April 13, 2019

Chapter 10 - Cruising With Cannatas

Cruising With Cannataa

Growing up, outside of my house, the single most important place where I spent the best of times with my family was in the family car. 

Road trips were a staple item in life for the Cannata clan. It was a tough and thoroughly distasteful chore for my parents when it came to spending time alone with any one of their kids. None of us kids really ever got the sense that we were special in an individual way. We never debated who 'the favorite' was. We were convinced our parents disliked hanging out with any of us with completely equal passion. Hanging out with us one at a time was just not possible with the limited years they had ahead of them. If they were going to spend time with their kids, which my parents felt they had to by law, they were going to do it all at once and get it out of the way with one serious group effort.

Instead of, one-on-one time, when it came to entertaining their kids, my parents had more of an 'all-at-once' approach to family bonding. On most weekends during the school summer vacations and at least once a month over the school year, twice during October, November and December, we would all load up into the family station wagon and head out on a long, meandering cruise; usually with a mysterious and unknown destination; Or... even better... with no destination at all. It was the journey, not where we were going that was the reason for many of the rides. Even if he had nowhere to go, my father loved to drive around in the car.

When my parents planned on going out without us, their preparations were conducted with a level of secrecy not unlike that practiced for national security. We never knew until the last minute they were getting ready to leave. They would groom themselves slowly and surreptitiously over the course of the day. They never got dressed until the last possible minute behind closed doors to avoid tipping us off. Then suddenly their bedroom door would open and they would appear in a rush at the parlor door. They would announce they were 'going out', state the usual list of rules, assign a babysitter to us and run like hell to the car before we could raise a decent protest.

But on those days when they were going to take us with them the routine was completely different. My father and mother would give us the sign by way of getting dressed in a way that announced they were preparing to go out in public. And since they weren't hiding their preparations, it was understood by all of us in the house that we were welcome to go with them. Once the word was out, my siblings and I would start our own preparations.

The line at the bathroom door would form in a hurry. Number ones went first. If you had to do number two you had to do it quickly or risk losing your seat. Based on the weather and season we would equip ourselves for the coming adventure as best we could and take our positions at the door.

The cars we owned were always station wagons for obvious reasons. While I'm sure a pickup truck would have worked just as well, my father was always considerate enough to provide a roof to protect his precious cargo from the elements. My father loved station wagons. Clark Griswold's car, the customized, oversized and utterly grotesque contraption referred to as the "Family Truckster," in the movie "National Lampoon's Family Vacation", would have been my fathers dream car.

My father would start up the car and we would all wait while it warmed up for the call to board. For some unexplained reason my father felt the car warmed up better unloaded. When the car was ready, which meant it had run long enough that my dad was reasonably certain it was going to make the trip, he would shout out like a train conductor.

"Everyone who wants to go for a ride get in before I leave or all the seats are taken!"
Once the car was full, the doors would shut, locked and away we would go with the sound of loose mufflers, creaking suspension and the squealing, excited chatter from all the kids in the car. Usually it was filled with Cannatas but if we were lucky and our siblings were too slow claiming a seat, we could get a friend in as well. It didn't matter to my father who was in the car as long as it was filled.

Once it was at peak capacity he would drop it into drive and the transmission would let out a scream of pain as we trundled down the street picking up steam. The neighbors would often come out to their porch and smile brightly and wave as we drove down the street. I realized later the smiles were ones of relief. For the neighbors, a day without the Cannata kids tearing up the neighborhood was always a good day.

Legend has it that one time, when my mother wasn't there to identify the kids, my Dad took off with a car load of strange kids none of which was his own. Legend further has it he never even noticed that none of them were Cannatas until he got home and found his own kids waiting with very unpleasant expressions on their faces.

I loved riding in the car and by the time I was ten I could find my way to almost every corner of New England. Every route to every state park, amusement park, drive-in, beach and tourist trap was committed to memory well before I was old enough to drive myself. Our family wagon broke down often and as a result, by the time I was old enough to have my own car, I was also able to perform most common emergency repairs using improvised tools and methods passed down to me by my father. Engines were easier to understand in the 50's and 60's. A slant or straight six cylinder engine wasn't much more complicated than an average lawn mower. Repairs could be made with coat hangers, string, tape and miscellaneous bits and pieces of spare parts from the trunk or wheel well.

Like a happy dog, once on the highway, I would stick my head out the window and gulp down the wind as it rushed passed and blew my hair into a tangled mess. I loved the smells and sounds of the traffic on the highways. I would breathe as deep as I could when we would pass fields and farms with all the smells I came to associate with the 'country'. There was never anything quite as thrilling as finding my way to a place I had never been before. My imagination would run wild as I tried to feel what it would be like to live beside the mountains or on a vast farm with crops and animals.

The car was a small place but it was never as confining as my neighborhood in the 'big city'. I hated sitting in my house. Unless I was reading a good book or it was raining or too cold, I would spend most of my days outside playing or walking around my neighborhood, reluctantly heading home to the confines of my room at night.

As a boy, I could sit in a moving car all day and never want to stop. Never sure that once it stopped it would start up again I would hold my water until it was leaking out of my ears rather than ask for a rest stop. The scenes that rolled past the windows were better than any TV show ever. I inherited my father's love of cars and cruising. I drove cabs and trucks for over 30 years and never tired of driving for more than a day. I still enjoy the feeling of riding down a long stretch of highway or a back road with the windows open and the radio playing.

Going nowhere and never in a hurry to get there.

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