My family spent a lot of time in cars driving to destinations mid-West in my childhood. I feel sorry for kids who have never had to pass the time on a three day road trip by reading books and eye-spying with their little eyes, playing the alphabet game hoping to reach x y z just in time for the exit in New Mexico for Highway 666 to Ziateca. I feel even sorrier for kids who get car sick. I’ve seen a lot of the U.S. from the way back of a big blue Chevy van, from the tiny backseat of a Ford Fiesta, and from the comfortable shotgun position of a Nissan Maxima.
We got so used to driving around in cars that sometimes we would just take a drive up Oak Creek Canyon for fun. Or down to Phoenix to watch 6 movies in a weekend. Driving for us was no big deal. I hated it when the sun went down and I couldn’t finish the latest Babysitter’s Club book or read what was going to happen next to one of Jude Deveraux’s slutty heroines.
One summer we were tooling our way up to Colorado for a wedding and in a rare moment, all Blaich eyes were peeking out the windows at the psychotic pod beings that were covering a stand of trees several miles long. I think it was me who asked, “What is all over those trees?” but it might have been my arachnophobic sister who posed the question first. The trees were drooping with these amazing pod shaped web like structures. It looked like a cotton candy version of what would happen if the aliens in Sigourney Weaver’s nightmares decided to build their nests in trees instead of drippy dank caverns on mostly deserted planets.
My dad examined them for a while from his superior position in the driver’s seat and turned to us and said, “Bag worms.” And because he said it with such authority, we all began to ask him about why we had never seen these ‘bag worms’ before (we had been on this road many a time). He then launched into a long treatise on how it was the rare bag worm season, brought on by a rainy season following a long drought, an El Niño condition.
I don’t know how he kept a straight face for as long as he did. He had their whole life cycle plotted out by the time he slipped into a giggle. And that was when we knew he had smoked us. My dad loved to shoot the moon in Hearts and so we should have guessed what he was up to, but we were enthralled by the way these mysterious worms lived and died.
And so that is how, in a family full of inquisitors and need to have the answer-ists, our answer for any question we didn’t know became ‘bag worms.’ I think that made him supremely happy, that his tall tale made it into the repertoire of our tall tale telling.
It’s been several years since I’ve seen my dad. We talk on the phone occasionally, but it isn’t often enough. I don’t know if it was because his birthday was on Friday and he was fresh in my mind, but this morning I was looking for some answer to something and Bag Worms popped into my mind.
Happy Birthday, Dad.