Good behavior in the back seat of the family car was implied and enforced, five kids with no seat belts going God knows where but someone always threw up or HAD TO GO to the bathroom ten minutes out of the driveway and into the journey. My Dad would not stop nor turn back.
As the eldest daughter, it was expected I would keep the peace or some semblance of it, given a half eaten bag of red licorice or a handful of my father's second favorite candy, Tootsie Rolls, which in hindsight probably contributed to his diabetes and bad teeth.
My father would sit fuming, the back of his thick neck red, steam coming out of his ears as we waited in all types of weather for my mother to emerge from the house, thirty to sixty minutes late, looking stunning, which was the only saving grace as my father was still smitten with her.
We could only see the back of her auburn hair as she settled into the front passenger seat, but her perfume and hair spray wafted back and we all knew for a few moments at least, all would be well. Perhaps this car trip would be different, I'd find myself wishing.
Alas, the poking and kicking would start slowly, reaching a crescendo right about the time I had doled out the last of the red licorice and at the same second the sugar had kicked in, causing the younger ones to start complaining.
He touched my new shoes with his dirty sneakers.
She stole my last licorice.
I NEED TO GO TO THE BATHROOM.
How soon til we get to Grandma's?
Dad...there's a spider on your collar.
My father, taking one hand from 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock on the steering wheel would whack at the imaginary spider. My mother would turn and wordlessly hand each one of us a tissue, as if that would soothe not just our squabbles but traffic would not jam, children in China would not starve and JFK would come back to life.
A momentary calm would descend as if angels were sitting among us, filling the car with so much beauty and holiness that no bad things could ever happen again as we collectively processed the giving of the tissues, like some strange communion. Then just as fleeting, little ripples of discontent arose.
I'm going to throw up.
I want more licorice. I'm hungry.
The baby just ate his tissue.
The baby just threw my tissue out the window.
At this, my father said one word, my name, the message being, "Get things under control." My 12 year old solution was to break out my secret stash of Lifesavers and bribe my brothers and sisters with storytelling games. Reluctant and still rambunctious at first, in short order everyone played and the baby fell asleep.
Peace reigned so that my easily irritated father never had to say, "You kids stop your fighting or I will turn this car around so help me God." Years later, with my own children there were seat belts and car seats but I also packed books, toys, food and drinks plus stopped for throwing up or bathroom breaks. I never threatened to turn the car around, just pulled over and was quiet because kids are kids.