How a Family's 'Outta Heres' Cooled Off Tempers

O'Sullivan is a travel writer based in Canoga Park

It's hard to say when our "Outta Heres" began.

But I do remember the one that started our calling those little emergency vacations Outta Heres.

It was about a month into our summer vacation when I came home from work and found Joyce, my wife, standing in the middle of the kitchen with her feet apart, as if she were tying to maintain her balance. There was electricity in the air and her eyes were a little like pinwheels.

In the den behind her the TV was on. Marian was on the phone, the Walcott kids from next door were helping John and Jean fight over a game of Monopoly and Catherine was in the backyard with a water-filled plastic squirt-bottle, carrying our new puppy, Ralph, from tree to tree, trying to teach him a fundamental.

A Wordless Stare

Joyce looked at me. She tried to speak but nothing came out.

"Deedle, deedle, deedle," came Catherine's voice from the back yard. "Watch now. This is the way you do it. Deedle, deedle, deedle."

Joyce began to talk. "Maybe we could drive up the coast for a couple of days? A hundred miles or so? Just the two of us? It would be cheaper than a mental hospital."

"Is it that bad?"

"Mother," Jean yelled. "Toddy's stealing my apartments off Park Place again!"

Joyce shook her head. "It's that bad. I mean it. I've got to get out of here!"

Although we couldn't really afford formal vacations, two years ago we'd learned the value of even a little trip away from home. It had given our credit card a hernia, but it showed us that an occasional mini-vacation was as much of a necessity as the safety valve on a pressure cooker.

Being a basically frugal person I tried comforting my wife first. I put an arm around her. "There, there," I said.

She backed away. "No you don't. No 'there, there.' I've really got to get outta here!"

"But, the car," I said. "Aside from the fact that I'm ashamed to be seen in it, I don't know whether it could make the trip."

Turning, I saw John, my 7-year-old, watching me very studiously.

No Escaping the Kids

Half an hour later he and Catherine and Jean, trying not to laugh, but failing, led Joyce and me outside to the car, an ancient Nash Rambler, as square as a brick and just about as easy to drive. Marian, also giggling, was gluing a Mercedes emblem made out of aluminum foil and masking tape on the hood.

"You know what this means?" I asked out of the corner of my mouth. "No few days away with just the two of us."

There was resignation in Joyce's sigh. "When I say I gotta get outta here, I guess it's not so much the who-ness, it's the where-ness. "

So the neighbors took care of the dog and the house and the six of us left for our mini-vacation.

There were definitely a few smiles but if anybody, after seeing our homemade hood ornament, guessed our Rambler was not a Mercedes, they didn't say anything.

That the car smoked a little the kids took as a definite plus. "Now they'll think we've got a Mercedes diesel," Catherine said.

We made it to Montecito, Calif., without incident. We swam in the ocean, barbecued on the beach, sipped creme de menthe or soda pop by the hotel pool, explored the town and visited the Santa Barbara mission.

What Was Missing

We saw no TV, played no Monopoly, trained no dogs and entertained no neighborhood children.

Joyce was safe from the men in the white coats until the next time. And there were next times. The family had many Outta Heres in the years that followed.

There may be better towns in the world for mini-vacations than San Diego, but not many. Part of the reason is the San Diego Zoo, some of which is a miracle called the Wild Animal Park.

Its 1,800 acres of wilds a few miles north of the city are engineered and landscaped to seem like Africa and other wild environments suitable to the hundreds of animals that live there. On another family Outta Here we spent a day in that park.

Toward late afternoon we were traveling through the animal preserve on the tram, the Wgasa Bush Line Railroad, with dozens of other families.

We'd gone past Nairobi Village and herds of Asian and African elephants and were going through lion country when we happened on a pride of lions.

The big cats, gregarious creatures with no inhibitions, were busy proving it when the tram went through.

'Look, Up There!'

"Look," a male parent in front of the tram shouted, pointing up to a hill away from the lions. "It's a . . . a brouhaha!"

Everybody looked. "A brouhaha?" asked the park guide.

"Yes," said the parent. "Right up there. A whole family of them. You have to look closely."

Everybody looked closely. A few adults, who knew what was going on, said they saw them but none of the kids did.

As the tram continued into the zebra area the park guide confided that he'd always expected to see a brouhaha in the park. This had been a definite "first" for him.

"Now to your right is the Asian Bush area," the guide said.

We thought we'd gotten away with it till that night when we were in our rooms. Joyce and I heard our youngest, Jean, ask Marian, her senior by five years, a question. "Those lions, do they do that out in the jungle?"

"Do what?" asked Marian.

"Give each other piggy-back rides."

Marian said she guessed so and John added that it was probably because they were bored, not having TV and all.

Bit o' Scandinavia

Solvang was a great place, but more for adults than children. Solvang, in Santa Barbara County, thinks it's Scandinavia.

It looks, feels and cooks enough like Scandinavia to pull you completely out of whatever rut you happen to be in.

In Northern California's Sutter Creek we panned for gold and might have found some. But we never checked out the few glittering specks we found to see if they were really gold. We didn't want to know if they weren't.

I think we took about a dozen of those abbreviated, sanity saving Outta Heres before our four offspring finally decided to leave the nest.

By then I had gotten some promotions and Joyce had been working for the Los Angeles Board of Education as an audiometrist for a few years; but the summers, when school was out, still got to her.

One day I came home from work and found her standing in the middle of the den. No pinwheels for eyes. She was as silent as the house and you could hear the clock ticking. No TV or radio. No children's voices. No dogs barking. No Walcott kids.

Joyce looked entirely too sane.

"Listen," she said. I listened for a few seconds. "What do you hear?"

"Nothing."

She nodded. "Exactly."

"What have we got here, Phase 2 of postpartum depression? Are we missing the kids?"

"They're getting on with their lives. Now we should be getting on with ours. It's our turn again. The ball is back in our court."

"So what do you want to do?"

The New Game

"Play ball." She handed me the Travel Section of The Times. It had a report on European tours along with some basic prices.

"Those prices," I said, "are a little too good to be true."

"They're in the newspaper," Joyce said, as if that settled everything.

"So?"

"So," she said, "if they aren't true, when we get home we cancel our subscription. What could be fairer than that?"

"Logical. Couldn't argue with that."

"Besides," she said, "maybe I do miss them a little. Anyway, I can't stand all this silence. I gotta get outta here."

Two weeks later we were sitting in the tall grass of a Swiss meadow watching the late afternoon sun turning the snow to gold on the mountains across the valley.

Someone across the way, or maybe several miles away, was playing an Alpenhorn. The player finished but the echoes went on and on.

It seemed a lonesome sound, and Joyce had a faraway look in her eyes. I thought for a moment she might be thinking about the kids, that it might be the empty nest syndrome, but only for a moment.

"That horn," she said. "Do you suppose they play those in the Himalayas, too?"

I didn't know, but the suspicion was growing that she'd want us to check it out personally.

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