Our family vacations were predictable. Every summer we made the straight shot on 1-15 from L.A. to Salt Lake City where both Mom and Dad grew up. So, a “vacation” to me meant a road trip to see the relatives. Even then, we usually only visited Mom’s siblings.
To get their whole tribe from point A to point B, Mom and Dad had a strategy. They would wake us all in the middle of the night. Then, half-asleep, we would squeeze us into the old station wagon and head for Las Vegas, our first stop before dawn. The purpose of this early start time was many-fold: beat the heat, reduce the decibel level, minimize touching, and avoid (some of) the inevitable bickering.
Seatbelts weren’t mandatory until March 1968, so in my earliest years we were “packed in like sardines,” as Mom would say. Because I was the second to youngest and, therefore, one of the smallest passengers, my “seat” was no seat at all. Instead, I was expected to curl up like a cat in the foot space and fall back asleep.
What a relief to arrive in Las Vegas! We could finally unfold our bodies and stretch our legs. In a long, single-file line our family would traipse through some smoke-filled casino that lured customers with an all-you-can-eat 99-cent breakfast. I recall passing by the gamblers, bleary-eyed, sitting in front of their one-armed bandits and looking neither hungry nor happy.
Once we were all awake, fed, and back on the road, Mom employed her own crowd-control strategy: singing. In the car, she had a captive audience and could teach us many of the hundreds of songs in her vast repertoire. We sang songs she had learned as a child, show tunes, and many church songs. Dad wasn’t much of a singer, but at special moments, he and Mom would sing “I Come to the Garden.” (Evidently, this duet dates back to their honeymoon when they sang it together as they drove. It would always prove to be a tear-jerker for me, especially at Dad’s funeral.) For a few brief moments as they sang, the chaos ceased, love and peace filled our crowded car, and our hearts burned with testimonies of the mission of Jesus Christ.
Admittedly, this musical tactic was quite successful for good stretches of time. But it wasn’t foolproof. One time Dad got so upset with all our arguing, he threatened to cancel the trip. Exasperated, he even pulled over and stopped the car. For a time, we were all quiet, a little afraid, and quite uncertain of his next step. In the end, he really didn’t have much choice but to push on.