Terror in Aruba, Or: Another Maloney Family Vacation

use-aruba-posterIn the summer of 1969, my father decided that we needed a family vacation, and chose Aruba as our destination. Aruba was such an obscure place at that time that most people had never even heard of it, much less traveled there. About three hotels had been built, with more to come, because gambling was legal in Aruba.  This vacation meant that all four of us Maloney children were going to leave the country for the first time (my sister Marbeth was married by then, and off on adventures of her own), which was exciting. We had to get vaccinated for smallpox, which was also exciting. My father had to get new passports for himself and for my mother, which was more exciting than it probably should have been. When he asked the clerks of Cook County, Illinois, for a copy of her Birth Certificate, they calmly informed him that my mother didn’t exist. Since he was really sure that she did exist, my father was disgusted with the obviously incompetent clerks in the Cook County Records Office, and he let them know that in some very colorful language.  Despite my father’s best efforts, Cook County was implacable.  There did not exist a birth certificate for anyone named Mercedes Lynch. Frustrated by this Typical Government Incompetence, he stomped home one afternoon complaining loudly (and colorfully) about this situation. My grandmother, Mommy Mayme, was visiting us and she asked my dad what on earth he was going on about. “According to the %^&^ clerks at Cook County,” he said, “Mercedes doesn’t exist!”

“Oh,” my grandmother said serenely. “That’s because her name is Loraine.” My father was not an easily surprised man, but this was a surprise. He had been married to my mother for twenty four years, which was a lot of time to be in the dark about her actual name. Mommy Mayme and Grandpa George had a somewhat unusual marriage in that they often operated in separate orbits that occasionally intersected. Grandpa George was out with his friends celebrating the birth of his daughter when the people in charge of birth certificates made their rounds in the hospital where Mommy Mayme gave birth. They asked my grandmother what her baby’s name was and she told them it was Loraine. From that day forward, Cook County knew her as Loraine Lynch.

Either no one told Grandpa George, or he heard the name and rejected it. When my mother was born, my grandfather was reading The Count of Monte Cristo and liked the name of one of the characters: Mercedes. My mother was baptized Mercedes Marie Lynch. All of this was news to my father. (Years later, we found out that my mother’s sister Bernadette was—according to Cook County—actually named Virginia Alice. My grandparents really did need to work on their communication skills).Once my father knew my mother’s actual name, he obtained a passport for her and we were off on our Aruba Adventure.

I was thrilled to be on this trip. The first thrill was flying in an airplane. We flew KLM and they were very nice to children; I was provided with a free toy (a small toy like a Lite Brite without lights) and as much pop as I wanted. Always interested in food, I was eager to be served a whole meal right there on the airplane. My disappointment was deep when our food came and it turned out to be eggs with some sort of foul smelling red sauce splashed all over them. My father told me that this was a dish called Huevos Rancheros, but to my eight year old self it looked like a crime scene. I stuck to pop.

I am not sure what time we were scheduled to arrive in Aruba, but we touched down very late at night. The late flight was no doubt cheaper, and my father was on the lookout to cut every corner he could: bringing his wife and four children to a Caribbean Paradise must

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I was promised a licorice drink.

have cost a good bit of money. Even though we arrived at our seaside hotel in the deep of the night, I was wide awake. I needed to stay alert, because there was going to be a special licorice drink waiting for me at the hotel, and I didn’t want to miss it. I knew about this special licorice drink because my Dad had shown me the brochure for the hotel when he was planning our trip. The brochure portrayed beautiful men and women strolling along white beaches sipping cocktails. “Come to Aruba!” it said. “When you arrive, we will greet you with our special licorice drink!”

To my considerable dismay, when we walked into the lobby—six exhausted Maloneys and a great deal of luggage—there no drinks of any kind in evidence. There wasn’t even any licorice. There were no beautiful people strolling the beach, or even lolling around in chairs in the lobby. I tugged on my mother’s sleeve as we headed to the elevator and whispered, “Mom! What about our special licorice drink?” Bleary-eyed and pale with exhaustion, my mother said, “What? What are you talking about? Get in the elevator.”  My Aruba vacation began in bitter disappointment and I muttered something under my breath about false advertising. For the duration of our stay, I never stopped looking around for some hotel staff to offer me that licorice drink that was mine by right.

