"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.
CHAPTER 2: The Best EENT In Town
Our daddy was a drinking man. Truth be told, he was an alcoholic who thought it was fashionable to be one. But I'm not sure it ever was, except maybe in those old movies about people who lived the high life during the Depression, back when Momma and Daddy were teenagers. Those movies certainly seemed to have made a big impression on Daddy. Like that one from the Thirties, The Thin Man, with William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles -- the kind of movie where no one ever seemed to work; all they did was drink and party.
Daddy was also a "good ol' boy," loved by everyone because they only saw the slightly-sober-to-tipsy versions. The drunken version was not at all pleasant, especially when he'd been drinking all day. I'm not sure his blood alcohol level would ever have qualified as "sober." No one outside of our family had seen him sober in years; they'd just seen him either less drunk or hungover. But somehow he got by as an eye, ear, nose and throat doctor. Whenever anyone asked, "Who is the best EENT doctor in Spartanburg?" they were told, "Dr. Stack." When they asked, "Who is the second best EENT doctor in Spartanburg?" they were told, "Dr. Stack drunk." That was my daddy.
Our journey to the 1967 World's Fair began on Saturday, July 29, 1967. Momma drove us out to Camp Croft where Daddy lived. I had to sit in the backseat with the twins. When Gee was in the car with Momma, she always got to ride up front; it didn't matter who had called dibs. I usually had to sit on the hard part of the backseat where the driveshaft ran underneath the car, in between the twins so they wouldn't fight -- which put me directly in their lines of fire, and meant I didn't get a window.
Some of us had hoped to get the show on the road as soon as possible, so it was fairly early in the morning when Momma drove us over to Daddy's house. It made more sense for Momma to take us out to Daddy's house since it was closer to the highway, and because we were going to start the journey in the camper Daddy had bought specifically for the trip. I'm sure Momma must have given us words of wisdom to take with us. She probably told us to call her if anything happened. But while she drove us over I had been daydreaming, as usual, about being rich and chauffeured around in a Rolls Royce, so I missed what she had to say.
We got to Daddy's house while our shadows were still elongated like we were giants. We were ready to hit the road, but Daddy wasn't. As usual, he'd already started hitting the bottle, so he hadn't finished packing. I suppose this was Daddy's way of silently saying it was a woman's job to pack for him. Besides clothes, Daddy's type of packing included trying to empty into the camper's small refrigerator the entire contents of his large refrigerator, which included a mustard bottle with only a little left on the bottom and some scrapings on the side, a half-empty ketchup bottle, a dill pickle jar with one spear remaining, a questionable carton of nearly empty milk, and other odds and ends.
When Momma saw that Daddy hadn't bought any new groceries for the trip, the only thing she could say was, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph." None of those were my daddy's name, so I had a good laugh. Well, it was actually that Momma didn't know what else to say, and when she didn't know what else to say, she'd say, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph." She took one look at Daddy's "packing" and immediately left to grocery shop. No one wanted to begin the trip with an argument, so we all just tiptoed around like mice until Momma got back. I always felt like it was my fault when things were not perfect. While I sulked, the twins checked out the camper and Gee helped Daddy with the refrigerator items.
Luckily, Momma showed up with food we could actually use: bread, butter, mayonnaise, peanut butter, jelly, cheese, hotdogs, beans, cookies and soda -- the kind of stuff she knew we would like and would be easy for us to fix. Momma was a momma. That was her job. Packing for Daddy or any of us, no, but making sure we were fed, yes.
When Daddy and Momma were still married we had a maid, Maryland, whose cooking was better than anything. Maryland had cooked roast beef and gravy, ham and red-eyed gravy, fried chicken and okra, biscuits, rice... all kinds of tasty things for dinner that we all loved. But after the divorce we only had Naomi to do the cleaning, and Momma had to do a lot of the cooking. Of course, she only knew three dinners: bean-dish casserole, beef stew, and stuffed green peppers. If she didn't open a can of vegetables, Momma would use a pressure cooker that whistled when it was cooking the green or lima beans to a pulp. While in the kitchen, sometimes Momma would hum or sing a song, but most often she let it be known that she didn't want to be there. She would also leave the worst mess for us to clean up, since Naomi didn't come but every other day. But at least she fed us.
