Thank you for joining me for the summer redux series. I will be re-posting stories you may not have read, in the fashion of a summer re-run. The original “Burma-Shave” posted back in February 2013. It’s been embellished a little since then.
* * *
Summer arrived in Western Washington. June rain, fog, and wind with regular helpings of sun breaks, which roused the spirits of undecided Western Washingtonians from spring Gore-tex wearing to summer blue tarp camping—because we bring our own blue sky with us. The mercury stretched to 65º F, then yawned.
A sun break highlighted a small brown and gray ranch house in Gig Harbor, Washington.
* * *
Bunny Gutierrez stood on the porch of her blue trimmed, white ranch house. She drank a cup of coffee. A blue star blazed on her garage door, a monument to the Dallas Cowboys, in the middle of Seahawks territory. The house’s blue star matched her wind breaker.
Richard and I waved at her from the Love Wagon, a red Ford F150, with queen futon and disco ball in the back. We pulled into the driveway of our brown and gray ranch house.
Bunny walked across the street to join us.
“Hey Bunny, thanks for taking care of the cats for us while we were gone,” I said, giving her a hug. “I brought you back a present.”
I handed her a brown paper bag.
She opened the bag. Holding up a doll with a pumpkin head and hair hanging over its eyes and a black furry body. “What is it?” Bunny asked, with her refined Texas accent. Her long blond hair swept back into a pony tail that crowned her statuesque figure.
“It’s Momo,” I said, laughing, “ he’s the Missouri equivalent to Big Foot.”
“Thank you, I think,” she said. She tried to hide the are you kidding me look and failed.
I handed her a box of Bissinger’s chocolate-covered blackberries. She smiled, then gave me back the doll. Looking at Richard, she asked, “How was the trip? You look like you shrank.”
“Don’t ask,” Richard said, his shoulders slumping like a bear, dark circles under his blue eyes. “I should have listened to Fannie and let her go with her parents.”
Bunny looked at me, her pony tail going out of alignment.
“I tried to convince Richard he would be better off staying home but he didn’t believe me,” I said, smiling.
* * *
The day before the trip. . . .
“Richard, are you sure you want to do this?” I asked, searching his eyes.
“Fannie, I don’t see what’s the big deal,” Richard said, smiling.
“I don’t think you’re grasping the magnitude of what you’ve volunteered for,” I said, raking my fingers through my short brown hair.
Richard crossed his arms.
“Richard, you’re talking about being trapped in a car with my parents for over 4,000 miles,” I said, shaking my head. “I know you love me, but that’s stretching it to its limit.”
“Fannie, I get along great with your parents. I can handle your mother,” he said, nodding his head with the conviction of a novice, “I’ve been in the car with them before. It’s only eight days.”
“Your family rides in the car in silence,” I said, trying to drill my point into his head. “My family talks non-stop except when they’re singing, sleeping or eating.”
“Fannie trust me, I’ll be fine.”
“Divorce is not an option,” I said, standing on my tiptoes while poking him in the chest, “I want to make that perfectly clear.”
Richard laughed. Bending over, he hugged me. “Fannie, don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
I plastered a fake smile to my face. Hope sank like an anchor to the pit of my stomach.
* * *
The alarm sounded at 6:30 a.m.. The heads of two orange cats popped up from under the blanket at the foot of the bed looking at Richard. He threw the blanket from the bed. The cats scrambled to the floor and out of the room.
I opened one puffy eye and looked around. “Why am I so cold?”
“Fannie it’s time to get up, we’re leaving for the reunion today, remember?” Richard said, shaking my shoulders. “We need to get moving if we’re ever gonna get out of here.”
“Richard it’s 6:30 on a Saturday morning, I can assure you my parents aren’t going any where without us, how about ten more minutes?”
Richard removed the pillow from under my head. “I know better than to believe that, you promised you’d get up, now get moving. I’ll go make the coffee.”
Groaning, I climbed out of bed and shuffled toward the bathroom. In the mirror my zombie avatar looked back at me with punk-band spiky brown hair and swollen slits where green eyes should have been. By the time I reached the kitchen Richard held out a travel mug filled with coffee and a couple of breakfast bars.
“I packed the truck while you were in the shower,” he said, handing me my coat. “Oh and your mother called. I let her know we’d be on time.”
