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FEARLESS MEMOIR: 'World's Fair' (Chapter 20)

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"World's Fair" is the raw and witty true story of a dysfunctional Southern family's harrowing motor-home roadtrip from South Carolina to the Montreal World's Fair in 1967 (aka "The Summer of Love"). Told from the point of view of the author -- who was 15 at the time -- this intimate coming-of-age story shines a bright light on the issues of alcoholism, adolescent sexual confusion, family violence and the universal need to love those who hurt us, despite their frailties.

Warning: Contains strong language; may not be suitable for all audiences.

CHAPTER 20: In Need of Rest

I woke up playing with the ring Daddy had bought me, rotating it around my finger with my thumb. It was like to a wedding ring, but not gold. So what? It was mine, and Daddy had gotten it for me. He might not always be around, like this morning, but I'd always have this ring.

Daddy's drinking had gotten far worse than what I remembered from when we used to go to ballgames, the lake to fish, or hunting. Sure, he drank on those trips, but not like now. I wondered if it was Momma's fault, because she had divorced him. Or my fault, because I hadn't run down and unlocked the front door that time....

Daddy finally showed up at the camper, hanging his head like a hounddog, looking literally like something the cat dragged in (as Momma would have said). Okay, so maybe a cat wouldn't have dragged a hounddog in. But Daddy's clothes, hands and face were filthy, as if he'd been working in a garden. If he'd had a tail, it would have been between his legs. But he didn't apologize or tell us where he'd been. Nor was he challenging us for not staying in the parking lot all night waiting for him.

Even though all of us kids were on edge and giving each other sideways glances and nudges, we were all glad that Daddy was safe. No one even asked where he'd been as we went about getting ready to go back to Expo '67 for another day's adventure.

It wouldn't have surprised me if by this point everyone was sorry they'd come to the World's Fair. But then Gee might've also been thankful, as I was, that she had come: Someone needed to be in charge. The twins didn't seem to appreciate what she was doing, though. They still blamed her for their not being allowed to drive. That still didn't make sense to me, either, because without them, it left only Daddy, Gee and me as drivers -- which really left only Gee and me as drivers, once Daddy started drinking. And now that my driver's license was lost, it left only Gee.

Shortly after Daddy got back, Gee suggested he take a shower. He seemed like he was in need of direction, and Gee was providing it. Once she said something to him, he started smiling and talking as if nothing had happened. We'd been ready to leave before Daddy had shown up, but we wouldn't have left without him.

Since I hadn't slept well, things seemed altered, out of kilter -- like I was off-balance. The day was clear enough, with the sun well above the pine trees. Still, my brain cells weren't firing like they should have been; I wondered if coffee would make the right-colored lights go off inside my brain like in the exhibit we'd seen. Since the camper had already been disconnected, I offered to go to the campsite office and get anyone a cup of coffee who wanted one. Gee was the only one who spoke up. I remembered that Daddy had put sugar and milk in his coffee when he'd lived at home with us. After I got back, Gee told me that I had put too much in hers. She poured it out. I thought mine was pretty good -- four teaspoons of sugar and some milk made it taste like caramel.

After Daddy had showered, we headed off. It didn't matter to me which pavilions we went to. All I wanted was for everyone to be happy and get along. Gee told me that both the French and Italians were known for what she called their "culinary expertise," and that it would be a great treat to eat at one of their pavilions. Food was not uppermost in my mind, but I decided that if it would make Gee happy, then it would make me happy.

While she was driving, Gee said, "I just don't know what we can do to stop Daddy from drinking. I suppose we should try to keep him with us."

"I'll stay with him today," I said. "Then you can go to any pavilion you want."

"No. If Daddy becomes adamant, if he won't listen to reason, then we should try to get the twins, both of them, to stay with him."

"Why?"

"They're stronger, and can, if they need to... Well, if he won't listen to reason, they might have a better chance of getting him to come back with them."

I knew Gee and I had been lucky the other day, but I was afraid our luck might have run out. And I wasn't sure that anyone could keep Daddy out of mischief -- lucky or not.

