On our many eight hour trips from Los Angeles to Phoenix during summer vacations, my folks tried to keep their four children entertained. Translation: keep the arguing and whining down to a dull roar. Some of our time was spent looking for out of state license plates or different colors of Volkswagen Beatles. Occasionally, Mom and Dad would get us to join in a sing along with simple tunes. I especially remember Camp Town Races, The Crawdad Song (Dad’s favorite), You Are My Sunshine and others.
Every trip, we most looked forward to the stretches of highway with Burma-Shave signs. It was serious business keeping watch for the first set of signs, and then we knew there would be several more after that. The first sighting was met with our loud chorus of reading each red and white sign, spaced far enough apart at the lower speed limits back in those days, before Interstate 10 was built. The punch line always ended in our loud guffaws. For example:
His chick vamoosed
And now she won’t
Come home to roost
Then we watched eagerly for the next set of signs!
Another game we would play in the car was guessing the name of a famous person from just their initials. Well, when it was Mom’s turn, she always picked CG (Cary Grant), GC (Gary Cooper), CC (Claudette Colbert) and other screen giants. All we had to do was go through the list in our heads of all her favorite movie stars. My brothers would pick cowboys like WB (William Boyd), JW (John Wayne) or sometimes scary movie actors, like BK (Boris Karloff) and BL (Bela Lugosi). RR (Rosalind Russell) was one of my favorites or DR (Debbie Reynolds).
During summer vacations at home, Mom and I watched movies on television almost every night. Being the only females in a house with four “guys”, this was a rare bonding time for us. With no enforced bed time during the school summer break, I was at liberty to stay up until midnight if I chose. And I chose to do that very often. I was a true night owl; I always had a hard time getting to sleep, and a harder time getting up in the morning, even when I was very young.
Well, back to the movies; Mom enjoyed romantic comedies and for that we needed a box of kleenex close at hand. You see, every romantic story has to have some element of tragedy in it. The course of true love never runs smoothly, especially in Hollywood scripts. In the movie, “The Egg and I”, with Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray, they fall in love, get married, he buys a run down chicken ranch hoping to build it into a nice business. Lots of fun and funny stuff follow until they encounter all sorts of bad luck. Another woman causes Claudette to leave Fred, but she is pregnant and won’t tell him, because she’s so mad. Whew, lots of drama!! In all the movies, before the happy ever after, there was always some struggle or misunderstanding or misguided notions by one party or the other. But, always, always, there was a happy ending.
Through our tears during the sad or very happy parts, Mom and I would look over at each other and laugh. “It’s just a movie, Mom!” I would declare, and reach for another tissue. In bringing these memories forward, I had a revelation: those were the best of times for Mom and me…before the adolescent hormones kicked in and Mom became the bane of my teenaged existence. I am quite sure that while I suspected my mother was sometimes possessed by the devil, she was thinking the very same thing about me. hmmmm. As a very young girl, I was a Daddy’s girl, through and through. Then came my teen years. Both of those phases had to cause her great heart ache. That’s why I feel so glad to remember that we shared the movies on those late summer nights.