“Richard, it’s not too late, you can stay home and I can take my parents.”
“I’d worry about you the entire time, now get a move on,” he said, angling me toward the door.
“The fifteen minutes it takes to get to my parents house is the last peace you’ll have for eight days,” I said, searching his face. “I just want you to know I love you because this will test our marriage.”
“Fannie, I love you too,” Richard said. He frowned at me. “You’re making excuses not to leave, now let’s go.” His voice lowering the boom.
Richard guided me out to the Love Wagon. The sun kissed the tree tops above our brown and gray home. The house blended into the trees. The cool morning air smelled of cedar. A flock of gray bushtits flew from the huckleberry bush next to the truck. Richard opened the door for me.
“How up are you on your Burma-Shave lore?” I asked, jumping into the cab and by some miracle not smacking my head on the door frame.
“Burma-Shave lore?” Richard asked, looking at me like I was one egg short of a dozen.
“One of my parents’ favorite games on a cross country road trip is to call out the beginning of a Burma-Shave ad, then you have to know the rest of the jingle.”
“You’re kidding me?” His voice rose half an octave.
“I wish I were,” I said, smiling, “you’ll know a few hundred by the end of the trip.”
“A few hundred. How many are there?”
“My father claims there’s close to 7,000, but I’ve never fact checked on that one,” I said, laughing.
Fifteen minutes later we arrived in University Place. We parked in my parents’ driveway. A neatly manicured yard surrounded a small white house with light blue trim. I rang the doorbell. My mother answered the door wearing her favorite light blue pant suit with matching scarf and sandals and her Betty White wig.
“I can’t believe you’re on time,” my mother said, giving me a hug. Looking at Richard, she asked, “what did you have to do for this miracle?”
“Very funny,” I said, pretending to be awake.
“Your father has the car all packed. We just need to load your luggage,” she said, leading us into the house.
My father sat at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. He wore a light blue Polo shirt and khaki pants coordinating with my mother’s outfit. The kitchen light reflected from the top of his head framed by his close-trimmed, gray, horseshoe hairdo.
Looking at his watch, he said, “You’re on time, it’s my lucky day. I should buy a lottery ticket.” The sarcasm in his voice dancing a merry jig.
“My allergies to mornings are greatly exaggerated,” I said, kissing him on top of his head.
I caught Richard shaking his head behind me.
“Tattle tale,” I said, poking him in the ribs.
Looking at Richard, he said, “I’ll take the first stint at the wheel. Once we get over the pass, you’ll pilot the mobile land yacht.”
We loaded our luggage into the abyss of the sky blue mobile land yacht’s trunk. Even if we packed for a year, I’m not sure we could filled it.
When we pulled out of the driveway, my mother said, “does your husband, misbehave.”
My father and I said, “grunt and grumble, rant and rave, shoot the brute some,” we paused for a moment for every one to join in, “…Burma-Shave.”
My mother laughed with delight. “This is going to be a great trip.”
Smiling, I looked at Richard. He wore the stricken look of a deer in the headlights.
On our way to the freeway, we passed the sign for Drum Intermediate School. My father said, “Passed school houses . . .”
My mother and I said, “take it slow, let the little, shavers grow.”
Together we said, “…Burma-Shave.”
Ten minutes later we merged onto Interstate 5.
It was my turn. I said, “Road, was slippery.”
My parents said, “curve was sharp, white robe, halo, wings and harp.”
In unison we said, “Burma-Shave.”
By this time Richard relaxed a little. I squeezed his hand. As we passed the Tacoma Dome, my father started a rousing round of “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.” I could see the whites of Richard’s eyes.
Just before we reached the pass my father said, “Every shaver.”
“Now can snore, six more minutes, than before, by using,” my mother and I said.
I leaned over and whispered to Richard, “that’s the signal he’s going to take a nap.”
Only he didn’t. He handed Richard the keys and we swapped places. Then my mother lead “Row, row, row your boat.”
* * *
“Bunny, by the time we reached George, Washington, I thought Richard would slit his wrists with dental floss,” I said, laughing.
“I started having nightmares about Burma-Shave every night,” Richard said, shuddering. “It drove me to listen to opera.”