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Oregon Family Magazine

Ricky’s Road to Romance

07/08/2017 ● By Sandy Kauten
I was 15 and so girl-crazy that I should have been institutionalized. Instead, my father took me on a family road trip.

Our entourage consisted of Dad, my stepmother and the three sons. We visited the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, the oil fields of Oklahoma, Andrew Jackson’s mansion in Nashville and the Pueblo cliff dwellings in New Mexico.

My diary, which I kept every day, details every site we visited, every motel we stayed at, every postcard and letter I sent to my friends back home, and every adolescent girl I could get next to. And I got next to surprisingly many -- literally a ton of them, if my calculations add up correctly.

Because a girl named Peggy Johnson had permitted me to call her my girlfriend and hold her hand, I now regarded myself as a player in what my father called “The Game of Life.” So at whichever motel we’d checked into, I would scout the swimming pool or lobby for young enchantresses and inflict my company upon them. (In Colorado, my brothers and I went on a horseback trail ride that included three Texas hotties in blue jeans, and my imagination nearly hurt itself.) Each night, back in the motel room, like a birdwatcher updating his log book, I’d write down my notes on each specimen observed. I recorded their names, their ages, what they looked like, what we talked about and whether their accents were “cute” or “really cute.”

 Read the diary and you’ll get the impression that our car was driving itself. From July 16th to July 30th, there are only two incidental mentions of my father and no mention whatsoever of my stepmother. She had been in our family less than a year and ought to have been an object of curiosity or resentment or SOMETHING. Still mourning my mother’s death, was I making a point of not mentioning the intruder? No. She just didn’t interest me. No adult did.

This incident isn’t in the diary: We were sitting in a restaurant in Arizona, waiting for our food, and I was just minding my own business. (Back then, a large percentage of my business was undressing girls with my eyes.) Suddenly Dad said, “Ricky, quit staring at that girl. You stare at every girl every place we go. Everyone sees you do it, and it’s rude and embarrassing. Knock it off.”

“Sorry, Dad,” I said. But secretly I thought I deserved credit for not exerting the full force of my girl-watching powers, which in those days could inflict minor burns.

Fast-forward 40 years and you have me contemplating a road trip with my boy-crazy 14-year-old daughter Wendy. Her two older sisters have summer jobs that make them unavailable for a family vacation. “Wendy,” I asked her last spring, “How would you like to hit the road with Mom and me for a week or two? We could drive to wherever you want to go.”

“And leave my friends?” she said, “I’d hate that – unless we could bring along Mary.” That’s her best friend.

We like Mary, but whenever Wendy is with one of her friends, the rest of the family is shut out. To speak to them is to intrude. I wonder if maybe in the course of two weeks my wife and I could befriend them and we’d become a congenial party of four. But then I remember my teenage trip to the Grand Canyon and I don’t want to be the nonentity in the front seat who is there only to drive the car and scatter money at every stop.

Next year, if at least two of our daughters want to, maybe we’ll rent a house at a beach or a lake for a week. But what about this year?

If you’re reading this in early July, you may sense that the world is a happier place than it could have been.

My wife and I are in San Francisco, riding cable cars, touring fortune cookie factories, strolling the echoing corridors of Alcatraz, and stuffing ourselves with sourdough bread and Ghirardelli chocolates. And Wendy? As my parents should have done with me, we’ve institutionalized her. For most of this month she’ll be weaving baskets, singing beside campfires and breaking young hearts at Flirtation Valley YMCA Camp.

Sure, we could’ve dragged her along with us, but a vacation is a chance to get away from it all, and poor Wendy would be stuck with the very people she wants to get away from. And there’d be no getting away – especially from Alcatraz, where treacherous currents and icy water make escape virtually impossible. Ask anyone.

Rick can be reached at [email protected]