We are in a ditch. We’re almost at a ninety-degree angle. Papa Joe overshot the gravel and his “refreshed” Buick had fallen sideways into the ravine. Thank God, it’s not too deep a ravine; at least we are salvageable.

The four-door is now a two-door and we have only one way to get out and look at the cows. That way is up.

Papa Joe, spitting dirt, asks if everybody is okay.

Trish, who has her two brothers’ and sister’s weight upon her shoulders (and elsewhere) now says, “Please, can you guys get off me. You’re squishing me.” I urge Lenny to open the door and he complains it’s stuck. “Use your feet then,” I tell him. “Push, Lenny.” “Hurry,”

Trish moans. “Lenny, please hurry,” adds Wendy, who seems more worried about her doll than herself. Wendy’s nose is bleeding, and the blood is dripping on her “Cindy” and Wendy is freaking about it. “My poor Cindy . . . Hurry, Lenny.”

“Mother, Mary and Joseph,” sighs Nee. “What are we gonna do now? Believe me, you Joe, I’m never getting in the car with you again.” I know I’ve heard her say this before. Was it the last time we’d been up here? Hmm, let me think . . . no, it was the time before. Oh yeah, when we got stuck in the mud after Papa Joe wanted to take a shortcut through somebody’s cornfield. Besides that, a grumpy old man with a beard and overalls came out onto his porch with a rifle and took a few potshots. Could hear the bullets whizzing through the stalks of corn. Luckily, I’d been doing push-ups and pull-ups that week and I was stronger than an ox. I got out of the car and then behind it and with a little help from Trish, pushed the car out of the mud just in time. The old man gave up on the “shooting from the porch” idea and now was on his motorbike, closing in on us. Man, I could still hear the bangs and the booms from his rifle.

The cows are coming toward us and laughing. We are the attraction, the sideshow. I know what they’re thinking: How stupid these people are driving their motorcar sideways into the ditch.

Moo-mooing to each other how funny we look climbing out of the motorcar with Nee’s makeup smeared about her face and her hair hanging in every direction and Papa Joe spitting dirt and cursing the ground that ate his car and the rest of us dabbed in blood and reeking of embarrassment.  Moo, Moo, moo, people are stupid, they must be saying.

Luckily, the cow’s mooing has alerted the man, a cowboy I guess, who is coming toward us on a . . . horse, no a . . . what is that? A mule?  No, it’s a dog, rather large dog. “Nee, look! A man on a dog.” Nee, whose eyes are “not what they once were” squints and puts her hands to her eyes binocular-like and peers into the pasture. “That’s not a dog,” she says, “it’s a buffalo.”

Papa Joe, shaking his head, disagrees. “That’s not a buffalo. And surely isn’t a dog. It’s a llama.”

I guess he knows what a llama should look like, the rest of us sure don’t. We haven’t been to the places he has, no, not even Nee. Before they met and got married, Papa Joe was a merchant marine, traveled the world, saw tigers and snakes and sharks and rhinos and yes, llamas.

And if I’m not mistaken, llamas are from South America, Peru or something. Think one of my teachers told us about llamas living in South America. Oh yeah, it was Miss Atlas, my Geography teacher, back in sixth grade. I know, Miss Atlas — a geography teacher? Her name since birth. No wonder she chose geography as a career. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Anyway, Papa Joe had traveled the world, been to a lot of ports and beyond, and in his travels acquired a taste for the lager and that is the reason, I think, for the heavy foot and sideway Buick. Should’ve known why he dropped us off before he headed off to Larry the mechanic. Everybody knows that next door to Larry is The Spinnaker Saloon. 

There, I’m sure, Papa Joe added a few more lagers to the ones he had with his cheeseburger back at Leah’s. Ah, Leah. I hope she’s feeling better with her toothache. I miss that girl; maybe I can see her again before we return home tomorrow. That’s if we return home tomorrow. If we have to walk, we’d get into Chicago, oh, maybe a day or two before Christmas.


It’s Pedro Valdez, the hired hand. Papa Joe remembers the story now.

“Oh yes,” he says, the Neumann’s hired him when they were vacationing in the Andes. Pedro wouldn’t leave South America without his Llama.” Explanation accepted, I go over to the fence and introduce myself. Pedro tips his cowboy hat.

He says something but I don’t know what he’s saying, my Spanish isn’t very good. Trish, who has taken some Spanish in school is nominated spokesperson and goes over to the fence to explain our situation.

Pedro tips his hat again and his llama kicks forth a pile of dirt, nearly hitting Lenny, who takes cover behind the mile marker.

Papa Joe is laughing, and Wendy is cradling her doll and Nee is sitting on the ground, hiding behind the car, trying to reassemble her face and hair. We have company now and she doesn’t want to look a sight.

Pedro has an idea, Trish tells us. He’ll go and get one of the tractors and try to pull the car upright. Papa Joe doesn’t know if he likes this idea. He is pacing back and forth alongside his car, viewing it at different angles, while vocalizing various mathematical formulas.

He is in deep concentration now, as serious as I had ever seen him, and before he Okays Pedro’s idea, he needs to be sure that it’ll work without yanking out the drive shaft or muffler or something. God forbid!

And, I don’t think any of us want to see the car being brought back to Larry’s for repairs. A major repair like a new drive shaft will set back The Spinnaker Saloon at least, 16 lagers, maybe more if Larry takes his sweet time.

Besides, while Papa Joe’s at Spinnakers, the rest of us will be back at the department store and I’ve had enough of looking up into the faces of stiff mannequins who are dressed like they’d just stepped off the Titanic.

Pedro is long in returning. Meanwhile, Nee has done a complete makeover, looks into her compact mirror gleefully. Papa Joe, with a boyish grin, takes her hand and pulls her up off the gravel. He brushes her off and trying to elicit forgiveness, tells her how beautiful she looks. Nee looks at us, her grandchildren, and shakes her head as to say, “who is he trying to fool.”

But, although she’s hovering around fifty-five or so, she does still strike a resemblance to, um, let me think, . . . Loretta Lynn? No, not Lynn but, but, oh, what is it again? Oh yeah, that’s right — Loretta Young, movie star. The movie, The Farmer’s Daughter.

Watching it with Mother, on the old black and white (since retired and R.I.P. ed in Joey’s Junkyard) she pointed it out to me. “I’ve been told a thousand times, I look a lot like her. And your grandmother, especially when she was younger, could pass for her twin. Don’t you think?” I sat up close to the T.V and yes, I’d be darned, Mother, or even Nee, could be the farmer’s daughter.

Mom and me, we spent many a night watching television together, mostly when Dad didn’t come home after work, when he’d be in some tavern getting sloshed and coming home after 2 a.m. waking us up, singing Frankie Sinatra, My Way. “Regrets, I had a few. And did it my way.”

I’d be on my mat next to the couch, where Trish would be camped out for the night, thinking that Dad had more than “a few” and his “way” surely wasn’t cutting it: food money turned into beer money; power bill lost on Proud Mary, one of his “sure bets” at the horse races; my dream of playing electric guitar in front of millions of people left unrealized at Morley’s Music because Dad blew the down payment on “another round.”  But, from now on, things will be different. It’s in the air and I feel it, I really, really do. “Come on, Pedro, get us back on the road.”

“Yeah Pedro,” Wendy adds, “Cindy wants to go home.”