My dad had reserved two rooms: one for my brothers and himself, another for my mother, my sister Susan and me. The rooms were very nice and the beds inviting; after a long trip, we all went to bed. That first night was by far the most comfortable night we spend in our hotel, through no fault of the hotel. Whenever we stayed in hotels, my dad was always resolute that we would squeeze every ounce of value out of his investment. That meant that from the moment we walked into a hotel room until the moment we left, the thermostat was set to temperatures so cold that we would ache with it; in Aruba, we had a balcony attached to our room and every morning as soon as I woke up I scurried out to that balcony to warm up enough to move my arms and legs without pain. We also kept all the lights on until we went to sleep and we always had the television on. Electricity came free with the room, so we made sure to get our money’s worth and more.

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My father took this picture of me from his balcony next door.

The balcony we used for thawing out was lovely; it looked out over the Caribbean Sea and the hotel swimming pool. The moment I saw the Olympic-sized pool and high dive, I knew where I would be spending most of my time. I loved pools of all sorts, and usually had to be called out of the water whenever I was around one, my fingers and toes wrinkled as raisins. To my surprise, the pool in Aruba was filled with salt water. After the first shocking mouthful of salt, I adjusted and then I couldn’t get enough of that pool. The high dive that would no doubt cause night terrors for anyone writing an insurance policy for a hotel today, but we kids adored it, and had a great deal of fun jumping off. We eagerly reprised our stunt from the Three Coins Motel in Las Vegas; (here) we did have the good sense, at least, to confine our “jumping off the diving board while seated on lawn chairs” activities to the low dive. Aruba was a very laid-back place, and the Hotel’s philosophy was apparently “Be Stupid At Your Own Risk.” We certainly took them up on that offer.

My father not only brought us to this Island Paradise; he laid out some serious money so that we could have some Authentic Island Adventures. On our second day there, he announced that he and my brothers would be going scuba-diving and my mother, my sister and I would be renting Sea Jeeps. Since I wasn’t at the Scuba-Diving Event, I cannot tell the story of what happened there. I remember only that my father’s oxygen tank somehow ended up on the bottom of the Caribbean Sea and my brothers are still amazed, fifty years later, that he lived.

I do, of course, remember the Sea Jeeps. My father, finished defying death in Scuba Gear, was there to see us enjoy our motorized frolic in the Caribbean Sea. My mother went first, and she seemed to enjoy zipping around the water at the speed of about twenty miles per hour. Once she was ashore, I think my sister Susan must have gone next, although I have no memory of her on the Sea Jeep. It’s possible that I was so panicked about my turn on the Sea Jeep that I didn’t register what was going on immediately beforehand. I had zero desire to ride a Sea Jeep. From what I could see, they went very fast and needed some serious steering. I was clumsy enough in gym class at home to kill myself engaging in such pedestrian activities as riding a scooter across the gym floor or jumping over “the horse.” (here) I shuddered to think what the risks were here, with an actual motor and a Sea in the mix.

Adding to my considerable anxiety was the fact that the minimum age to ride a Sea Jeep was fourteen. I was nine. My father didn’t want me to miss this Fun Experience, and so he lied to the young man in charge of renting the Sea Jeeps and told him I was fourteen. As with the lounge-chair-off-the-diving-board caper, Aruba was very relaxed about enforcing this rule. They were also lassez-faire about life jackets. I knew I was taking my life into my own hands; emerging from this experience alive was my only goal.

The fellow in charge told me to sit down on my Sea Jeep and put my belt on while he told me how to work it. I sat there listening as intently as I could to his fast patter of instructions: once he started the motor, he said, I should head about fifty feet out or so (how far is fifty feet, I wondered), then gently start to turn left and motor around for a while, enjoying the sea breezes and salty air. When my minutes were up and it was time to come in, he continued, he would signal me and I would then turn the Sea Jeep around and head back to shore. It was important, he warned, that I not turn off the engine until I was about ten feet from shore, because the Sea Jeep would stop abruptly as soon as I turned it off. Too far out, and he would have to wade in to get me, and he did not want to have to do that. My head swimming with questions, I nodded dumbly when he asked if I was ready, and he started my Sea Jeep.

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The people on the boat were watching me with horror.

My first discovery was that Sea Jeeps are very speedy. In mere seconds, I was out plenty far, certainly fifty feet if not more. It was definitely time for me to gently turn left as instructed. In my panic, I didn’t have a clue which way left actually was, so I turned the wheel and hoped for the best. To my horror, I was still heading out to what looked to be the middle of the Caribbean Sea, so I tried again to turn. I was successful the second time, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t gone left because now I was headed directly toward a huge glass-bottomed boat filled with tourists who were looking at me with their mouths open like “O’s.”

Vaguely hearing a lot of screaming from the shore, I turned the Sea Jeep again and missed the Glass Bottomed Boat, though not by much. Thankfully, I was now headed back to shore; there were several people waiting for me who were still yelling and waving their arms frantically. Reminding myself that I was to turn the Sea Jeep off when I was ten feet from shore, I held on for dear life and plowed home to safety. My ability to gauge speed and distance was no better in this direction; I turned the key to “off” about one and half feet from shore. White faced and none too pleased with my father, the fellow in charge barked at me to “Exit the Sea Jeep!” and I gladly complied, grateful to have survived another Maloney Fun Experience.

Our family vacation was divided into two segments: daytime fun and nighttime fun. Once the sun went down in Aruba, my parents and my brothers enjoyed the nighttime fun: gambling in the hotel casino. Unlike the swimming pool and the Sea Jeep Concession, the people in charge of the Casino enforced the Adults Only Rule strictly. Whether because my parents didn’t want my sister Susan to miss the Fun Experience of Losing All Her Money, or because they just didn’t like being told what to do, they decided to dress Susan up one night (she was fourteen) in a dress and my mother’s pearls and high heels, in the hope that she would fool the bouncers and be admitted to the Casino. She was, and so I was alone for one night in Aruba. I missed Susan, and was happy to hear that she had no desire to go back the next night.

Other than the “Let’s Pretend Susan is an Adult” night, I had my sister for company during the long evenings of Adult Gambling. It wasn’t a great deal of fun to be in our hotel room for hours on end, and the Dutch Antilles were not known for their marvelous television programs. Several nights into our enforced room stay, Susan decided that it was time to take matters into our own hands. It was 9:30 at night and we were children in a foreign land, but Susan announced (to my utter joy) that we were going to the beach. Earlier in the afternoon, when we had left the water to come back to the hotel for dinner, Susan thought the surf was just starting to get wavy. We both adore wavy days, and hated to lose what might be our one chance to play in waves, since the Caribbean Sea was almost always as still as glass.

We threw on our bathing suits and grabbed some towels and made our way down to the beach. Once we ran past the pool area and onto the actual sand, the night was as black as ink, and even though we were only feet away from the water, we could only hear it. And we heard waves. Joy! We ran straight ahead toward that siren sound and right into them. These were not small waves, and it was so dark that we could not see each other, our own hands, or the next wave. I remember seeing a sky filled with stars and nothing else. The water and the air were black, and it was easy to lose track of which was which.

Susan, being older and marginally wiser, realized fairly quickly that this escapade was turning very dangerous very fast. Using her most assertive, grownup voice, she shouted at me to head into shore. While things like Sea Jeeps terrified me, I was never afraid of water, even when I should have been. I didn’t want to go in; being in the Caribbean Sea at 10 p.m. in a high surf could was exciting and fun. Certainly mere water couldn’t be hazardous—or, maybe hazardous for other people, certainly not us. It was only when Susan’s voice moved from stern to outright panicked that I reluctantly started paddling toward what I hoped was the shore. It was so dark that we really couldn’t see where we were going.

The only reason we are both alive today is that Susan has a much better internal compass than I do, and she guessed correctly which way we had to go. Even paddling in the right direction, it was an ordeal to get back to sand, because the waves by then were truly impressive. We did make it back, and scampered back to our room to dry off and get back into our pajamas, Susan still trembling. Some sixth sense told us not to mention our late night caper to anyone, and it was years before we told our parents about that night.

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Deep Sea Fishing: The Dream

My father wanted to make sure that we had a lot of Fun Experiences while in Aruba; the Sea Jeep/Scuba Diving Caper wasn’t the end of our Caribbean fun. He decided that we should all have the experience of Deep Sea Fishing. This entailed making arrangements to hire a local fisherman and his boat; our Captain would take us all out into the Deep Sea and provide fishing lines and bait for us. Until I was in Aruba, I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as Deep Sea Fishing, so this did indeed sound like an adventure. We were to meet our Captain at the docks at 5:00 in the morning. Anything that entailed getting up at 5:00 in the morning sounded exciting to me, so when dawn was breaking and my dad woke us up, I bounded right out of my cot and onto the balcony to get the feeling back in my arms and legs and greet the day. My teenaged brothers were less enthusiastic about this awakening.

My dad had directions to the proper dock and knew the name of our boat for the day, so off we went. We found the place and the boat, but there was a man passed out cold on the dock, which was not a sight I had ever seen. My father woke him up, which I thought was a rude if not dangerous thing to do, especially because when the man opened his eyes he looked pretty ill and disheveled. My dad knew something we didn’t know; this man was our Captain for the day. The man pulled himself up, adjusted his pants, and gestured for us to get onto the boat. We were off.

The Caribbean Sea was beautiful, and the early morning air was salty and mild. We all sat in the boat and basked in this loveliness and peace for at least ten minutes. Then my brother Johnnie lurched up, turned around, and vomited over the side. My mother had a fragile stomach, and the sight of Johnnie throwing up, in concert with her own mounting queasiness, had her up and around in no time, also heaving over the side of the boat. My dad, Jamie, Susan and I were grimly holding our own, trying to enjoy the beauty of nature and ignore the hot saliva rushing up into our mouths, when our Captain starting cooking our complimentary breakfast. To our noses, breakfast smelled like fried offal with a side of rotten fish. That was it for us. Only my dad managed not to lose his previous three meals to the Caribbean Sea. The rest of us enjoyed a close-up view of the water directly beneath our streams of vomit.

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Deep Sea Fishing: The Reality

After my dad and our Captain enjoyed their breakfast, accompanied by the soundtrack of Five Heaving Maloneys, it was time to fish. My mother, my siblings and I were in no shape for any activity other than praying for death, but my dad had paid a great deal of money so that we could have this Fun Experience, and we couldn’t bear to let him down. We somehow pulled ourselves away from the sides of our boat and our Captain handed each of us a fishing line, which he had helpfully baited for us. Our bait came out of a big bucket of dead fish under our feet, the sight of which sent my brother Johnnie back to the side of the boat. So far our biggest discovery was just how much a human being could vomit without throwing up his own stomach. Our lines properly baited, we threw them into the Deep Sea and started to fish.

Unluckily for us, the fish in our corner of the Caribbean Sea had extremely high fish I.Q.’s, because every single fish we nearly caught simply ate our bait up to the dead fish head and them swam merrily away, no doubt taunting us as they departed. My brother thought he really had one at one point, and he enthusiastically pulled his line in; our collective thinking was that if we could only each catch a fish, my dad would be satisfied that we had had a Fun Experience and we could get back to what we really longed to do, which was vomit some more and hopefully pass out. When my brother pulled his line, though, once again he had only a dead fish head on the end of it, which swung wildly toward the boat and slapped me square in the face. That was the end of Deep Sea Fishing for me. I thought I had been close to foul smelling fish before, but having one directly applied to my face was enough to finish me off.

