Before you get the wrong idea, this isn’t about some competition between fraternal lodges. It’s about a family dispute. All families have disagreements from time to time, but mine might be the only family who argues over an animal sighting that occurred on a family vacation roughly 30 years ago.
There are a number of memorable things about this particular vacation and the time leading up to it. A few days before we were to leave, I became ill. My symptoms were pretty nonspecific–fever, body aches, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Our family doctor said it was nothing to worry about and it would run its course, and if I was starting to feel a bit better before we were to leave, there was no need to delay our vacation. My condition had improved somewhat by day before we were to leave, and since the first couple of days of vacation didn’t involve anything taxing on my part (sitting in a back of a car, mostly), we decided the trip was a go. We would head for Yellowstone National Park the next day.
Early that morning, we awoke to thunder, wind, and the sound of the tornado warning siren. Groggily, we took shelter in the basement. As it turned out, there was no tornado. The siren tower had been hit by lightening, causing the siren to go off. Once we realized we were not in danger, we headed back upstairs, and as we did so, we heard popping noises coming from the freezer. “The soda,” my mom said, putting a hand to her forehead. In preparation for the trip, several cans of soda were put in the freezer to quickly chill, later to be placed in the cooler and loaded into the car with all our other vacation paraphernalia. Alas, the soda had been forgotten and allowed to freeze…and explode. After all that excitement, we got little sleep in the hours remaining before our departure, but, for better or worse, we hit the road and headed West. Vacation had officially started!
The first snafu was the flat tire. Now, a flat tire is not the end of the world. Back then, cars even had full-sized spare tires, so we didn’t even have to worry about extensive driving on a donut until the tire could be fixed. The bigger problem was that the spare was in the bottom of the back of our station wagon–underneath suitcases, coolers, and, it seemed, anything a family of four could possibly need for an extended road trip. We had to undo all of the expert packing in order to access to the spare tire and then pack it all back up again. When I say “we,” of course,I mean my parents, mainly my dad. As I recall, I sat in a blanket under a shade tree near the side of the road while most of this was happening.
I think it was the second day when I came down with a horrible ear ache and started to get itchy spots on my face. As a kid who liked to swim, I got ear aches pretty regularly, but they were painful. My parents found a doctor in the town where we happened to be and took me in. I was treated for the ear infection but received a slightly more concerning diagnosis that explained my previous malaise and the appearance of the rash: chicken pox.
Some families would have taken it this as a sign and turned back at that point, but for some reason, we pressed on. Although my case of chicken pox was fairly mild, I spent fairly large chunks of the next few days resting in motels and trying not to scratch. I didn’t completely miss out on Yellowstone, though. I was feeling better after a few days and I recall Old Faithful in particular, mainly because the timing was not as faithful as advertised, although it was impressive despite its tardiness. One night we stayed in cabin in the park, which brings me, at long last, to the origin of the title of this post.
A couple of years ago, while my parents were visiting my brother at his home in Boston, I had the following correspondence with him.
I absolutely remember the buffalo. We had seen a number of buffalo in the park, and I recall that, at some point, we slid into a strange conversation about the possibility of buffalo putting on a production of Evita. I’m not sure where that idea came from, but I digress. The buffalo in question was just a stone’s throw outside our cabin, not that I would throw stones at buffalo. That would be mean and probably unwise. We should have at least taken pictures of it, though. I’m not sure why we didn’t. It would have avoided future controversy.
Anyhow, I considered the matter settled, but almost 2 years later my brother was again with my parents while I was absent, and I got another text.
My father was still in buffalo denial, despite being outnumbered three to one! The next day, I woke up to find this video in my e-mail. So, it seemed that my dad was not only denying seeing the buffalo but claiming that the animal we had seen outside our cabin was an elk. Ah, the human memory is a strange thing. Now that scientists have apparently been able to implant false memories in the brains of mice, can we really be sure of any of our memories?
A few days later, my mom e-mailed us to say that, on a trip that she and my dad had taken out West the previous year, they had seen a big dinosaur figure along the side of the highway. My dad said it was a brontosaurus, whereas my mom insisted it was a T-rex. They passed it again on their way home that day.
Clearly, my father has trouble identifying, or at least remembering, animals, both living and extinct. As far as I’m concerned, the case is closed, but for some reason, I have a feeling that this will come up again and again, particularly if there is wine involved.