Susie and I were up to our usual shenanigans in the back seat of our car during the half-hour drive to Jerry and Nancy’s house. I had taken my spot sitting behind Dad and she was in her spot sitting behind Mom. As always, we were both sitting forward and leaning on the back of the front seat listening to Mom and Dad or observing our progress along the highway.
It wasn’t long before the listening and observing turned into bickering.
“Mom!” Susie shouted into Mom’s left ear. “Thad’s touching my side of the seat!”
The front seat of our parents’ Chevy Nova was split directly in the middle. We had both been told several times over to keep to our respective sides of the front seat. There was to be no touching of or hovering above our sibling’s side of the seat. Period. That also went for the hump in the floorboard. Breaking this rule could be met with severe punishment, a punishment that was so horrible to consider that it had remained unspoken and had never been meted out to date. It was enough to know that the repercussions of this punishment could possibly be a life-altering.
My sister and I took equal parts delight in tormenting one another. I was a good child and a loving brother until the day Susie stepped out of her bedroom and introduced her foot to my gonads. I laid there on the hallway floor in a heap crying out in pain while she stood over me laughing at what she had wrought. She got a good scolding for that indiscretion, but the unanticipated result of her indiscretion heavily outweighed the scolding she received. She tagged my boys a few more times after that before Mom or Dad finally got through to her that such an act would no longer be tolerated.
It was a free-for-all fight for survival after that. We bickered and fought almost daily over the most petty of issues. We’d fight over whose turn it was to set the table or wash dishes. We’d argue over which cartoon we were going to watch on Saturday morning – except for Land of the Lost, which we heartily agreed on. We’d argue about we were arguing about just to argue.
When it came to riding in the car, all bets were off. An argument was going to happen regardless of how long the trip lasted. The six-minute drive to Grandma and Granddad Studebaker’s house? We’d argue. The hour it took to get Grandma and Granddad McCord’s farm? We’d argue. The half-hour trip to Jerry and Nancy’s. We’d argue.
We seemed to intuitively know whose turn it was to start the arguing. It wasn’t a game we played, it was just our nature now, as if we were fulfilling our parts in the grand Game of Life. Mom and Dad did not see it that way.
“Thad! What did I tell you kids before we left the house?” Dad wanted to know. Before I could answer he added, “I told you to stay on your side of the car and not to bother each other.”
“But I’m not on her side,” I answered.
“He is, too!” Susie shot back.
Mom looked over her shoulder to see that I was at least a quarter of an inch from touching her side of the front seat. She gave me a look. I withdrew a little bit. “Susie, he’s not touching your side.”
“That’s not fair. You’re always taking his side,” my sister pouted.
“WHAT?” I shouted incredulously while giving her the skunk eye.
This went on for a few seconds before Dad warned us he would turn the car around and go home. My sister and I had heard this countless times in the past and Dad had never once turned the car around. We would get back to the picking and crying and setting a bad example for our little brother, Mick. We were about to start up again when Mom, possibly sensing something was about to happen, made a bet with us.
“If you two can keep quiet and not say another word until we get to Jerry and Nancy’s house, I will give you both a peppermint Live Saver.” She held up a roll of the sugary treats to show us her bona fides. “Say another word and we’ll go home.”
Susie and I nodded in acceptance of the bet and sat back in our seats. We were already on Highway 3 and only a few minutes from Eaton and the Witters’ house. These few minutes could be comfortably spent holding in our disdain for one another.
Dad crossed the bridge over the Mississinewa River without slowing down. Susie and I each shot him a quizzical look. He didn’t slow down as he neared Indiana Avenue, the street we turned on to get to Eaton and to Jerry and Nancy’s. He sped right on past our turn without a care in the world. Mom looked over at Dad and he at her. She grinned and looked back at Susie and me. Dad eyed us both in the rearview mirror.
Susie leaned forward to alert Dad to his mistake. I grabbed her arm and shook my head at her. For once, she didn’t complain. She understood what was at stake. Mom grinned even more as she turned back to the road ahead of us.
Now, I’d been out in the Eaton area with Dad enough to know that there was more than one way into town. Plus, Dad grew up in the area and no doubt knew of dozens of ways to get into and out of Eaton. He knew what he was doing. He was trying to screw us out of those Life Savers. I wasn’t going to allow that to happen.
Up ahead of us was a country road that would lead us towards Lakeview Golf Course and another road that entered the town of Eaton. My gamble was that Dad was messing with us and Susie almost went for it. I looked at her again to reassure her that things were okay.
Dad did exactly as I surmised. Once in town, he drove up and down and around on just about every street in town before he finally gave up on trying to break us. As soon as the car stopped in front of Jerry and Nancy’s, Susie and I leaped out of the car and unleashed a torrent of laughs upon our father.
“I knew what you were up to,” I admonished in between guffaws.
“You did? What was I up to?” Dad responded while trying to play dumb.
“Yeah, that was pretty tricky, Dad,” Susie added. “Nice try!”
“Why, you’re silly,” Dad told her. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The grin he was failing to hide put the lie to that.
All of us were laughing while we walked up to the front door, even two year-old Mick, who had no idea just what the hell he was laughing about. The laughing died down to a chuckle or two before Mom rang the doorbell. Just then Susie jumped as if a mild jolt of electricity ran through her entire body.
“Hey! What about those Life Savers you promised us?” she demanded.
All of us started laughing all over again. Except for my sister. She was dead serious. She wanted her damn Life Saver and she wanted it ASAP.