Having lost his best shot at catching a fish, my brother was forced back to the side of the boat for the vomiting, but while he had been struggling with his fish, apparently the wind changed direction. We realized this because he vomited into the wind this time. His vomit blew right back in his face and shoulders instead of falling into the Caribbean Sea. He was officially finished with fishing at that moment as well. Along the way, my mother and other siblings had given up and were cradling their heads and moaning softly. My sister Susan started singing under her breath; I heard snatches of The Beach Boys song, “I Wanna Go Home.” We still had a few more hours on the boat, and my dad had paid for the full day of fishing, but even he could see that he was not going to get his money’s worth on this adventure, and that if he insisted we stay the full time out at sea, several of us just might die of dehydration. He told our Captain it was time to go in.

After our day of Deep Sea Fishing, we took a few days to just relax at the hotel and not attempt any Fun Activities whatsoever, which was just fine with me. I loved that pool and the Caribbean Sea was kind of fun, too, even during the day. It wasn’t long  before our last night in Aruba had arrived.  My parents and brothers went to the Casino, and Susan and I were left to entertain ourselves in our room. As on the night of our Wave Adventure, we were bored very quickly. Knowing better now than to go down to the pitch-dark beach, we decided that it couldn’t hurt anyone if we just went down to the pool area. The pool was open but empty, and we didn’t have our bathing suits on, but it was very pretty there with the pool lit up and the Divi-Divi trees swaying in the breeze. My brother Johnnie wandered over and saw us there, and Susan asked him how things were going in the Casino. Not well—not for Johnnie, anyway. He had lost money, and he was feeling downcast. I figured he must be really sad, because his disappointment seemed to have robbed him of the power of speech. He was slurring a lot of his words and stumbling over easy words like “blackjack” and “bankrupt.” Eventually he wandered back off, and Susan told me that no, Johnnie had not suffered a sudden stroke as I feared; he had been drinking. Ah. I knew all about that. I just hadn’t recognized that as something Johnnie did. Lots of things were just different in Aruba.

Susan and I went back to our room, and decided to sit on our lovely balcony and enjoy those sea breezes for the last time. For some reason, my dad came back up to the room, probably to get something he needed down at the Casino, like more money. I did know how my dad seemed when he had been drinking, and I could tell that he had been drinking. Even stone cold sober, my father had a habit of tempting fate in ridiculous and dangerous ways, thus terrifying his children, and a few cocktails only made this side of his personality stronger. My dad started leaning out over the balcony rail, commenting on our lovely view and this lovely trip that was ending the next day. Foolishly, I said, “Daddy, please step back from the railing. You aren’t steady on your feet.”

Of course, that was the worst thing I could have said, because my dad heard it as a fun sort of challenge. He promptly climbed over the balcony rail and stood on the ledge that jutted out about two feet from the rail. There was nothing between my father and the pavement 17 stories below except air. Now I was frankly terrified, and I whispered, as if the very breath of my voice might blow him over, “PLEASE, Daddy, come back over the railing.” His blue eyes twinkling with mischief, he started to bounce softly, up and down, on the two feet of cement. I saw no way he was going to live through this, and I didn’t know what to do. I froze. I don’t know where Susan was, but I don’t think she was there. I couldn’t move or speak—it was, I think, my first moment of utter terror. Seeing no escalation of my challenge—what he took to be a challenge, anyway–he climbed back over the rail, told me to get to bed, and went back downstairs. I didn’t tell anyone about those ten minutes on the balcony, and I am not sure my dad even remembered it. I am very glad that he didn’t die in Aruba in 1969, but I am still amazed that he didn’t fall. Perhaps God didn’t want my poor mother to have to figure out how to transport a dead body and four children back to the United States, and He had mercy on her. As our mother and the wife of Jack Maloney, she had certainly earned a few favors.

