I am definitely not the most adventurous individual, but sometimes ready or not, adventure taps you on the shoulder and says, “You’re up!” Then again, maybe this is exactly the reason why I don’t seek out adventure. Sometimes it leaves you a bit traumatized.
A few months before my tenth birthday, my family moved from Virginia to California. Trust me when I say that my siblings and I were not in favor of the move. There were tears and tantrums followed by a good deal of sulking. None of us wanted to leave our friends because surely we would never make new ones. I was the youngest and leaving behind the only home I had ever known. It might as well have been the end of the world. Yes, I was a bit of a drama queen; thankfully, I have outgrown that flaw (for the most part).
Anyway, our arrival in California, after a five-day drive across country, coincided with a three-day Valenta family reunion. I’m not sure what other family reunions are like, but ours are a pretty big deal. My dad was one of thirteen kids, most of who grew up to have large families of their own. Now I know I have a vivid imagination and I’ve never truly tried to tally up all of the cousins and second cousins, but I would say there were a few hundred people at the reunion, 95% of whom I had never met before. It was a bit intimidating to arrive in a strange place and instantly be surrounded by so many strange people (Yes, I did mean to say “strange people” rather than just “strangers”).
One of the activities planned was a cookout and family softball game at the park about three miles from my Uncle Jerry’s house. You know the saying, “Even the best laid plans go sideways”? Well, this is where things went wrong . . . at least for me and my cousin Shawna. After watching the first few innings of the softball game, we got bored and decided to head to the playground. We played on the swings and slides for maybe forty-five minutes, and then headed back to see if the game was almost over. Much to our surprise, not only was the game over, but apparently, all of the festivities were over. There wasn’t a soul left, aside from the two of us, on the ball field or at the picnic tables. Yup, the parking lot was empty too. My dad was military but unfortunately not marine because we had been left behind. Keep in mind that I was nine and had only been in California for a couple of days. I had absolutely no idea where we were or where my uncle’s house was in relation to the park. This was also long before the age of cell phones.
After a moment of stunned silence followed immediately by sheer panic, we calmed down. Thankfully, Shawna who was actually a few years younger than I was thought she knew the way home. So here we go, the two of us walking along a main road on our three-mile trek, apparently of no concern to our parents or to those driving past us. Eventually we made it to the dirt road and cow fields leading to my uncle’s house. Though the house sat on a hill overlooking said cow fields, still no one seemed to notice us. It wasn’t until we reached the last curve in the driveway that my mom let out a shriek as realization dawned.
To this day, my mom claims it was an honest mistake. She had assumed that I was either with my dad or with Shawna’s parents. Of course, they thought my mom had both of us. And she wonders why even now, almost forty years later, I stick to her like glue.
So my advice to parents now that summer vacations are in full swing is to take a head count. Whenever you load up the car, make sure all of your crew is accounted for . . . unless, of course, you secretly like traumatizing your children sending them forever into a panic whenever you leave their side.