Our RV passes by Silverwood Theme Park, I watch from dining room window. Home of Idaho’s largest roller coaster! is emblazoned on the side of rickety, wooden beams. It’s probably true, but it hardly seems like an achievement. Sure, I may make a mean sandwich, and yes, I put peanut butter on both sides to reduce jelly juice seepage, and of course I cut my bread diagonally because it makes the pieces seem larger and absolutely I use a spoon to make the sandwich, but no one really cares right? I don’t have, ‘Home of this block’s BEST peanut butter and jelly sandwich!’ signed on my house.
Worst of all, I spot the Farris Wheel that marks my infinite shame. A Farris Wheel that reminds me of the three hot cocoas I drank in one sitting and the bathroom dance I did for the rest of the day. After three or four visits to the little gentlemen’s room, my grandmother got tired of my pit stops.
“Oh brother!” she says to me, knitting her eyebrows together with such effectiveness it makes it look like she has a single, solitary unibrow. “How many times do you have to go the bathroom in one day? I bought a day pass for fifteen dollars. Fifteen dollars! You can bet your bippy we’re gonna use it!” She grabs me by the hand and we walk towards the next ‘attraction.’
I didn’t know what a bippy was, or if it what we’d be betting it on, but it seemed to me it was important. She used the word like an exclamation point, it added flair and severity to what she was saying. I never took her on her bets, but I will always wonder what would have happened if I had. If I had thrown down and said, “I see your bippy bet and raise you two more bippies!” The fact of the matter was she didn’t believe me. She thought I was moping and dragging my feet (a skill I was quite adept at as a child) and attempted to call my bluff.
It wasn’t until we were fifty feet in the air that she realized she was wrong. My faded jean shorts turned a darker shade of blue in the crotch region and the stale smell of humiliation filled the air around us. Only then did she realize that I hadn’t been lying. I bet you’re counting your lucky stars you didn’t bet that bippy now, eh grandma!? I wanted to say, but held my tongue.
We walked away from the crime scene, my hand in hers. I waddled towards the car with the kind of discomfort one can only feel when they’ve pissed in their favorite pair of cut off jean shorts. I’m wearing one of my towel shirts – the kind I boasted to my friends, “If I sweat, it soaks it right up!” – but seems hardly useful or appropriate at this point. Perhaps I should be investing in towel shorts? “If I piss my pants, it soaks it right up!” Not quite the marketing slogan Target wants to go with.
The RV takes a 90 degree right hand turn and puts the theme park in the impeccable rearview mirror. “Almost there!” my father says to me. We take another right hand turn five minutes later and arrive at my grandmother’s house, proving the truth to my father’s statement.
She lives on a ranch. Or at least, that’s how my seven year old brain saw it. Large acreage complete with a horse, a mule, a small creek, a tractor and enough nighttime crickets to drive a man mad. My father drives the RV with one hand, the other casually rests on the armrest of the door. He’s whistling a nameless tune and grinning at nothing in particular. He’s the very image of someone driving a Mustang, Cadillac or Nova; proud, at ease and smiling. The only difference is he isn’t driving a Mustang, Cadillac or Chevy Nova, he’s driving a 22 foot RV. He deftly swings the RV through the gate, a sign with Elmer Fudd on it greets us – Welcome to Randolph’s Roost! – he then makes a quick turn into the driveway.
My father’s driving perplexes me. It always has. He’s someone that can parallel park a 22ft RV in a 10ft parking spot in downtown San Francisco amidst rush hour traffic. He avoids car accidents and has the uncanny ability to drive for long periods of time. He prolongs the life of a car well past its expiration date in such a way I want to start calling him Dr. Frankenstein instead of Dr. Blakeslee. I imagined him in the garage, with jumper cables leading from the roof hooked up to the dead battery of a dead 1992 Plymouth Acclaim. Lightning strikes, the headlights flicker at first then the car roars to life like an old dying cat. “It lives!” he cries and cackles, his arms shaking in the air, fists closed tightly. “IT LIVES!” He has a way of pouring time and money into a machine that would anyone would have sent to the junkyard after one look. “Just needs a little TLC.” He’d explain, after rolling yet another maroon interior, maroon exterior four door grandma car.
But there’s a part of his driving that seems ahead of his time, and not just in the types of cars he buys. I don’t mean in the visionary sort of way either, the same way Einstein, Van Gough and Joan of Arc were ahead of their time. I mean in the 80 year old, drive-by-brail sort of way. The don’t-use-your-blinker-and-merge-into-traffic sort of way. You know the kind, the I-just-pulled-a-U-Turn-in-Oregon-because-rules-don’t-apply-to-me sort. The good news is it won’t be hard for him to transition into the elderly style of driving; he’s had decades of practice. I’m confident I’ll never need a pair of defibrillators if my heart ever stops while he’s driving, it jumps to life with every turn and stop he makes on the road.
So when he pulls the RV around the center planter in my grandmother’s circular driveway, I’m not surprised when I leave the RV and find my feet directly at the path to the house. He’s lined it up perfectly and he knows it. David Blakeslee leaves the vehicle with a smile and walks around the RV to regard his exquisite parking job. He plants his hands on his hips and breaths in the air deeply, “Well,” he says, “we made it!”
My grandmother comes out and we all greet her warmly. “Pair-fect, pair-fect, pair-fect!” she cries in her way and holds her hands in the air. She fills her arms with her three grandchildren and grins through her gradient, blue-tinted prescription glasses that are so large, they threaten to swallow her face. The lenses are the size of baseballs and they predate the lunar landing but that doesn’t faze her. She wears sweatpants with a matching sweat shirt, the only contrasting color is the turtle neck insert she’s sewn into the collar. Her white Velcro shoes match my baby brother’s. It’s an outfit she’s been wearing for fifteen years, and one she’ll wear for fifteen more. It some way it’s nice; I had the same grandmother when I was seven years old as I did when I was graduating college.
And so my watch ended; for now. My purgatorial drive from Portland, Oregon to Coeur d’alene, Idaho was finished, yet our journey had just begun. With our RV parked and things unpacked, we stayed in the small rural area of my Grandmother’s house. And just beyond the horizon lay Yellowstone: an area that instilled primal fear in my young mind, and left me with not with wonder or awe, but with nightmares and terror.