Our flight out of Aruba was the following morning, and we were late getting out of bed. The “Farewell to Aruba Tour” had taken a toll on both of my brothers and my father, and they were not feeling so hot. By the time we actually got ourselves to the airport, we had missed the final boarding call. Out of the plate glass window, we could see our plane taxiing away from the gate and gliding toward the runway. My mother gasped, stunned at the sight of her ticket home leaving her behind with all of us and no money.  I have no idea to this day what my father said to the ticket agents at the gate, but they called the plane and the plane stopped. All six Maloneys, suitcases and all, hurried through the gate and out the door of the airport. A portable set of steps was wheeled out from somewhere, the plane door opened, and we climbed aboard. That was fifty years ago, and I have never since seen a plane stopped and reopened for tardy passengers. Say what you will about my father, but he was a heck of a salesman.

poster-arubaMy father wanted us to have an unforgettable and Fun Experience in Aruba. That we certainly did. In fact, certain parts of that vacation are seared into my brain, and I can be heard talking about some of those moments in my sleep even to this day. I think of our Aruba adventure whenever I see a Glass Bottomed boat, a Sea Jeep, a fish head or a man jumping up and down on two feet of cement suspended seventeen stories in the air. Oh wait; I never saw that sight again. Thank God. Satisfied that he had done his fatherly duty and given us a great vacation, my father headed back to home and ordinary time with his lovely wife Mercedes. I mean Loraine.

 

Route 66 and a Secondhand Hearse

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Although my childhood had its odd moments, there were also wonderful moments. I grew up in the era when mothers stayed home with the children and fathers went to work; my parents raised five children on my dad’s salary. As a child, I never really had any clear idea what my father actually did for a living. He did what the dads on television did: every morning, he picked up his briefcase and drove away, and every evening he came home, put down the briefcase, and fixed himself a drink. When I was in kindergarten, Mrs. Eisely started some sort of project that involved knowing what our fathers did for a living, and we were told to find out what our dads did and report back the next day. I dutifully went home that day and asked my mother what my father’s job was, exactly. She told me that he was the President of the Milwaukee office of Kemper Insurance. The only word I recognized in that whole answer was “President,” and so the next day I reported to Mrs. Eisely that my father was the President. She told me to come back the next day with better information.

The second time I asked my mother about my father’s job, I decided to skip the whole “He’s the president of something unclear” and go for something more exciting. I knew that my father had been in World War II and that he had served in Tokyo and Guam; there were pictures of him in uniform, and he still had his navigator’s jacket and binoculars. (Note to the United States Air Force: we know nothing about those binoculars. The statute of limitations has run. My father gave his country several years of his life. The least you can do now is look the other way about those binoculars.) When I pressed my mother for the details of my father’s time in the Air Force, she told me that he had served as a navigator on a B-29, and had been stationed in the Pacific. Now this was more like it; I mentally rubbed my hands together over this exciting vision and asked my mother if my father had killed anyone. To my intense disappointment, my mother said that no, he wasn’t in any actual battles. No battles? What, then, was he doing in that B-29, I wondered? My mother speculated that he might have been dropping supplies on POW camps, and seeing how crestfallen I was that my father had not killed anyone, she offered, “Maybe when he dropped some canned goods on the camps, one of the prisoners got hit with one and died.” That was not the sort of heroic story I wanted to report to Mrs. Eisely. I let the whole matter drop, and I think Mrs. Eisely did, too. I have no memory what the project was, but I think it involved making a bird feeder. How a bird feeder intersected with my father’s career choice is a mystery Mrs. Eisely no doubt took to her grave.

I did know that my father went to work every day, and managed to put five children through Catholic elementary school, high school, and college. He put three of those children through law school. Looking back fifty years after I left Mrs. Eisely’s class, I can see that he was pretty heroic after all. Not only did he support his family, he made sure that we went on several family vacations even though we never had much money.  Those vacations may not have been opulent, but they were certainly memorable.

The summer before I started second grade, my father decided to take the whole family to California. Some of his old buddies from the War lived there, and he thought it would be fun to drive across the country, see the sights along the way, visit his friends, and then drive home. It could not have been cheap to get seven people to California and back, but he found a way.

hearseSeeing the U.S.A. was going to be part of the charm of this trip, so my father needed a car that would seat all seven of us. He bought a secondhand hearse at a used car lot; it had lots of room—a wide bench-type front seat and back seat, plus two jumpseats that opened up between front and back. He piled all seven of us into that car and we headed out on Route 66 to California. Early on, we discovered why the hearse had been sold at a bargain price. The engine overheated regularly; before we crossed our first state line and several times after that, I would find myself sitting in the very warm hearse while my father and brothers stood dolefully at the side of the road, watching steam pour out of the hood of the hearse and dousing the radiator with water.

