Having recently spoken to a dear friend of mine on the subject of “Shit Our Parents Did To Us”, and then seen a fascinating – and at times disturbing – thread on the subject on Reddit, I started thinking back to stories I could tell about my own childhood experiences being raised by my hardworking and often stressed out dad, and my can-do trooper mom.
As it turns out, my mom was pretty even-keel growing up, which is good for developing a mostly well-adjusted (or at least non-homicidal) child, but doesn’t make for embarrassing stories to tell on the internet.
My dad, (Larry Sr.) on the other hand, had a lot on his plate, between keeping my sister and I fed and clothed, running his own business, driving hundreds of miles a week, and lifting, cleaning and repairing multi-ton machines, often in horrible environments. This left him somewhat edgy and a prone to acting out. Sometimes this was bad, other times, he’d vent the steam by channeling it though his sometimes rather twisted sense of humor.
This is a story of one such incident.
Lightweight, Fuel Efficient, Stylish… Watertight?
My early childhood was spent in the coastal military town of Portsmouth, VA. I have a lot of fond memories there, far more than I have of Hickory, NC, which is where we moved in the late ‘80s. The climate was breezy, there were beaches, festivals, and firework shows I still remember being awed by.
There were also ferries. Not “Tinkerbelle” or “Sashay” – that’s fairy – but large, flat-topped boats who’s purpose was to move you and your car – usually for a nominal fee – across a body of water, such as a river, where there were no bridges.
Where we were is lost to time. A spot of research on my part points to it possibly being the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry. All I can recall is that we were first in line awaiting the return of said ferry to take us to wherever we were going.
I was in the back seat of our super-awesome-mega-cool VW Type 3. We owned two back then, at different times – one orange, like the one above, and one red. I hated the red one because it had the gall to break down on the middle a bridge despite the fact it was running expensive top of the line motor oil – but that’s a story for another time.
I’m not sure if I got impatient and started getting on my parent’s nerves, or if dad himself got bored and decided to entertain himself by filling me to the brim with horror and panic – really, he seldom needed a prompt to mess with me, because, as a perpetually worried and somewhat fidgety child, screwing with my head was incredibly damn easy.
Either way, Dad decided to take a true historical fact, twist it into a plausible lie, and have at me. We were sitting on a ramp, nose of the car pointed at the water below, while the ship was off tending to it’s other customers.
I’m making up the dialog here, but this is more or less the way it went down:
DAD: “You know, we don’t have to wait for the Ferry.”
ME: “We don’t?”
DAD: “No, no. We can go across now!”
ME: (beginning to worry) “No, we can’t! This is a car, not a boat!”
DAD: “You didn’t know? Volkswagens can float!”
Now, here’s where dear ol’ Dad got me on a technicality. See, he, much like Fox News editors, used a bit of ‘plausibly deniable’ fudging and dropped a word. So, the correct sentence, “Some Volkswagens can float!” became a blanket statement for all cars manufactured by Volkswagen.
FYI: The Floating VW was called the Kubelwagen (later known in the US as “The Thing”.) This car had the same rear-mounted air-cooled engine, only the car was caulked to be watertight, and there was a shaft to switch the engine’s output from the wheels to a propeller. Needless to say, our VW Type Three had none of these things.
I sat back down in the rear seat, worried that my Dad had lost his mind.
That’s when I heard the parking brake disengage.
Before I could ponder the sound for more than a moment, the car suddenly jerked forward: dad was pressing down – and quickly letting up on – the clutch.
DAD: “Come on, it’ll be fun! Let’s go now!
At this point, I imagine I let out a sound something like this:
DAD: “Aww, come on! We’ll get there in no time, just keep the doors shut real tight to keep the water out!”
At this point, dad presses on the clutch again,and the car rolls forward, ‘hurtling’ towards a watery grave. I can only wonder what the people behind us in line were wondering what the hell had gotten into the VW’s driver.
Also at this time, my mom finally concludes that the game has gone far enough, and the look or abject terror on my face is no longer cute. That or the noise I was generating was about to blow out her eardrums.
MOM: “LARRY! Stop it – he’s terrified!”
DAD: “Aw, we could paddle –
DAD: “Alright, alright, we’ll wait on the ferry.” (pulls up the brake).
I can’t really remember what I did or thought after that, other than the distinct impression that I spent a few minutes clawing the vinyl seatbacks like a distressed, trapped cat.
I should note we were never in any danger. The car moved – maybe – a six or seven feet towards the water, but in my mind we came within inches of drowning.
Dad got his yucks, I shut up, and mom ended up looking like the hero who saved us all from my homicidal, unhinged father.
And he wondered why I was a momma’s boy growing up.