When we got to Expo '67, Gee told the twins, "We need to make sure Daddy stays with us today. Ya'll got that? Otherwise, it's going to be up to the two of you to keep him sober." I was surprised they didn't go completely nuts. They both simply nodded their heads.

We all hoped that since Daddy had been such a jerk yesterday, today he'd be good. Any one of us would've felt guilty and done anything the others asked had we acted foolish like Daddy. Sure, we wanted to have our way, but we would have bent over backwards to make amends. After all, we were family and loved each other. So we certainly expected our daddy to do the same.

As we left the parking lot and headed to the entrance, I went over and walked beside Daddy. The World's Fair skyline was visible over the St. Lawrence River. There was so much more for us still to see. Even though the coffee had made me jumpy and then a little weak, I got excited. But Daddy didn't seem to even be there -- his eyes looked like there was no one behind them, as if he wasn't even with us.

Even stranger was the fact that as soon as we started out, we went separate ways. Matthew, Mark and Daddy decided to go to the themed pavilions, while Gee and I went on what she called a "European tour." Daddy wasn't demanding any hair of the dog -- or anything at all, for that matter. The only sign of life was his acting like he wanted to be with the twins today, and they with him. Maybe, just maybe, it would be a great day after all.

The French pavilion looked like something from another world; it might have been found on Krypton, Superman's home planet. There was a mass of slender vertical structures, shooting out from the ground at an angle, with solid concrete squared-off towers and overhanging terraces. Inside, there was an open atrium from floor to ceiling, with balconies on each level. I was feeling weak again and getting hungry, so Gee suggested we have croissants, which she said were supposed to be delicious, and something the French ate every morning.

After they arrived, I asked, "Ma'am, may I please have some butter?"

The waitress laughed out the word for "yes" in French -- "oui" -- so it sounded like, "We-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee." I had no idea what was so funny.

Gee waited for the waitress to get the butter off an adjoining table before she took a bite of hers. "Oh, this is delicious," she said. "I don't think you'll need any butter on it." But it was too late. The croissant was still piping hot, and the butter melted quickly. "Here, try some jam."

"What kind of jelly is it?"

"It's not jelly, but jam, made with real fruit. It's apricot. Try it."

It was the best piece of bread I'd ever eaten. And once the jam-not-jelly was added, it was even better.

We wandered around for a while before making our way to the Italian pavilion. It looked similar to the Russian pavilion because it also had a ski-jump-style sloping roof. But the Italian pavilion was smaller. There was also a bow to it, as if it could have been a flying saucer. It was really neat. And there was a restaurant in the pavilion, so we had to try their pasta. I loved spaghetti with meat in the tomato sauce. It may have been my favorite food after a Hardee's hamburger.

At one point I told Gee my feet hurt, so we sat outside and did a lot of people-watching while smoking. My brain stayed in a disoriented state for most of the day. I may as well have been sleepwalking. Our fourth day at Expo seemed to pass by quickly -- more quickly than it should have.

When we got back to the camper in the parking lot, Matthew and Mark were already there, hanging around outside. Walking up to them, Gee asked, "Is Daddy in the camper?"

"He's not here," Matthew said, picking at his lower lip.

"What do you mean, 'not here'?" I asked.

For the first time in a long time, Mark didn't call me stupid. "We couldn't get him to leave with us," he said. "We tried, but he started calling us names. So we decided it was best to leave him."

Gee wasn't angry that the twins hadn't stayed with Daddy. She simply suggested we all get inside the camper. Once we were in there, she said, "I suppose I should have told you that Daddy was arrested last night. That's why he wasn't in the parking lot, and that's why he didn't come back until this morning. He was arrested for public drunkenness. For making a fool of himself."

"A jackass, more likely," Matthew interrupted.

"Matthew, if you don't shut up, I'm going to knock the shit out of you," said Mark, ever so calmly. If I didn't know better, I would've thought he was joking.

Matthew didn't reply, so Gee said, "I'm sorry I didn't tell you. Momma said...."

"You called Momma?" Mark asked.

"I wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing. Momma said Daddy had been arrested last year for the same thing. I suppose he'll get into trouble again tonight. I asked Momma if we should leave -- you know, go back home. But she said we couldn't leave Daddy in jail. She told me he would probably feel just awful, and not misbehave again." When no one said anything, Gee continued, "I'm sorry I didn't tell you. Please don't be mad at me."

