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Al Batt: Making good time while going home from a good time

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


We took no vacations.

We had to make good time going home from a family gathering because we didn’t have a good time taking vacations.

My father drove. My mother rode shotgun. I sat in the backseat, as a free-range child not constrained by a seatbelt because there was no seatbelt there. I counted things I saw out the window — cows, dogs, tractors and pheasants. I tried to see out-of-state license plates. I hoped all that counting would keep my mind off other concerns, but it didn’t.

“I’m hungry,” I whined. I wasn’t only the baby of the family, I was once the world’s youngest boy. I didn’t wear that crown long.

“Your mother made emergency sandwiches,” said Dad.

I’d already eaten them. I said I was hungry in the hopes we’d stop someplace where I might use the bathroom. You can’t get anywhere if you don’t start somewhere, and life’s rules are vague.

“I need to go to the bathroom.” I didn’t want to get his nose out of joint. I tried to be shut-mouthed, but I couldn’t. I’d been on an all-expenses-paid package tour to Algona, Iowa, to an aunt’s house where I’d expressed awe of her automatic card shuffler. She gave it to me as a lovely parting gift, saying I’d be the first kid in my class to have one. I had drunk as much red Kool-Aid as possible at my aunt’s house. A recipe for disaster. Nature calls are distracting, yet concentrate the mind. There might be a cleanup required in the backseat aisle if we didn’t stop soon.

“Just hold it. There’s an outhouse at home,” he replied sweetly.

That wasn’t comforting, waiting to use the dreaded back house, little house or biffy. My “holding it” skills were rickety.

“You should’ve gone before we left,” he added. He could be narrow-minded about things.

That would have put me in a humiliating light. “I’d have had to ask to use the bathroom. Everyone would have known what I was doing.”

“OK, at the next stop sign, get out and go.” Rest areas were cornfields in those days.

That wasn’t the answer I’d hoped to hear. The conversation began to loop. I still find it difficult to whittle the world down to the things I need.

“Don’t worry, we’ll all look the other way. You can take the flashlight.” Our flashlight was afraid of the dark.

It was raining. I watched raindrops roll down the rear window as the wipers screamed in agony on the windshield at the other end. My mother took my side and pleaded my case.

Dad was a good father. He always got my name right. Even a wonderful father is still a father, and fathers have their ways. Dad was a skillful driver, too. He could parallel park our land yacht of a Pontiac on the first try. I’m still attempting to complete my first try. My father refused to speed no matter how many cows required milking at home. He obeyed all traffic laws. He stopped, he yielded and he signaled his turns, even when his was a familiar, local car and everyone knew where and when he was turning. He obeyed traffic laws for the general welfare of everyone. The car had only enough power to run one of the two rear turn signal lights, held in place by vise grips.

The car could ride a little rough. It didn’t take potholes well. Neither did I. Dad successfully missed only one, the one so deep they held a fishing tournament there each year. It’s not a true pothole unless you can dive into it.

You’d think a big car would have had a restroom, but it didn’t. I didn’t kick the back of Dad’s seat, but I considered using Dad’s beloved Stanley thermos bottle for something other than its designed purpose. I didn’t, for there be dragons.

I watched the cornfields we passed. They looked inviting.

We finally, finally, finally stopped. I used a gas station with its door locked and the key attached to a 50-pound anvil that had to be dragged to the door to open it. The restroom had just been cleaned 12 years earlier and was lit only by the ember of burning toilet paper. There was no line to the facility. Dad had to buy some snacks and a fingernail clipper to cover his perceived cost of the bathroom usage.

Did my father stop because he was full of concern for his baby boy?

No, it was because his bladder was full. Dad had to go.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday.