by Michael Harold
IT WAS ALWAYS the last week in July when our family packed up the Country Squire wagon and headed to the beach. We were rambunctious and whiney children. (Picture a chorus of “Dad, are we there yet?”) My parents decided Biloxi was the farthest place they could endure, and I was such a disagreeable beast of a child that they chose to pay for the Broadwater Beach Hotel over staying at friends’ houses. The hotel was a kiddie paradise anyway with its huge swimming pool, snack bar, and jukebox. One summer, I was obsessed with the song Harper Valley P.T.A. and sang it so much that my mom and dad feared the hotel would kick us out. Thankfully, there were worse guests that week. One prominent New Orleans family was shamed into leaving after their two teenage boys broke into a storage room and guzzled excessive amounts of rum. Some of the carpet stains were still there the next year.
The year Hurricane Camille socked it to The Broadwater, we upgraded to the Florida Gulf Coast along with another family. As a general rule, kids behave better with other parents, so it was decided that the kids would be divided among two cars. It alleviated some of the sibling bickering, but it was far from comfortable, and the choice was tough. The Harold car came with cartons of Winston cigarettes and a continuous haze of smoke. AM radio was all we had, and “Easy Listening” was the preferred channel. The other option was a wide Lincoln sedan with scalding, plastic seat liners (I still cringe when I think of that sound), a grandmother named “Mamaw” with Bloody Mary breath, and a daughter who threw unbridled tantrums. Sadly, everyone had to deal with me, Michael, the kid with the pea-sized bladder who either had to stop every 30 minutes or fill up an empty Blue Plate mayonnaise jar. No embarrassment there.
You might imagine parents have it easy today with satellite radio, movie screens and headphones, but let’s face it, kids will be kids, and gone are the days of moms holding fly swatters in their hands. An old college buddy of mine grew up with a physician father who tranquilized the kids before getting into the car. They literally drank the Kool Aid. All the dad had to say was, “Wake up kids, we’re in Florida,” and the trip was over. My friend Madeleine had such rotten daughters that on one summer road trip, she made good on her “Don’t make me pull this car over” threat. She calmly exited the interstate, found a safe neighborhood and made her kids sit out on a street corner for 30 minutes in the heat while she stayed in the car with the air blasting in her face.
One summer, my father put an end to the annual Florida beach trip after a series of mishaps pushed him over the proverbial edge. A vicious brigade of stinging jelly fish and sand flies invaded Pensacola Beach, and after he took one look at a poor man covered in welts, he decided to load us back in the car and finish up the family vacation at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear. It took only a fraction of a second to realize upon opening the car door that someone had left a container of raw shrimp in the back of the wagon. For months we were forbidden to mention the odor or even think about distorting our faces whenever we got in the car. To add insult to injury, just minutes from returning to our house, a Jefferson Parish police officer pulled my father over for speeding. We were dead quiet. Dad rolled down the window and handed his license to the cop. The officer peered into the car and took one look and one whiff. “You’re free to go” was all he said.