"Nobody's mad at you, Genevieve," Matthew said. "But it would have been best had you told us. I'd like to suggest that we not keep anything from one another for the rest of the trip."

"Agreed," Gee said.

"Agreed," I parroted.

"What?! James knew, but we didn't?" Mark asked.

"Please don't," Gee pleaded. "I'm sorry. James was in the truck with me. There was no way I could keep it from him."

"Well, I don't see any reason for us to stay in the parking lot, just to be told to leave again," said Matthew.

"You have a good point," Mark agreed.

"If you think that's best, we'll go ahead and leave," Gee replied.

So there we were, torn down the middle, loving our father but hating his drinking. We'd all seen the movie Days of Wine and Roses. Jack Lemmon had been able to quit drinking in the movie. Why not Daddy?

After we got back to the campsite, Gee prepared some food and the twins filled us in on their day. "Everything was fine until Daddy wanted to go off and see the 'entertainment'," Mark began.

"What type of entertainment?" I asked.

"It wasn't really entertainment, but that's what he called it," said Matthew.

"He wanted to go sit in a bar," said Mark. "He finds it entertaining to get drunk."

"Or maybe it's the women," said Matthew. "We begged him to stay with us and go to another themed pavilion, but he lied and said he'd been to them already."

In defense of Daddy, I said, "Well, we did go to one of them yesterday." Matthew looked hurt, since we'd kept telling him we'd go to them together, so I added, "It was while Gee and I were babysitting him."

"Let's not call it 'babysitting,' okay?" said Gee. "We were with him, enjoying the Fair."

"Okay, so he'd been to one of them," Mark said. "The point is that he'd set his mind on getting a drink, and there was nothing we could do about it. We got on either side of him and tried to steer him into a pavilion. Each of us took one of his arms. He got angry and threw his arms out and hit both of us in the chest. He started calling us cocksuckers, and..."

"Please, Mark, I don't need to hear precisely what he said," Gee interrupted.

"Sure, sorry. So, like I was saying, he told us we weren't real men because we wouldn't have a drink with him."

"He usually doesn't act that way unless he's been drinking," said Gee. "Do you think he still has something here, in the camper, that he drank this morning?" Gee started looking around the camper for a bottle.

There was silence for about 10 seconds while the twins looked guiltily at one another. "Shit," Mark said at last. "We went into a pavilion while Daddy stayed outside. When we came out, he wasn't there. When we found him again, he'd already been drinking."

"His eyes were already glassy," Matthew added.

"So, like I said, after he hit us, we got mad and left," said Mark.

"Well, not right away," Matthew corrected him. "But once we noticed that people were staring at us, and Daddy kept yelling things at us, we left."

"We knew immediately it was the wrong thing to do," Mark added. "We knew we should've done something. But what could we do? I felt -- sorry, Genevieve -- I felt like a piece of shit."

"It's okay," Gee replied. Then: "Who's hungry?"

We could only pray that Daddy would be fine. Wherever he was, I hoped he was having fun because I no longer was. Except I did have a hard-on. I had absolutely no control over it. When I would least expect it -- bang! -- it would go full-throttle. Thank god it hadn't gotten hard while I was squeezing through the passageway. Whew, I was lucky in that at least.

After eating, before we went to sleep, we mostly played cards and laughed. We did argue, but we didn't fight. The twins didn't pick on me; no one complained. It's kind of funny how people pull together when they are up against the same thing. We were family. That's what family does -- at least in real life. If we had all been like Ozzie and Harriet, we would have been so boring. These were my brothers and sister, and I loved them. And I knew deep down inside that they loved me, too. It's weird, that kind of love.

We were being good to each other -- we were there for one another. So far it had been the best evening we'd spent together on this trip.

Little did we know how the evening was going to end.

COMING UP IN CHAPTER 21: Daddy's hands are tied... weave, stumble and fall... Gee becomes Superwoman.

Want to read "World's Fair" from the beginning? Click here and start with "Prologue, Part 1."

For more on becoming fearless, click here.