Cars were rarely air conditioned in those days, and even if the hearse had been air conditioned, I doubt that my dad would have used it, as it would have adversely affected our mileage, a big no-no in Jack Maloney’s universe.  My dad was a big fan of Getting Good Mileage, and in every glove compartment of every car he ever owned he kept a notebook, where he meticulously recorded exactly how many miles per gallon he got on each tank of gas purchased. Air conditioning would have wreaked havoc with Getting Good Mileage, so we kids just rolled down the windows to cool off in the summer heat; of course, there were no “breezes” on Route 66. There was a great deal of hot air blowing into the car, and since both of my parents smoked, their ashes would blow back through the windows of the backseat. For us kids back there, it was Ash Wednesday every day.

Despite the heat and the temperamental hearse, we were excited to be going on this great old-route-662adventure. Every day, my dad would drive for hours and hours, until nighttime when we would stop at a hotel to get some sleep. Simply being in a hotel was a Big Deal for us, and we loved it. To this day, I get a thrill when I walk into a hotel and see an ice machine and a swimming pool. Free Ice! Free Pool! To us, this was heaven.

Staying at a hotel gave us all a chance to rest, eat and clean up; it could be a challenge, though, to accomplish all three things, because my father would drop us at the hotel and go find a grocery store. Rather than feed all seven of us in a restaurant, where the money can add up fast, he would buy baloney, mayonnaise, milk and bread and bring it back to the room. The ice was free, so he would send us on multiple trips to the ice machine so that he could fill the bathtub with ice and keep the food fresh. Anyone who hadn’t showered by the time the bathtub had been turned into a Giant Baloney Cooler was out of luck.

As exciting as staying in hotels was, there were challenges. Every now and then, one of us would have to leave the room and step outside to get the feeling back in our extremities. Air conditioning was free with the price of our room; so were the lights and the television. Since it was a Very Important Maloney Value to get our money’s worth at all times, my dad would turn the air conditioning on full blast the moment we arrived, and leave it there for the duration of our stay. We also kept all the lights on and the television blared until bedtime. (Note to Our Mother the Earth: He didn’t mean to hurt you. He just wanted full value for his dollar.)

We also stopped sometimes on the road to eat a meal, and that was always a very big deal. Because my father was always looking to save money, we would travel long distances between stops to eat, and no one was ever allowed to suggest that we might stop or that we might be hungry. We just waited and waited; as the ribbon of highway unspooled beneath our wheels, we would read signs advertising restaurants and hope against hope that we might stop at one of them. When we eventually did stop to eat, we knew that we were absolutely forbidden to order anything to drink besides water, which was free. We never ordered dessert, of course, or appetizers. I didn’t even know what an appetizer was until I was in college.

We would all scan the restaurant’s menu looking for whatever option included the most food and order that, knowing that it might be a long while before we ate again. At one restaurant we stopped at for breakfast (which would also, we knew, be lunch), the meals came with toast on the side. I ordered French toast and when the waitress brought it I asked about my toast on the side. She glared at me and said, “You want toast with your French toast?” You bet I did.

3-coinsOne of our planned stops enroute to the Golden State was Las Vegas. This was 1964, the era of the “Rat Pack” and the beginning of “The Strip” with its glitz and glamor, not to mention legal gambling. My dad really wanted to be part of this Important Cultural Experience. He never liked to miss anything, and Las Vegas was An Experience for sure. We stayed at The 3 Coins Motel; it was a ramshackle place, but it had the required Ice Machine and Pool, and so we kids adored it. Las Vegas was a more contained city in 1964, and the desert was visible right there on the edge of town. On our first night at the 3 Coins Motel, there was an impressive sand storm, and the next day the pool was carpeted in a good six inches of sand. We shrugged it off and enjoyed ourselves anyway.

