It's December. Tis' the season to cram into a mini-van, and travel from grandmother's house to grandmother's house, crushed under passels of good tidings. It's no open sleigh ride.
What happened to the good old days, when every family traveled in a station wagon with faux wood panels and rocks rattling in the hubcaps? Kids didn't ride in carseats, adults didn't wear seatbelts, and the interior of the auto was so smoke filled that siblings estimated how far to reach to put a body part over the legendary line.
And unlike my spawn, at whom I lob threats of, "One more time and we're pulling over!," I never dared ask my parents, "For what?" The green limber branch shoved over the visor dampened the disorderliness of any family expedition ... until counting interstate exits aroused us to boredom and we lapsed into remission.
I started to hum dull, tuneless carol notes, suspended only for piercing squeals of, "Quit touching me," directed at my older brother. My baby sister stood in the middle of the back seat, resembling catapult ammunition awaiting launch, jumping up and down, loudly laughing at her reflection in the rearview mirror. Simultaneously, in the rear facing seat, my youngest brothers "tangled."
And it was a whole lot of fun until my dad's hand reached for the limb, which was our cue to duck; because we knew he intended to get satisfaction.
His flexible, fatherly arm blindly whipped that stick around behind his head until it connected with something solid that yelped in true pain. We couldn't fake him out, either. But, we did cleverly press ourselves as flat against the front seat and as close to the floorboards as humanly possible.
Unfortunately, he never quite managed to lay his weapon upon the peachy flesh of the children occupying the third seat, failing to get the disciplinary pleasure he desired or that they deserved, and we older siblings, who took all the licks, still hold it against the younger ones.
In the midst of one memorable epic holiday journey to my grandparents' home in Memphis, my young brothers found a plastic knife discarded amongst the station wagon rubble, and commenced to having a loud, villainous, one-sided, sword fight, in which neither could agree on the rules. After taking a crack at ignoring it, by white knuckling the steering wheel, turning red in the face, blaring the radio, rolling down the windows and other parental tricks of illusion, my father snapped.
"Hand me that knife," he barked. The youngsters cavalierly glanced toward the front, while those of us in the danger zone bristled for the assault. "If you don't pass it up here, I'm pulling over!" he threatened, through gritted teeth.
My older brother, wiser than I will ever give him credit for, reached out and snatched the knife, in hopes of placating the alpha male. Gingerly and submissively, he surrendered the object of my father's contempt.
My daddy needed to feel better. He required vindication and redress in order to restore the harmony of our pod. So, he let go of the steering wheel, broke the knife across his knee and hurled the pieces into the far corners of the car, where, to the chagrin of the middle seat sibs, they fell at the feet of the unimpressable.
Two heads bobbed up. "Thanks, daddy," they joyfully called, "now we both have one!"
Daddy pulled over. Daddy got satisfaction. And it was a silent night for another 20 miles, until I started to hum...