While Daddy was packing, I was going in and out of the camper thinking that it was going to be impossible for all of us to be in there at the same time. This was the first any of us had seen the camper and we were all concerned with how cramped it was. I couldn't imagine five of us sleeping in there. Poor Gee. I mean, four guys farting all night. Hell, poor me.
The camper could have been really neat if it had been one of those silver space-age designs, but no: It was a white box, which was very trendy in the summer of 1967. You entered through the back. Barely one step in on the left side was a bathroom with a soup bowl-sized toilet and a tiny sorry excuse for a shower which looked impossible to get into, much less move around in. On the right side was a sliver of a utility closet which was about the width of a dustpan. One baby step further in on the left was the kitchen area, which had a little refrigerator under a counter, an even smaller sink, and two hot-plate type burners.
On the right was what Gee called "the banquette" -- the place where we would eat. It looked like only three people could sit there at a time, but it was also where two of us would sleep. Gee told me that the table could be lowered to the same level as the seat to create a sleeping surface. But the cushioned plastic seat next to the hard tabletop would create an uneven L-shaped area which didn't seem that inviting to me. There was a nook area up over the truck cab that had a super thin mattress where two more of us could sleep. Someone was obviously going to have to sleep on the floor, and I knew that since I was the youngest -- and the skinniest -- the floor and I were more than likely going to get to know each other all too well.
That was it. That was the camper.
For light and air there was a tiny vent (which Daddy referred to as a "window") in the bathroom, a small window over the sink in the kitchen, and a longer window behind the banquette. The best viewing was up in the nook above the truck cab, because it offered a panoramic view. As long as it didn't get all bug-encrusted, it would be a great window to look through.
But the worst part was, there was no phone or TV... or record player! God help me! I had no idea how I was going to pass the time on this trip. I didn't like to read. Playing with myself only took a few minutes, and anyway I couldn't see when I'd ever have the chance. As far as I could tell, the trip was going to be rather disappointing. At least I could look forward to being back before the new season of Lost in Space started. That was my favorite show, and I never missed a single episode. I'd heard they were going to make the robot actually fly in space.
Now, I loved my daddy the most of everyone. To me, he was great. But I'd already begun to learn that he wasn't perfect, and that's not exactly something I wanted to know. Still, I liked spending time with him. We'd go fishing, boating, waterskiing, and hunting together. Like I said, Daddy was a good ol' boy -- a Southern "bubba" who loved his hunting dogs almost as much as his gun or rod and reel. I didn't care if he'd get drunk when we were together, because he never did anything bad to me.
One time when he was drunk I saw him pick up one of his girlfriends by her hair, literally lift her by her hair off her seat in his boat and move her to a different place in the boat, just because he was pissed off about something and she wouldn't move when asked. I was 10 when that happened, and Momma and Daddy were in the long process of getting divorced. But he never did anything bad to me. If he'd tried that with me I would have jumped in the lake and gotten away from him. But then, he wouldn't have done anything like that to me because I never made him mad.
Daddy loved Gee and me more than anyone. We were his favorites and they all knew it because he was so nice to us. That was why Matthew and Mark beat me up all the time, and why they were jealous of Gee. They were vicious towards each other, but with me they were deadly -- especially Mark. I'd seen older brothers pick on their younger brothers, but the way the twins treated me was criminal. They were always, for no reason, hitting me or slapping the back of my head really hard, making it jerk forward, almost breaking my neck and giving me a headache. Or they would twist one of my arms behind my back while giving me huge bruises on both legs from charley horses until I cried. Then they would throw me on the ground in a sobbing heap.
When that wasn't enough, they would throw me on my back, still crying, and pound their knees into my upper arms, tearing what little muscle I had. They would keep hitting and slapping me while I pleaded and begged through my sobs for them to stop. Mark even kicked through more than one bottom panel of our bathroom doors trying to get at me for no other reason than that he had so much anger in him.
It made no sense. I longed for our family to be like My Three Sons, where they all got along, where everyone loved one another. Still, I couldn't help but wonder why Daddy didn't love Matthew and Mark.
COMING UP IN CHAPTER 3: Momma catches Daddy in the act... games people play... Genevieve makes grilled cheese sandwiches.
For more on becoming fearless, click here.