No one paid much attention to what we were doing at the 3 Coins Motel. The pool had a diving board, and my siblings, my dad and I enjoyed jumping off the diving board in all manner of different poses. Eventually, we tired of that, so we dragged the lounge chairs that were set up around the pool up onto the diving board and jumped off the board while sitting in the lounge chairs. My mother stood by, watching us and fretting, amazed yet again that none of us broke our necks. (Now that we are adults, our spouses have a theory called The Four Missing Maloneys. Having heard the stories of3-coins-2 our collective childhood and its hazards, they have announced that there were, once upon a time, NINE Maloney children and only the five of us made it to adulthood intact. It’s the only explanation that makes sense to them, because they can’t believe that we all actually survived things like jumping off of diving boards into swimming pools while seated on lawn chairs.) (Note to the 3 Coins Motel: no lounge chair were harmed in the execution of these stunts. Really.)

Eventually, we arrived in California and started visiting all those old war buddies and their families. I was stunned to discover that people had lemon and orange trees right there in their own backyards. California was an exotic place, indeed. Some of my father’s friends even had swimming pools in their backyards. I loved swimming, and would stay in any pool until my skin was blue and my fingers all wrinkly, but my dad’s war buddies apparently viewed a pool more as a party site than a place to swim. I remember quite a few pool parties on that trip. In California, a “pool party” was an event at which the grownups consumed impressive numbers of martinis and forgot to supervise the children. We loved them.

We stayed at hotels enroute to California, but for reasons that are unclear to me, once we arrived in the Golden State, we stayed in a trailer park. This was a huge embarrassment to my mother. I didn’t understand her attitude at all. The trailer itself was fascinating, with its tiny bathroom and kitchen, its tiny bedrooms that somehow managed to fit several beds into a tiny space. Even with its miniature furniture, the trailer wasn’t big enough to sleep seven people, so while my mother, my sisters and I slept in the actual trailer, my dad and my brothers slept on the ground outside. To me, it all seemed a great adventure. To my mom, we were just one small step away from becoming the Joads in the Grapes of Wrath. Being a Joad was never on my mother’s bucket list.

Once we were settled in our trailer park home, we were ready to start visiting the old war-buddy friends. Before we embarked, my parents told us in a stern, no-nonsense way that no one was to know where we were staying. If anyone asked, we were staying at the Edgewood Hotel. I could tell that my parents were mostly worried that I would spill the beans, and I resolved to keep this weird secret even if I didn’t understand why. When one of the other children at a “pool party” asked me where we were staying, I dutifully replied, “The Edgewater Hotel.” To this day, I feel badly about the unfairly maligned Edgewater Hotel, because my dad’s friends complained several times that their front desk was staffed by incompetent ninnies. Every time they called the hotel to talk to my dad, the people at the desk said that no one by the name of Maloney was registered there. This was all very puzzling, but I chalked it up to Weird Things Adults Do For No Discernible Reason. (Note to owners of the Edgewater Hotel: you probably had a first rate staff. Sorry about that.)

1964-gop-national-convention-pin-i-wasOur stay in California happened to coincide with the Republican National Convention, which was held in San Francisco in 1964. We were Democrats from Chicago, but my dad thought that visiting the Republican Convention would be an Important Cultural Experience, so off we went. Not only did we have the chance to rub elbows with politicians—there was also free stuff there, an Important Maloney Value. We scarfed up buttons reading AU-H2O in 1964 and Mom Likes Pepsi. Even better, there were tables where unlimited amounts of Pepsi-Cola were being given away, no questions asked. When confronted with free food or drink of any kind, the Maloney 150406164731-1964-goldwater-girls-super-169Family Philosophy was to eat or drink as much of it as possible.  My brother, sister and I drank impressive amounts of free Pepsi. If I jumped up and down, I could hear my stomach gurgling, a situation I used to great comic effect.

We took Route 66 home, stopping at the Grand Canyon along the way. My father made sure that we saw a lot of the United States from the back seat of that hearse. To this day, I get a warm feeling in my heart every time I hear the song Route 66, see a hearse, get free ice from a machine, or drink a free Pepsi. My dad wanted us to have memorable vacations. He certainly succeeded.

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