Numb Butt The Brave
It was like a movie. A comedy, I think, now that I recall the decision to take the kids to Disneyland in the summer of 1955. With school out, we had to think fast on keeping the kids busy. Riding for thousands of miles in a 1951 Chrysler sedan was not our first choice.
Seattle to Los Angeles (remember, there was no freeway then!) is no small feat with four kids and their mother. Just imagine the number of things we had to take with every kid 13 or younger, down to age 4; all boys.
What was I thinking? Six blocks down the street, it had the makings of a tragi-comedy that sunny Saturday morning: We forgot to let the neighbors know we were leaving. We forgot to mention our lovable Cocker Spaniel Tiger, would need to be fed. We forgot to tell the paperboy to leave our daily paper in the box by the door. We forgot to tell the milkman to stop deliveries for two weeks. Back we went. I made the kids stay in the car while I tended to the aforementioned needs. That lasted not more than three minutes when two of them decided they had to "go". What? Now? What would they have done if we had made Highway 99 heading south just ten minutes before.
I'm human. I "go", but 26 times before we hit the Oregon border!? "Honey, tell the kids to stop drinking up all the pop we stashed around their feet", I advised my wife. Since the trunk was full of every carry bag and suitcase we had, we had no space for incidentals unless we stuck them into the back seat legroom areas. Big mistake. We had 1200 miles to think about the wisdom of our choices. The thoughts left me numb.
I grew up in Portland, our first stop. We visited the relatives, showed off our brood and left the next ayem for the California border. We were towing a 12-foot camper/trailer with one full-sized sleeping area and floor space for two kids. The other two had to sleep outside, which was just as well for me. They usually did not smell good.
In those days and I suspect even today the border guards stop you to check for fruit you might be bringing in to the state. California is very protective of its immense fruit growing industry and they want you to buy their fruit instate instead of bringing your own. Not really, it has something to do with contaminating the fruit with hellish little insects not native to the sweet California soil.
We stopped. Everyone piled out of the car while the guards inspected our vehicle. Patrick (age 4) wanted to rest inside the camper so we obliged him. Unwittingly, my wife shut the camper door after helping Patrick get comfortable. The door locked with the keys on the kitchen counter inside. It was against the law then as it is now to ride in a moving trailer. We were stuck until we could unstuck that camper door. It was our only key. Patrick was simply too young to understand our predicament...and he was sound asleep.
The guards were great. They carefully pried the simple lock without damage and we were back on the road. California weather is nice. Quite nice, but we were prepared. We purchased a window mounted air-conditioning unit for the passenger side. It held a gallon of water in front of an air distribution box that filtered the cool breeze into the cabin of the car. My beautiful wife nicknamed it ‘old face full’ because every ten minutes or so, a build up of water would spritz her vigorously in the face.
The Redwood forests of Northern California loomed in the distance. We stopped again to visit Babe the Blue Ox and Paul Bunyan at the Trees of Mystery. I was crazy about the cockeyed owl in the trees. The kids disappeared within minutes. I should have known; Every tourist trap has a candy stand. Good for me that they did not have any money. That did not prevent them from begging, of course. I relented only on the condition that they stay close and try to learn something about trees.
They nodded in acceptance. One particular tree in the Mystery Forest is so wide you can drive a car through it. A very exciting prospect for the kids. What I did not count on was the back and forth request from the backseat gang. "Do it again", they cried. "Now back", "now forward". If there had been another vehicle I'm certain the driver would have wanted to clobber me for my insensitivity to the flow of traffic.
Cruising down the coast highway with its tidy little bends and turns we made it through to Pebble Beach. The 17-mile drive seemed like 30 because the wind howled causing our wimpy camper to sway like the Tacoma Narrows bridge in 1940.
Before long we pulled into Knott’s Berry Farm (not on our intinerary). The wife had heard it was quite a place for kids and grownups. She was right. We spent the day visiting the old west saloon (we had sarsaparilla) while the kids rode the rides and played games on the midway. An old White Center friend, Russ Hofdahl, later became the Train House proprietor at the Farm. Russ used to work with Gil Mjelde at the old White Center Garage.
Walt Disney had a great idea. Build a theme park in Anaheim, among the orange groves and invite the world to play. It was a sensation. Disneyland is considerably larger than Knott’s Berry Farm with many more people-friendly attractions. Or at least I think so. I have not been back to either one since 1955 but I know that it costs me $1 per person for the family to get through the gates at Walt’s park. Now I think it is $92 but of course there are no individual ticket prices for the rides. I guess things just cost less 58 years ago.
13 going on 16, my oldest son, Micheal, wanted to drive the free-wheeling autopia cars. They were a small go-kart style chassis with a futuristic fiberglass body. It really seemed like we were on a California freeway, what with the traffic jams. Micheal caused the slow down because he neglected to release the parking brake as we started out.
We did the stuff families do. Frontier Land, Fantasy Land, Tomorrow Land, all in one day. We were pooped. We should have planned better and stayed longer. Alas, we had to go. We headed out onto West Katella Avenue. We hadn’t gone 1/4 mile when the camper began to wobble uncontrollably behind the car. A moment later it careened off the hitch and into a drainage ditch next to an orange grove. Miraculously it had only a few scrapes and some interior disarray.
With help from fellow drivers, we got it back up on the road and re-hitched. I had forgotten to tighten the hitch crank when I left Seattle. How it stayed on through the entire distance was as puzzling to me as the Trees of Mystery. I had rented it from a friend in Kent. He was not happy about the exterior decorating on the side of the camper. I apologized and begged forgiveness for my transgressions. He was numb.
So was I.
Right out of a movie.