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Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Road Trip

By Lia Hirtz

Every year in October, anticipating the religious festivities celebrated between November and December in his hometown in Mexico, my father would go into a total state of rhapsody. Not only for the fantastic tribute he paid to God, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the myriad of saints, but also because there was so much drinking during this time that I don’t think he ever remembered which divinity he was hailing in any of the ceremonies.

With his seven guitars, his wife, four daughters and a son, my bohemian father eagerly began planning the three day road trip. Those of us who were in school were pulled out. The note I took to the school office every year (that I wrote because they didn’t speak or write English) read:

“Dear Teacher, I need to take Rosalia out of school for four to five months because we have a family emergency. Thank you, Carlos Figueroa.”

I don’t think the school believed that every year around the same time, we had a family emergency but back then, nobody seemed to care. I stopped going to school in October even though we did not leave until November because my mother needed help with the kids and “What’s one more month without school going to do to her anyway?” my father would argue.

I was attending Catholic school in the Old Mission in San Juan Capistrano and Sister Grace, my first grade teacher, gave me books to take with me and study during the family crisis.

My father refused to take the books because they took up valuable space in the car and would say, “What if you lose them, then I’ll have to pay for them. They’re safer at home.”

Due to these extended leaves, I repeated first grade three times.

My parents didn’t seem to mind much. My father was the type who thought that I, too, would have the incredible fortune, as he did, of finding work in a widget factory once I had completed the useless years of schooling. This was the American dream for him, to never run out of work.

Finally, the day arrived. We packed the hunter green station wagon with the wood side panels beyond capacity. Since we had no suitcases, my father had picked up some sturdy carton boxes from the supermarket dumpster.

The boxes were stuffed and carefully tied with thick rope to the rack on top of the car.

Between the layers of clothing, my clever father hid record players, hammers, flashlights, screwdrivers, old transistor radios, pointy white bras, gently used clothes from the Salvation Army, screws, bolts and I’m almost certain he once snuck an illegal American chicken into Mexico. He sold everything! He was like Aladdin hawking magic lamps.

The kids were excited as my caring father prepared a comfy bed of blankets in the back of the car for their comfort. I usually got the middle seat unless my sister Amelia became car sick. I think she faked it most of the time.

My mother carefully packed 500 bean and cheese tacos, a jar of hot salsa that obliterated the delicate skin from the roof of your mouth, pork skins, Tang for the children and a thermos of weak Folgers coffee for the adults. This was our diet for three days.

Once we entered Mexican territory, my father came alive. He slowly pulled out a menthol cigarette from his shirt pocket and, almost theatrically, deeply inhaled its smoke and then he coughed uncontrollably for a few minutes, throw the cigarette out and never smoke for the rest of the year.

But for him, in Mexico, everything was just so much better. For starters, Mexican authorities allowed you to light a fire right on the side of the rode and cook your chicharrones and warm your bean tacos. You were allowed to pee anywhere as your mother held a towel around you, while you prayed that she would not drop it like she had so many times before. To my father, this was true freedom!

Virile and young, he drove non-stop for the first two days of the trip or until he began hallucinating from lack of sleep. Then, at my mother’s insistence, he would pull over in some deserted area and instantly fall asleep for a few hours.

He would wake refreshed and splash his face with water from a plastic jug and continue on his mission.

Meanwhile, in the back, my sisters and brother battled, ate or slept in an odorous cloud of blankets. If they fought violently and did not let go of each other’s hair, my mother would screech at me to go and separate them.

“Aren’t you the eldest?” She would ask. “Aren’t you the one that needs to keep the peace back there?”

No one ever gave me the title of peacekeeper, but I knew better than to argue with my mother. So I slithered like a snake over the seat into the great unknown of the “back.”

Then, since power had been granted to me by my mother, I used lethal force when I unhooked their little claws from their tangled hair. My sisters screamed like banshees warding off death. They cried for a while, recoiled into their own corner to lick their wounds and fell asleep.

Sometimes, these policing activities took so much out of me that I ended up car-sick. I still don’t know if it was the effort of trying to separate them or the potpourri of smells from five unwashed kids, but one of them would see me go pale and cry to my mother to pass down the empty tortilla bag she had previously saved especially for these occasions.

The kids would laugh hysterically, tasting sweet revenge, as I poured my soul in pieces into the tortilla bag that read “La Cumplidora - The Best Corn Tortillas.” My body convulsing, my forehead drenched with sweat, my eyes bulging out of their sockets, white and oval like hard boiled eggs.

Then, panting like a hound, it would be over. Carefully, with trembling hands, as if death had touched me, I tied a knot on the bag and flung it out the back window where it would explode in mid-air like colorful confetti.

On we drove, like birds flying south for the winter - my father’s glee as big as the sun. We sang, we fought, we laughed and cried during our pilgrimage.

And in a little town beyond the mountains, her heart beating a bit faster with joy and anticipation, my grandmother impatiently looked out the window waiting for her flock to return home.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. PLEASE read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


And to think you survived to tell the this endearing tale! Lovely. :)Dee

You are a talented wordsmith. Your colorful story made it all come alive.

Lia - Great story!

Your tale is quite a contrast to the politically correct, Green, activity-filled programmed lifestyle of today's youth! - Sandy

Thanks for the funny engaging description - it's wonderful.

Our life experiences are all so different. I rode along with you every mile of the way, enjoying each moment; the good and the bad. Keep writing.

You need to keep telling stories of your life. I too, rode with you as you made the trek back to Grandma's house. It is hard being the 'oldest.'

Gee how many of us would have loved to get out of school for 4 months. But what a challenge for you to play catchup. You are a great writer and I felt like I was in the backseat with you.


What a wonderful story and how well written.

I hope you have many more tales to share with us.

We will be looking for you.

I'm am humbled! All of your comments are so wonderful. Thank you so much. I will keep writing!



This is awsome! I too was in the backseat the whole way...Literally!! Love you Big Sis!

Your baby brother... CF

Lia, you have the "touch" of letting us join you in your tale of family travel! We ate
pork roast and traveled to Arkansas, using folding chairs behind the front seat!

I would not be surprised to learn that you are a professional storyteller, Lia. If your oral delivery is half as good as your writing of the story, you should be sharing these stories in storytelling events.

What a terrific story Lia - colourful parents make great stories but not always easy to live with are they!Do tell more.

Wonderful story, wonderful writing. Please send more!

Haha, i was there too! The youngest of them all. There are so many,many more stories she must tell. I love it Sis.
Your lil sis..

Ditto on all the praise written by others..loved every mile of it..No eldest child, especially daughters, has not heard those orders from Mom..Hope you have more stories in you; it was a trip back home for me...thanks...

I am so amazed by these wonderful comments on my writing. This is the first time I have ever posted one of my many colorful stories. You have given me the "push" to write more! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Such a *wonderful* story, and so wonderfully told! Please *please* write more! I'm not sure this generation knows what it was like to have the freedom of the "dangerous" childhood we had.

Congrats!! What a wonderful story and writing. As soon as I read it, I knew it was destined for the big time.


Oh the memories, I must say even though I was the one caring for my car sick brother holding his tortilla bag, I did have a great time. Great job sis.

Hi, Lia.

Your descriptions are an inspiration, as is your dry sense of humor. You are so entertaining and yes, mysterious!

Even while reading your story I found myself wondering how you came to be a writer with such a hectic and busy time growing up. You must have a million stories and I hope we all can get to read them here!

All the best to you,
Steve Kemp

So different from the stereotypical "over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go." You were such an observant child! Great job! Looking forward to your next piece.

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