Tuesday, May 2, 2006

California Dreamin' - Pt. 3 - The Last Ferry Ride

Saying good-bye to my grandmother and aunt was perhaps the saddest thing I’d ever encountered in all my seven years – with the exception of my grandfather’s death, of course – but as life can’t be measured in what ifs, it was imperative we make this long journey to see what surprises life had in store for us.

We all had our reasons.

My new step-father insisted I call him Daddy, so Daddy it was. I didn’t care. It actually could work in my favor when I met new friends and introduced him. I really couldn’t introduce him as Bob. While he technically and biologically wasn’t my real father, it would have been okay, but this was a new beginning for me and part of the bargain was that I got a father out of the deal. So, Daddy it was.

Bob, I mean Daddy, had dark black hair that was cut so short, you could feel the prickles sticking up if you ran your hand across the top of his head. I don’t remember what he looked like before the Army recruiting office shaved his head, but I’ll always remember that crew-cut. Fit him to a T.

He was Army material. I didn’t find out just how Army material he was until we progressed further into our journey, but take my word for it, when my mother and aunt nicknamed him “Hitler” behind his back, they meant every word of it. But, that’s further along in the story.

My mother was the typical star-struck movie star wannabe. I knew why she married Bob…er…Daddy. It was her ticket to stardom, leaving the sticks, where until the day she died, hated with a passion. Not even leaving her mother and sister behind would have stopped this woman from climbing to her dreams.

I always thought Mother was a dead-ringer for Marilyn Monroe. She had the hair, the style, the pout, the sex appeal. If anyone had more ambition to be a movie star, it was she. And she fully executed her plan to become one, dragging me along with her, which also will come later in the story.

My aunt was crazy. Crazier than a looney-tune. I loved her, though, especially for the really neat presents she gave on birthdays and Christmas. Now there was a woman that would always be #1 in my book. One thing that really irked me was that she didn’t think twice about reprimanding me like she was my mother or something. But, I loved her and up until the day she died three years ago, I never stopped loving her.

My sister was but three and barely knew what was going on. I remember her sleeping most of the way. I don’t really remember much fighting at all. Give me time; I’m sure I’ll remember and if we didn’t then, we sure made up for it later.

I always blamed the fact that she had a different father than I did and that was the reason we were so different. Different isn’t even touching it. While I had blonde hair that cascaded down my back in curls, she had the reddest hair you’d ever seen. Kinky red hair. Which she hated the rest of her life.

We were a strange family indeed, but we loved each other. No matter what happened later, we still loved each other.

Since none of us had our licenses, Daddy was the driver. Another power position in the family. And he used this power whenever he could.

It took a couple hours to drive from Exmore to Cape Charles where we were to pick up the ferry to take us to Norfolk. The ferry stopped running a couple years after we made this journey and I am so thankful I got a chance to experience it. That was before they constructed the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel, a massive bit of construction overtop the Chesapeake Bay. Where it would take hours to cross from the Shore to Norfolk, it would only take a half hour by car.

The Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel opened on April 15, 1964, and cost in the area of $200,000,000 to construct. This was big money back then, too. It did save time to cross the bay to get to the rest of Virginia if you were going that way, but that ferry was neat to ride on—except for the fact I spent most of the time in the john throwing up—while it was still in operation.

We began our journey by ferry by pulling up and paying the lady at the window (I had to scrunch down real low so they wouldn’t see me and I could get in free—another one of my Daddy’s ideas to save money perhaps), then drive the car into the bottom part of the boat. At least, that’s the way I remember because once we got out, we climbed up.

I don’t think there was ever any child in the whole universe who had thrown up so much on that ferry as I did. I couldn’t wait for it to end. I did manage to stay up on board a little while, just long enough to get some Pepsi before I had to go throw up again. I slept in the car most of the way after that.

I remember some kind of argument, but I don’t know what it was all about. I think it was over my sister, but my memory isn’t kicking in. This was the first time I realized my step-father had a temper, but it sure wasn’t the last.


  1. Dorothy: Fascinating stuff.

    About Vegas, put off as long as you can, for it gets hot there. Go now, if you can, or wait till mid-September.

    Gene Maudlin

  2. Great story, Dorothy. I'd pay to read a story like this. :)

    Interesting you should mention Marilyn Monroe - my father met Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio when they were on their honeymoon in Japan. He's got the greatest pic of them with his Navy buddies.

    Skip Vegas and see more of those places you remember in California - Burbank, Long Beach, etc. Wish we could go together. :)

  3. You know, I was thinking about that. It would cost more, though, to fly there than Vegas even though they are right beside each other. But, still, I'd rather stay in California and visit Vegas if I had to. Hmm...Disneyland...there's a story right there...went all the way to the gate and they were closed. What a bummer that was to a 7-year-old child. Anaheim is it? I wonder if Burbank has all those superhighways...I'd be petrified. Still thinking...and planning. And, Kathy, I'd LOVE it if you could go, toooo!

  4. Burbank is a mass of huge buildings now. Disney, Warner Bros. and a few other enteraintment companies make their home there. Disney Animation has this awesome building, I love looking at going through the Valley.

    It is all superhighways out that way. Heck, all of So. Cal. is superhighways.

    Fascinating story, Dorothy.

  5. Oh, goodness, it really has changed, hasn't it? I'll bet it's nothing as I remembered. Maybe I'll just be satisfied getting my picture in front of the Welcome to California sign...I sure wouldn't want to hate California because it's changed so! Or maybe that's what I need..to open up my eyes to the fact that I should be happy enough knowing I have the memories. Reality I think would be really change things.

  6. Seeing how it is now will open your eyes and let you go. It usually works for me. I just need to see it again from time to time ...

  7. You mentioned you thought it might have been Hwy 58. That is the Mojave Hwy, from Barstow west through the Mojave Desert to Bakersfield and beyond. Try to remember the scenery you saw because that route would have been fairly baren & desert like while the roads farther north, like Hwy 50, go through tree covered mountains. If the scene was more like that in the photo in your archive, I'd bet it was Hwy 50 and through Reno.

    Talk with Junie. She was old enough that she'll probably remember more about the trip.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.