We packed the minivan for our trip. We were going on a family road trip. Something we never did, certainly not in March. Summer is the time for trips, not spring. If I had known how to spot a red flag at the age of nine, or what a red flag was, that would have been one – a spontaneous family road trip in spring. The Henrys don’t do spontaneous. But as a third-grader, subject to the direction of my parents, I just went along for the ride.
It was 1994, a time before the word ‘mini’ was used to accurately describe vehicles, and though the Henrys were no Joneses, there was a Dodge Caravan in our driveway. Its name too ambitious for our travels northward, the white caravan was also too large for our family of four. Someone was supposed to have more friends. The only benefit of this oversized vehicle was my brother, Mark, and I each got our own row. Being older, Mark got the back seat which situated him perfectly for poking, flicking, and any hairpulling he may need to inflict on me during our drive. I was left to the comfort of the middle seat because it was shorter and so was I. Dad drove. Mom navigated.
Off we went on the approximately three-hour road trip from Long Beach, California to the Central Valley of California. My private school education did not equip me to spot this second red flag, but my time watching Gilligan’s Island should have: three-hour tours do not end well. Up the expansive freeways of Los Angeles County, through the radio reception-less hills of the Grapevine, to the meager two-lane highways of -villes, -fields, and -dales, we arrived at our destination: Visalia, California – Gateway to The Sequoias. Aside from the fateful pearly gates, gateways are not usually a destination in-and-of themselves, but this was no usual family road trip.
Population: just under 100,000, Visalia differed from Long Beach and its surrounding cities. The Henry family explored the town including its one street downtown, two shopping malls and neighboring Three Rivers, a cleverly named town situated between three rivers. It wasn’t a beach, but at least there was water, back when California still had some of that stuff. It’s important for humans to live near water. The quaint, rural area had so much to offer, my mother insisted, as if she was trying to set my brother and I up on a date with Visalia. Look, an A&W restaurant complete with carhops. This selling point resonated more with my rootbeer-loving brother than it did with me. So as not to spoil the charm of Visalia, we didn’t venture into The Sequoias. After all, how could it possibly compare to the gateway?
As we returned south to a region of fast food restaurants with drive-thrus instead of drive-ups, and no surviving drive-ins, my mother fished for feedback. “What did you think? What was your favorite part?” Unprepared for our pop quiz, my brother and I agreed the fields along the streets were nice, the roadside fruit stands seemed convenient, and the lack of stop signs introduced a real sense of danger at intersections, but it didn’t seem like much of a destination. In conclusion, “nice place to visit, but who would want to live there?”
It turns out the answer to our collective rhetorical question was, “The Henry Family”, because that’s exactly where we were moving, in 30 day’s time.
“But I’m in school!” I objected with a fact.
“We’ll put you in a new school.” My mom replied.
“But I have a friend.” It’s true. I had one. I worked hard for 9 years making this one, I wasn’t ready to make another friend.
“You’ll make new friends.” My mom ambitiously stated.
I was running out of objections, so I went for it, the grand finale of arguments, the abracadabra, the rabbit out of the hat.
“What about Sam?!”
Sam was the Henry family rabbit. He was marketed as a mini lop, but again, the 90s were a time of misuse of the term “mini”. Starting the size of a guinea pig, Sam grew to the size of a small actual pig. Sam weighed nearly 20 pounds and, being a rabbit, he was covered in fur. He survived just barely with the nearby ocean-breeze to cool him but how would he fare in the sweltering heat of Visalia summers? Conveniently left out of the tour and sales pitch of the Central Valley was the temperatures it reached in the summers: 100+ degrees. Hence the March road trip. No one was visiting in June. Triple digit temperatures were not suited for fur attire. Sam would need to get a new wardrobe.
As any mother will tell you, a family pet is really an additional child and my mom wasn’t looking to take all three of her children to Visalia. Had she made this desire known to her other two children, I would have gladly volunteered to stay behind. I had a nine-year friendship I still needed to invest more time in. But she didn’t tell us that one child wasn’t going to make the trip. She pulled the “mom card” and let Sam stay in Long Beach while Mark and I had to go to Visalia. A final red flag: if rabbits can’t live there, humans shouldn’t either. It’s important for rabbits to live near water too.