall we say, “colorful phraseology” into the air, samplets making their way into the Olds and into the mortified ears of the seven people still inside.
OK, I lied. There were no mortified ears, or any portions thereof.
See — and I’m sure it’s true with many families, not just Ralphie’s — choice words from the old man, whether provoked by a stubborn fuse, by persuading a stubborn turkey that on such a cold day, the oven was the place to be, or setting up the Christmas tree — he really hated that last dadly duty — were standard.
In dad’s defense, I just know that that day he counted on the howling wind and thick snowfall to mute his terminological creativity so none of the bad stuff would pollute our ears. The only thing I heard clearly was, um, something that questioned the marital status of someone’s parents at the time of that someone’s birth. Who that person was I have no idea to this day. I always meant to ask.
Anyway, that day and night, the rigors of the road added 3 to 5 hours to our usual, 5 hour-, over-the -river-and-through-the-woods to grandma and grandpa. Tired and cold we were as dad pulled onto the grandparents’ long driveway, all of us thinking of a warm bed.
That night I had to share a bed with Jim upstairs, and the big galoot — he 6 feet 5 inches tall, I, not yet even 4 feet 10, and transparent in the right light — kept rolling over and flattening me.
“Uuumppphgggguboff,” I protested.
“What’d ya say? What’s d’ya want?”
“Guboff, I’m dying!”
Next morning, the boy performed some fancy guitar work from the downstairs couch, and sang one of his homelier tunes. Something about how “my true love puked on my feet.” I thought it was too sentimental.
We had a word or two about our respective musical tastes. Mine at the time inclined to John Denver, his to Climax Blues Band, Wishbone Ash, and The Who.
“The Who wrote an opera, what’s John Denver done?” he asked. I had no answer.
On the way back home, Jim again, this time with his back-seat feet stuck in my front-seat face. To punctuate the point, he sang a few lines from “Stinkfoot” off of Frank Zappa’s album “Apostrophe.”
“Oh, my python boot is too tight,
I couldn’t get it off last night,
A week went by, and now it’s July,
I finally got it off and my girlfriend cried,
You got stinkfoot! Stinkfoot, darling,
Stinkfoot puts a hurt on my nose.”
I had to agree with that last bit.
“Dad!” I complained.
“Jim, get your feet out of your brother’s face!”
That was our last family trip with Jim. He died four months later. And for all the big brotherly guff I took from him, right about now I’d give anything even for his smelly feet in my face again, and another round of Stinkfoot.
Treasure the memories, all.
Robert Whale can be reached at email@example.com.