We’re about midway into our flight to San Francisco, when my tummy starts churning with that awful queasy feeling. The woman sitting across the aisle comments to Dad about my green palor. I guess I resemble Kermit the Frog. I complain to dad and he mutters something to Mom. She abruptly cuts him off saying, “I don’t care what’s wrong. As soon as we land she can take the next flight back to Newark. She can be your parents’ problem. She’s not going to ruin this vacation.”
Ahhh, Marlene’s motherly love. After missing countless days of school from chronic strep throat infections during the school year, my pediatrician tests me for mono in the spring. I’m positive. It’s May 1973. I spend the rest of the school year convalescing at home. The illness wreaks havoc on my body. I throw up all the time. I get pink eye, more sore throats. I’m so weak Mom has to feed me, I can’t hold a fork in my hand. She has to use paper plates and disposable utensils at every meal to prevent the mono from spreading to my sisters. Not to mention the continual washing of sheets and towels. So, in her defense, at this moment, Mom has really had enough of me and my puking. This two week trip to California has been in the works for a year. There is no way she will let me ruin it.
While gathering our luggage at baggage claim, I begin to feel miraculously better, am starving for food. I need to eat, NOW! It’s my first flight beyond Florida and Mom concludes I must have suffered from motion sickness. We continue on with our travels. After spending five days in San Francisco for Dad’s Lions’ Club convention we meander our way to Muir Woods National Monument. The redwood forest is like nothing I have ever seen before in my life. The trees are massive in girth and height. I nearly break my neck looking upwards, they appear to be touching heaven. We roll and ramble, taking goofy pictures of us climbing on rocks.
Next we head to Yosemite National Park, which is really quite exciting. Mom and Dad are not the ‘hiking’ type, so we tour the park via the handy dandy bus system. We go to Half Dome Observation Point and watch the graceful water flow at Bridal Veil Falls. On the bus tours we learn all about John Muir and his connection to this majestic place.
Three years later, in 1976, we head out west again. This time on a two week road trip through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. Rocky Mountain National Park is our first of nearly seven national park visits on this vacation. With her curdling Brooklyn accent, loud enough for all to hear, Mom warns us, repeatedly, to be careful on the rocks in the lake, “They’re slippery. Make sure you don’t fall.” Over and over and over again she repeats her warning. When it’s time go, Mom stands up from the big rock she’s been sitting on, slips and falls, and lands on her rear-end in the lake. We chuckle at the irony of the situation. After cleaning up her scrapes and bruises, we head to the Continental Divide. We stay in the rustic cabins at Bryce Canyon National Park and take a donkey ride down into the canyon. Mom is not too happy about having to be hoisted onto her “jackass.” Next we head off to Zion National Park and from there, Grand Canyon National Park where we are surprised to learn how frigid the water temperature is in July on our raft ride down the Colorado River. Somewhere between Natural Bridges National Monument and Four Corners Monument (part of the Navajo Nation Park and Recreation), our rental car blows a flat tire. We discover there’s no spare, but that’s another blog story in itself. We zoom along to Mesa Verde National Park in New Mexico, where we all try to imagine surviving as cliff dwellers. Not me for sure, I’m terrified of heights. At each park, Mom and Dad buy all of us a T-shirt with the park logo in the upper left corner. We wear them through our journey.
Our stays last just one or two days in each national park but the experiences last through the ages. By the time I turn 13 that September, I’ve visited about ten national parks. Joel and I continue the “tradition” with our own family. Why not? National Parks are everywhere, as are National Historic Sites and Landmarks. For pennies, they offer endless family entertainment. And there is nothing like a visit to a national park to change how you view earth, nature, and your connection to all living creatures. Whenever I stroll through a national park I thank Teddy Roosevelt for coming up with America’s best idea.
Moral: A day spent in a National Park will change your life forever.