Emergency breaks

Driving was always very important in my family because it was our main mode of transportation. We never flew anywhere. Family vacations were always taken by car. Every summer we would either head west to Colorado to visit family or east to St. Louis where the construction company Dad worked for had offices and hotel rooms he could write off at a discounted price.

Having to use the bathroom on a long, two-day drive wasn’t always fun. My father may be hard to motivate to move but once he was on the road, he didn’t want to stop. One time, my father finally got tired of our cries and moans and pulled over at a gas station so we could quickly (“You have two minutes only or I leave without you!”) run in to use the bathroom. My maternal grandmother insisted that she was fine and didn’t need to “spend a penny”. (“Spend a penny” was my grandmother’s usual euphemism for peeing. She referred to toilet paper as “hockey tickets”.) So, once all the kids had piled back into the car within ninety seconds (we had reason to believe Dad), we were back on the highway again.

About an hour later, Grandma began to twitch and groan. “Uh, Joe,” she called up to my dad in the front seat, “I need to use the bathroom.”

“We just stopped an hour ago, Edith,” Dad insisted. “Why didn’t you go then?”

“Didn’t have to,” Grandma responded like a five-year-old child.

Dad sighed, breathing heavily in order to gain control of his temper. “Well, let me find a place to stop…” And we drove for another hour. There was no place to stop. No gas stations for miles. Grandma was becoming more uncomfortable with each passing minute. She was not a small woman and her seated peepee dance was causing the car to careen in several different directions as we continued down the highway. Finally, totally exacerbated, and seeing no other choice, Dad at last pulled over by the side of the road near a clump of trees. “This is the best I can do, Edith,” he told her. “Just go back by those trees.”

Grandma looked absolutely horrified at the thought. “Listen,” Dad tried to convince her, “we haven’t found another gas station. We haven’t even passed another car for miles. This highway is empty right now. There is no one else around. It’s getting dark. You’ll be fine. Nobody is going to see anything.”

Grandma reluctantly climbed out of the car and looked up and down the long, lonely highway. Okay, it looked safe enough.

She moved over to the clump of trees, raised her skirt, lowered her underwear, and…

…Twenty-five, thirty cars suddenly materialized out of nowhere, zooming past my grandmother with her pants down on the side of the road, their headlights illuminating her bare white bottom. She yanked up her pants and ran back to jump into the car. Dad took off while Grandma cussed him for the next three miles as if he had purposely sat up that particular experience to keep anyone from asking to stop to pee again for the rest of the trip.


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