Monday, April 8, 2019
My first visit to the Sierra…
The ’54 Ford Ranchwagon was brand new. Not that I remember. Dad had banged up a ’46 Chevy in a collision at an intersection – a collision that, to his dying day, Mom would not let him forget – so we needed a new car. All this I was told. I was also told that in celebration of this new family car our first road trip would be to Yosemite. In later years, Mom always prided herself in packing our succession of station wagons such that no cargo rested above the lowest portion of the windows. “Safest to drive if you can see out the back,” she’d said. Also safest to have a two-door car rather than a four-door car because, so she explained, when she was growing up in Houston in the 30s, some poor kid fell out the back door of a four-door Hudson or a Plymouth or something, landed on his head on the pavement and “…was probably addled for the rest of his life.”
I’d just turned two so I don’t remember anything about this first-trip-for-me to Yosemite or how the car might have been packed. I know only what I was told. And only what I was told after once, when as a teenager, I happened across a yellowing Kodachrome slide – shot by Dad with his trusty Signet 35 – of me standing in a wet didee on a picnic table, shoulders just unclutched by a red-sneakered Mom whose skirt was soaked nearly up to her waist. The Merced River slipped by in the background of the frame. Brother Bill looked on.
The ride from LA’s Altadena suburb to the valley floor had been hours long. And, in the days long before car seats or seat belts – how ever did we survive?– I had a lot of time to rumble around in the back seat with brother Bill. At twenty-seven months, I wasn’t much interested in the scenery, I suppose. And even if we did have that travel bingo game – the tagboard gameboard with the little plastic windows – I would more than likely have occupied myself chewing on the gameboard’s corner than matching what was outside with what was illustrated on the card.
Anyway, upon our arrival in Yosemite Valley, apparently Dad pulled into a lovely spot in a valley floor campground backed by the river. Apparently, also, was that once the seat in front of me was unoccupied, I could easily push the seatback forward and tumble out through the open passenger door. And speaking of apparent, the rushing water of a snow-melt-flush Merced River must have been quite inviting because within moments, I was “bobbing up and down like a little red-headed cork,” according to Dad, who always chuckled when he told this, “as the river sorta carried you away.”
I didn’t hear Mom shriek or Dad swear. All I have to recollect with is a once-obscure bit of family history linked to my discovery of an old Kodachrome slide depicting a two-year-old me atop a park service picnic table and a terrified, half-soaked – and likely infuriated – mother, undoubtedly at a loss for what to say or do next.
We camped elsewhere that night.
And for the rest of Dad’s life, once the story was… well… public, Mom’s telling always concluded with, “I told Clayton not to pick a campsite so close to the river!” followed by: “I had to go in there and rescue you because he was fumbling with that damned camera of his.”
Church of the Open Road Press