My son tried to throw me under the bus for hash browns.
Over the summer, we married off my oldest daughter. Yes it was a festive, lovely time resulting in wonderful memories and the union of a new family, and all that other good stuff. But the weekend also gave me the chance to learn about the wily ways of my oldest son, and that he is one to keep an eye on.
The morning of the big day presented the opportunity to teach the oldest male child of the tribe some of the most endearing traditions long-held by our family. In no particular order, two of these lessons for the day were to stay gone while the women engage in their frantic preparations for the wedding; and, the search for a classic hot rod after breakfast trumps all else. The day would become a learning experience for us all...
On the drive into town on the previous day, I had spied what I believed to be the Holy Grail of Barretts and Barrett-kind, a 1968 Chevy El Camino. This was the car that called to me like a siren's song, the piece of my father's youth that I sought out as my own, the artifact that had started wars and promised to lead to a breakout of world-wide peace if only I could make it mine. My father and I have been known to disappear for entire weekends, travel into the wee hours of the night, cruise back alleys and off-road paths, looking for this monument to Detroit ingenuity. And now it was my son's turn to take his place behind the windshield.
A search as serious as this requires a full stomach. We found the only cafe in town, and nestled into a booth to try out the breakfast goodies. The male child wanted one of everything, most of which I ordered. But I drew the line at a double serving of hash browns. He wouldn't eat them all, I probably would, and there was only one, angry Visigoth of a waitress serving what seemed to be the entire town. This was not a good combination, and I was not paying extra for double hash browns disguised as a minor train wreck. Food, hot rods, and then a wedding. There was no room for food fights of any description on the day's agenda. The boy was not happy, but seemed unsure as to how to voice his disapproval.
Once breakfast was polished off, and the Visigoth adequately tipped, we were off for horsepower, carburetion, and bias ply tires. My father and I mapped out the plan of attack for finding what I hoped had not been a central Oklahoma mirage; to my dismay, my son was practically asleep in the back seat, oblivious to what was going on around him.
Just a few miles south of town, the Spousal EAS system was alerted and my phone practically leaped out of my shirt pocket. With some trepidation, I answered, but weakly tried to disguise my voice.
Through the phone speaker, I heard chaos of the wedding preparations. Women of all ages were crying, children were screaming, things were being flung against far walls. In the background I thought I could hear Sponge Bob being tied to a stake. Through the clatter I heard my wife say, and only on the very edge of calmness, "Honey, I have a problem here." I managed to fight my instinct, which would normally have been to quip, "I will say you do." Since I had left her with her step-daughter and my ex-wife, for once I fought the instinct and instead asked calmly, "What can I do to help?"
"We are having a hair emergency."
I breathed a sigh of relief. Hair emergency. Not a blown fuse, a small interior fire, or a broken arm. Hair emergency. This firmly falls in the category of not my problem.
"Ok, I'll bite. What is this hair emergency you speak of?"
My lovely bride explained that her, one of a kind, high dollar, high precision, ivory handled, teak inlaid hair brush was no where to be found. Without its magic like qualities, she would be unable to turn the ladies, and primarily the bride to be, into the stunningly manicured wedding party that had been promised all. I was distracted by a road side snow-cone stand. I still didn't grasp the emergency. And then she hit me right where it hurt.
"I need you to drop whatever you are doing, go to Wal-Mart and get another one of a kind, high dollar, high precision, ivory handled, teak inlaid hair brush or your daughter isn't getting married today."
My mouth fell open, but no sound came out. After millions of years of evolution, some part of my brain knew better than to protest, and I certainly couldn't preempt a wedding because I felt the primal urge to find the mythical '68 El Camino. I heard myself say, "Yes dear. We will be back in just a bit."
Dear old dad glanced away from the road just long enough to disapprovingly grunt. The male child in the back seat snapped his head towards me, suddenly fully alert. Even he sensed that we were speeding towards some crossroads from which there was no return. Dad glanced across the console at me again.
A curious wave of prepubescent smugness washed over the headrest from the direction of the back seat. I should have sensed the warning signs, but I was too distracted by the complex mathematical and logistical planning that would be required to find the El Camino and still be back in town in time to save the wedding.
By the time we rolled into the neighboring town, where I was certain I had seen the mechanical unicorn just the day before I was so antsy I must have looked like a five year old doing the "pee-pee" dance. The universe was on my side this sunny Saturday morning though, as the El Camino rolled to the curb just as we turned the corner. The car, the seller, and the buyer converging to the same location in time, just as planned. Then the plan fell completely apart.
The badges on the car were all wrong. The top was not original and the color was all wrong. Worse yet, the original engine had been replaced with a boat motor. Even if the car were all original, it was $5000 over priced. The male child was supposed to be learning from this experience, and even though he had no interest in the car, he seemed oddly pleased with all of the world around him. I started shoving bodies back into the Barrett-mobile, intent now on locating that one of a kind, high dollar, high precision, ivory handled, teak inlaid hair brush and rushing in at the last possible minute in order to save the day and be the hero.
Fifty two minutes later, hair brush in hand, I burst through the door, expecting a parade befitting a war hero, complete with ticker tape and maybe a marching band. Instead, I was forced to dodge a flying mega-tray of mascara and a hail of half eaten Jolly Ranchers which stuck permanently to the first surface they reached. Over the din of crying and curling and polishing and screaming, I heard an accusatory voice say that we had missed pictures and would have to stay after the service. Uh-oh.
Just like a rolling thunderstorm broiling across the Oklahoma Plains, a whirling dervish of wives, ex-wives, daughters, step-children, half-siblings, strange children with thick glasses, grand-children and mother-in-laws began swirling into SUV's in a haze of powder makeup and eye-shadow. I felt my self being swept into the chaos; for a moment I thought I saw a jeweled slipper and a flying monkey in the shadows of the autumn rust haze.
Somewhere in all the chaos, my beautiful daughter (with hair intact) got married, and took another man's name.
Then came the pictures. First the in-laws, then the ex-laws, and then just the children. Finally, it was time for the Barrett tribe. Just as we had assembled on stage and the pictures began, the male child looked at me and winked, then said, "Mommy, why is a hair emergency called a 'her' emergency, and why does it always have to take a back seat to hot rod hunting?" I felt my wife's head snap to the side as though she were giving herself lateral whip lash while my ex-wife bored a hole through my chest. At least three different style of women's shoes bounced off my forehead as the shutter memorialized the image.
The next morning, we took the blushing bride and the new son-in-law to the same cafe for breakfast. I sat in the corner at the kids table while the male child sat with the grown ups. He got a triple order of hash browns.