Friday, June 15, 2018

Doing Shots with Mickey Mouse

For some unknown reason, I can remember events that happened many years ago with remarkable clarity. I cannot recall exactly what it is that I need to pick up this afternoon at the grocery store, but I can remember exactly where I was, and what toy I was playing with, when I heard that John F. Kennedy had won the 1960 Presidential election. It makes no sense, but it comes in handy sometimes.

Back in 1959, when I was one month shy of my fourth birthday, my parents and paternal grandparents decided to take a car trip from Tennessee to California to see my uncle, aunt, and cousins. My mom and dad had lived in California when I was born but had moved back East several years later, so in addition to visiting my dad's brother and his family, they also wanted to get back out West to see some of their favorite places. My dad had recently purchased a 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air, shiny yellow with lots of chrome and a big old V8 under the hood. It was a powerful, yet comfortable car, but it was also produced during a time when air conditioning was a relatively new thing, and our car didn't have it.

And so it was, on a sunny morning in April, 1959, we headed west from our home in Dyersburg, Tennessee, with my dad driving, my mom in the front passenger seat, and yours truly in the back, sandwiched between my grandmother and grandfather, who by the way, were always impeccably dressed. We crossed the Mississippi and headed into the wilds of Arkansas.

My parents were savvy about car travel, having crossed the country many times on their own, so before we left, they purchased a couple of toys for me to play with on the trip. One, designated as the westbound toy, was a doctor's kit, and the other, which I was supposed to keep wrapped until the return trip east, was a plastic toaster that could be disassembled and reassembled. Once we had gotten some miles behind us, I pulled out the doctor's kit and got to work.

It's worth noting here that in those days, just about every other child born in the United States had some type of allergy or respiratory issue, and I was no exception. I was constantly being taken to the doctor, a wizened older fellow in downtown Dyersburg who would give me a shot in my buttocks (as Forrest Gump would say), then "allow" me to go home until the next poke session. The shots never seemed to do much, but I started to take them for granted as part of life.

Since our California trip would clock in at nearly 1,900 miles each way, and given the fact that I had no siblings, I brought along the only friend that would fit in the car with me and everyone else, a little squeezable plastic Mickey Mouse. He wore his trademark red pants but had long since lost his shirt, which was a good thing, since a) the car had no air conditioning and b) we would be driving through the desert. Almost immediately upon opening the doctor's kit, I started giving Mickey shots. I was concerned for his health, and it kept my little brain occupied knowing that I had to care for him on a regular schedule. In effect, it made the miles tick away. Mickey got a shot about every hour or so, and this amused my parents and grandparents alike.

We had many adventures on that trip. Mickey and I saw Hoover Dam, a vestigial version of Las Vegas (I still remember the old Sands and Golden Nugget signs), and the Grand Canyon. We even survived a flat tire in Needles, California, which is notable for often being the hottest place in the United States. Finally, after several days of driving, we made it all the way to Los Angeles and marveled at how anyone could grow a palm tree right in their front yard. We watched TV the night that my mom and dad went to see Lawrence Welk, and we saw, right there with our own eyes, my mom dancing with Mr. Welk. Mickey seemed to be doing well in California, so I pulled back on the shots schedule to give him a little room to enjoy himself.

After a couple of glorious weeks, it was time to head back East, so we said our goodbyes, and I resumed Mickey's shots, just to be on the safe side. I also opened the plastic toaster and began disassembling and reassembling it between administering shots. I was one busy guy, just let me say.

Everything was motoring along well until we got to Needles, where once again, upon entering the city, we had a flat tire. We got that fixed and left town, then headed east. It must have been about 30 or 40 miles before I realized that Mickey was missing, so my dad (and I will never forget this) turned the Bel Air around on an Arizona highway and headed all the way back to our motel in Needles, where I found Mickey safely nestled in the bed sheets. We got back out of town with no further tire damage.

I don't remember much about the trip back home, other than the fact that my grandmother put sheets of comics from the newspaper up on the windows to shield us from the desert sun. My grandfather, never a stitch out of place and almost always in a good mood, would make sly observations from time to time that would keep the rest of us reasonably happy, given the close proximity of our seating arrangements. My mom and dad seemed to have gotten their fix of California, at least enough to sustain them until their next trip out, which, as it happened, wouldn't be for another ten years.

I guess we often take family time for granted when we're younger. But I still remember so much of that trip, the joy on my parents' and grandparents' faces when we got out of the car in Los Angeles and saw our family. The moments we shared were all ours, and even Mickey was a part, thanks to some good proactive health care on the part of his owner. The trip was so worth it.

If you're headed out of town this summer, be safe, and I hope that you experience, to borrow an old Esso phrase, "Happy Motoring." I also hope that you can make some memories of your own, so that one day, you'll have some stories to tell, regardless of whether regularly scheduled preventive healthcare and appliance maintenance are involved.