I grew up in Suburbia, middle child of a middle class family, living in the middle of nowhere. There were eight of us; my parents, myself, and my five siblings. It was an okay childhood, filled with family events, vacations, and I seem to remember feeling okay. We would take these long, family road trips to relatives spread out across Canada and the Northern Unites States, ranging from Winnipeg and Montreal up here, to New York, Cleveland, Chicago, and Washington. We loaded ourselves into the old man’s Ford Country Squire, the one with the cool wood paneling, and headed off, at dawn, down the road to perdition, and all stops in between.
I spent the first two years of my life in the ice covered tundra of Sault Ste. Marie, nestled on the shores of Lake Superior, after it had eaten the Edmund Fitzgerald, with my ass firmly frozen to the metal rails of a crib. I have no idea what the hell we were doing up there, but I was informed that the old man had taken a job in the vast wilderness of Northern Ontario. According to my mother the family next door were drunken hillbillies, albeit Canadian hillbillies, with little hope for neighborly chit chat. Survival among the wild animals, and somewhat wilder neighbors began to take its toll and after two years, she had enough. We loaded up and high tailed off of the ice floe we had called home, settling in the big city. My mother often told the story of how she was sure that those filthy, drunken, ignorant people next door would, sooner or later, bring us to some kind of horrific end.
I was, as a child, somewhat accident prone and spent a great deal of time at doctor’s offices and hospitals, being treated for a myriad of injuries that included hazel nut shells in an eye, gashes on my arms and face from running through a closed glass door, a spike protruding through my foot, and broken bones caused by falling off of the roof of the house. To be fair, I did not fall off of the roof. I was flying. I was 6 years old and simply miscalculated wind speed. In any event, I suffered scars to my eye, stitches to my arms, received a wagon load of tetanus shots, and wore a cast for a large part of those formative years. And so, as we traveled, I was under strict orders not to move. As a super hero however, I was bound by an oath to not sit idly by. I was sworn to take action whenever I was needed.
The Ford Country Squire had really cool seats in the back that faced backwards. I sat there a lot, usually with one of my brothers who didn’t really travel well. He would throw up regularly, shortly after complaining of being sick. He kept a stack of paper lunch bags with him in order not to infect the Country Squire. In order to ease his distress, we would regularly stop to allow him to get out of the car and walk around until he was feeling better. These designated puke stops slowed down our progress, and really drove the old man crazy, as they almost doubled our travel time. We would often have to spend the night in a motel, usually a Howard Johnson Motor Lodge with a restaurant attached. The old man liked Howard Johnson. We would eat, get 2 rooms, and settle in for the night, getting up early and departing first thing in the morning. With all of the complaining about how long the trip was taking, and the added expense of motel rooms and meals, I was never really sure why they didn’t leave him at home with my grandparents.
My all time favorite family road trips were the ones we took to Washington, well actually Silver Springs, Maryland, to see my great uncle Nathan and his family. Nathan was my grandfather’s youngest brother, and I looked forward to seeing him with wild abandon. We would always tour around D.C., as I sat in the front between Nathan and his wife in his Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser with a really cool glass roof about halfway back. My family followed behind in the Country Squire with a couple of his kids. I suppose Nathan was one of my all time favorite relatives. He encouraged the super hero that lived inside of me, and when I was 8, he got me a real cape to replace the towels I had been using. I really felt like a super hero then, standing tall with hands on my hips, cape blowing in the warm breeze, proudly displaying the t shirt I had made, emblazoned with the letter ‘G’, waiting to spring into action.
When I was 9 we took the Country Squire to Winnipeg. it took us three days to get there, as we overcame inordinate amounts of wrong turns and vomit. Uncle Sid, my other favorite relative, and aunt Francis were always fun to be around. We attended events at the Pan Am games, and I went to my first CFL game, enjoying the blue and gold of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I have no idea who won as I was quite busy, scouting the stadium for crime. It seemed that there was no crime in Winnipeg. This was no place for a super hero crime fighter.
Uncle Sid took us horseback riding one afternoon. I watched as my eldest brother mounted his horse, and disappeared at full gallop through the brush and the trees, screaming for the horse to stop. Finally, someone in need of help! I sprang into action, and tried to ride after him, too afraid to fly after the mishap from my parents’ roof years before. Several other people were able to corral the horse, whose name by the way was Daisy, and save my brother from impending doom. I fell in love with horseback riding that day, and realized that I could be a horseback riding, crime fighting hero. All I needed was a sword, and a black mask, and I could follow in the footsteps of Zorro. My brother has never been near a horse since then, and breaks out in cold sweats whenever he gets near a bouquet of flowers.
The family road trips stopped by the time I was 12 or 13. We were all getting older, and my parents had taken to leaving us with my grandparents while they went away on their own. The Ford Country Squire was long gone, replaced by a Buick LeSabre. I suppose that was the end of my super hero crime fighting, although over the years I have continued to visit various emergency rooms across the city for assorted accidents and injuries, most of which required stitches, tetanus shots and xrays. Uncle Nathan passed away when I was still a kid, as did the relatives in Cleveland and Chicago. The cousins in Montreal moved to Houston, Texas, and Uncle Sid, well he has been living here for 50 years or so, and I try to visit with him whenever possible. Many of the details have faded now, but I still have some clear memories of those family vacations. To this day I can’t look at a station wagon without detecting a subtle scent of vomit.