Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Childhood Memoir - Part III

Part III
One of the very best parts of any vacation, aside from the rental car, is the shopping. My dad gave each of us an exorbitant sum of fifty dollars to spend on anything we wanted during our three-week trip. It was the first time I had ever held such an enormous bill in my hands. The spending of that money was an important ritual, and not a task to be undertaken lightly. I know I wasted quite a bit of it on worthless candies and frivolities. But I also remember standing for long moments and agonizing over the enormous variety of wonderful D.C. t-shirts available from a friendly street vendor. I somehow knew that is was critical that I obtain a souvenir shirt to prove to the other kids back home that I’d really truly been to this exotically distant place. It was probably the furthest destination any of my peers had ever visited, and I wanted to show off how well-travelled I really was in the form of a ten dollar t-shirt. Frankly, the shirts on the street vendor stands still call to me. There is a purple hoodie with zebra print inside that I stare at every time I walk down the mall. I can’t decide if I really want it for me, now, or if the nine-year-old inside of me is the one who makes me want that sweatshirt so badly.

As I recall, the shirt I finally decided on was white, with a variety of D.C. attractions represented, including a panda bear and a soccer ball. But maybe I’m confusing it with some of my other favorite clothing. But panda bear aside, that shirt was one of my very favorite items of clothing for the next year of my life. I am glad I bought it on the large side, so that it sagged ridiculously but fit me for much longer. The last I saw of that shirt, it was extremely well loved and also very stained. I guess I was rather clumsy in my early years. 

Another important part of vacations was the fancy and fabulous hotels we stayed in. Now that I’m grown up and have to pay for my own hotel rooms, the quality seems to have declined greatly from my glory days of staying in hotels with my mom and dad. My dad’s job meant he belonged to an Embassy Suites rewards club of some sort, so that is where we always stayed. I loved the Embassy Suites with a passion. They always had more than three stories, which was a delight to my elevator-loving heart. The rooms were another of my favorite things, with two queen beds that we could jump back and forth between in hyper delight. But perhaps my favorite part of the Embassy Suites experience was happy hour.

Happy hour at the Embassy Suites used to involve free drinks and popcorn in the lobby for hotel guests. My mom would always get us freshened up from our day’s excursions and take us down to happy hour to meet my dad after work. Dad says he remembers coming into the hotel lobby many times and finding my mom, surrounded by her wild gaggle of children and a crowd of admiring businessmen. Lucky for my mom, chasing us around made for a great way to maintain her already attractive figure, even after four kids. And somehow, the crying outside of art galleries and worrying over swing-jumps hadn’t ruined her complexion, as it might have a lesser woman. My beautiful dark haired mom was admired wherever she went, and my dad would always have to rush into the lobby to rescue her both from the businessmen and from us.

With a twinkle in his bright blue eyes, dad would help us order our fancy cocktails, just like real adults. My sister and I were always delighted to wash down the complimentary popcorn with our very favorite drink, a Shirley Temple. Even the name was grown up, and it came in such a fancy glass, with a little straw to stir the pretty red beverage and spear the maraschino cherries. Although, now that I think about it, those rosy, sophisticated drinks may have been to blame for many of the aforementioned stains on my favorite shirt.

The only time I can remember that we didn’t stay at the Embassy Suites was when we took a road trip up to New York City. Dad got us a hotel on the eighty-second floor of the Double Tree Hotel. If we had thought the Embassy Suites was the lap of luxury before, the Double Tree was like a palace. I remember sticking my head out of our hotel room window and staring across New York in awe at the amazing display of lights and sounds. It was truly a breathtaking view. My mom admits to being frightened of even the elevator ride and my older sister was also scared of heights, but I reveled in my bravery and defied gravity by dangling more of my body than was really wise out that window.

We left the Double Tree to go out to dinner that night. My parents were walking a bit ahead with the two younger siblings, and my older sister and I were lagging a few steps behind. Suddenly, a middle aged black man (he was probably in his late twenties, now that I think about it. But he appeared quite old to me) approached us and started speaking in a very strange language. We couldn’t understand his New York accent at all. He asked my sister several questions, and we just stared at him in complete confusion. Was he really speaking English? 

And then, in a brilliant rush, our mother was in between us and the stranger, shrieking words into his face that neither of us could understand. In righteous indignation, she stood nose to nose with this confusing hooligan and defended us with stunning fierceness. The only thing I understood was that she kept screaming “She’s only thirteen years old! How DARE you!” What was it that man had wanted with my sister? And why should her age matter?

When we got older, we found out that the man was propositioning my sister. Lucky for us, we didn’t understand a word. Unlucky for him, my mom sure did. I almost feel sorry for that man. An outraged mother is a very formidable creature, probably the most dangerous on earth. I still remember the sense of awe and wonder at the sight of my mother dressing down a huge man on the street with such command and power. She truly was an amazing sight to behold, an avenging angel with fire in her eyes that withered anything that threatened the security of her loved ones. I have seen that passion in her in the years since, and it still moves me with admiration. My mom has said that she regrets causing such a scene in public, but I don’t think she should. It was New York, after all. 

(image and text via me)
(please note that not all memories are entirely accurate; some official data may have been lost or changed over time)

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