On the last weekend of my Christmas vacation before I returned to work, I decided to distract myself from my depression by joining my wife on a family road trip with my in-laws to visit her aunt, uncle, and grandmother who live in Fouke, Arkansas. Each time I travel to Fouke, I look forward to the possibility of glimpsing the legendary Fouke Monster. Apparently, the Fouke Monster is the Arkansas version of Bigfoot, the difference being that the Fouke Monster wears a Razorback jersey and works part time at Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, though, the closest I’ve been to seeing the Fouke Monster so far turned out to be a well-bearded man in Carhartt overalls carrying an obese pit bull terrier.
Included in the travelling group were my three daughters, two nieces, and a nephew. Naturally, all of the children were assigned to my vehicle. This meant lots of whining, complaining, and other annoying noises, but everyone did their best to put up with me. On the way to Fouke, the group decided to stop for lunch at a non-descript Mexican restaurant in Atlanta, Texas, called Amigo Juan. The food was delicious, and I ate my usual cargo container of chips and hot sauce. The problem emerged on the second leg of our journey when we realized that we all had taken on the odor of the grease traps in the kitchen of Amigo Juan. This made my eldest and most dramatic daughter, Ally, declare that she felt sick and might throw up-or die. This announcement was followed by all of the children in the car sharing in detail the last time they, or one of their pets, threw up. My wife put a stop to this discussion when I described the time Ally spit up in my mouth when she was a baby and I was holding her up over my head. I actually think it’s the most adorable story involving vomit I’ve ever heard, or told.
Once Ally’s life-threatening tummy ache subsided, our next incident involved my youngest and quietest daughter, Abbie, dropping a treasured microscopic plastic toy she had purchased from a coin-operated junk machine at Amigo Juan between the seats of the car and into the most inaccessible crevice imaginable. (My kids always complain when I call it “junk,” but I mean it in the most affectionate way possible.) I’m convinced that auto manufacturers are in cahoots with chiropractors to design family vehicles with these miniature black holes on purpose because reaching them always requires the dislocation of at least one appendage. Abbie would never ask me to get the toy, but her innocent eyes could melt any heart-even one already on fire after a large Mexican dinner. Retrieving the toy involved the searing pain of stretching from the passenger’s seat (I’m only allowed to drive short distances), over the console and into the floorboard behind the driver’s seat. Amid stale Cheerios, broken crayons, and a crusty, brown wad I couldn’t identify, I found the toy and proudly presented it to Abbie. Feeling like the father of the year (despite a torn ACL), my glory was cut short when Abbie quietly informed me that I had found the wrong toy.
Once we had arrived at our rural destination and visited awhile, I decided to take the children for a walk down the winding country road where Susan’s relatives live. I think it’s important for kids to be outside to experience the splendor of nature-as long as they don’t bring any of it back in the house or the car. I was a little hesitant at first because the last time we visited Fouke and went for a walk, one of the first splendors of nature we witnessed was an amorous donkey attempting to seduce a much taller horse. It was like watching a drunken man try to climb a slippery extension ladder while carrying an armload of pool noodles. The hilarity of the situation was only matched by my horror at the presence of my daughters and nieces, who immediately engaged in an extremely awkward line of questioning. Since I believe in being completely honest with children, I simply answered by saying that the donkey was confused and we should keep walking so we didn’t embarrass him. Luckily, this time we were spared the sequel to 50 Shades of Bray (see how I did that?), but we did see a couple of mules and a paint pony. (Maybe the donkey was successful, after all.) I was hoping we might find some interesting rocks and minerals, or even an arrowhead along the side of the lane. Instead, we found a frozen dirty diaper and a discarded pair of Jack Skellington adult footed pajamas. Ah, Arkansas, The Natural State!
The drive home was mostly uneventful, other than the occasional game of Who Ate Too Much At Amigo Juan And Is Now Trying to Suffocate All of Us In A Crowded, Enclosed Vehicle With The Heater On? Obviously, I won. We were also assailed with requests to stop and go to the bathroom and get something else to eat. After the gorging at Amigo Juan and its aftermath, the bathroom made sense, but I couldn’t see how these children could bring themselves to eat anything else, except maybe a light snack-like the four large bowls of Cap’n Crunch cereal I had when we got home.
Even though I may gripe a little, I really do enjoy these outings with my family, and I’m glad Susan is able to visit with her grandmother and Arkansan relatives. I just hope they don’t mind the fact that I no longer really believe in the Fouke Monster. I mean, how could such a famous figure of American folklore be a Razorback fan?