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ARRIVING IN Acapulco after a long, hot, dusty drive in our un-air conditioned Ford station wagon, humidity and the smell of humanity bathed our road weary senses. The windstorm from wide-open air vents and windows lessened. Dad was the pilot in command, Mom the co-pilot. She had successfully prevented a lap full of maps and brochures from flying out the window as we sped down the highway. This was the first time we vacationed when not in conjunction with a duty station transfer. My dad was a Naval Aviator, a carrier pilot, and he had been invited to bring the family to Mexico. Our luggage was roped on top. We looked like something out of a John Steinbeck novel.
Kathy and Billy occupied the rear section of the car, sharing the space with a cooler, toys and colouring books. Jim and I huddled in our respective second seat corners and gazed at nothing and everything. The roar of wind that whipped through the windows made talking useless. We lost ourselves in our private thoughts. The occasional bouncy kid from the back invaded the space between us. Jim would grunt and go back to “sleep.” I elbowed them to keep them from touching me. It was too darn hot. Besides, I was in mourning. When we departed Mexico City, I left behind my first true love — Jim Dillon, a blond, blue-eyed god and the oldest son of our hosts.
The wind on my face recalled stolen kisses and I wondered at the mysteries of un-experienced passions that my body had craved. Together, we had climbed the steps of the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, jumped into the fountain at Alameda Central, stolen kisses at the Muse Nacional de Antropologia, walked hand in hand in orchards of endless trees, and rode small, rugged horses at a hacienda under the watchful eye of “El Jefe.” We even tasted the birth of tequila — raw slightly fermented “pulque” siphoned from the core of the blue agave plant, filtered through cheese cloth directly into the tin cup we shared. It was a taste of sin for this Catholic teenager. Riding on the slipstream of these memories as we sped south, a melody broke through the static on the radio. The Righteous Brothers “unchained” my heart. I allowed my thoughts to flow into the “open arms of the sea” and a tear escaped. “Would he wait for me?”[
We had departed Mexico City that morning. Mrs. Dillon was not up to hosting our rowdy brood for an extended visit so she suggested we continue our exploration of Mexico in Acapulco. Commander Dillon made arrangements for a deeply discounted casita at the Hotel Las Brisas, a world renowned resort with pink cabanas — many with private pools — and pink jeeps so guests would not have to walk its steep streets. There were more pools and restaurants, and according to my dad, hot and cold running maids. Hollywood stars, government officials, and the wealthy made Las Brisas a vacation destination. Mom — always the penny pincher and ever practical — thought our family could have just as much fun elsewhere for a quarter of the cost. Dad knew better than to argue. So we drove the narrow streets of Acapulco, checking out hotels and motels waiting for Mom to pronounce one suitable so we could escape the cramped confines of the sweltering station wagon.
We drove past many hotels without stopping. Most of the time, Dad ordered us to stay in the car while he and Mom inspected an establishment. Stay in the car bordered on capital punishment. When stopped, there was no airstream to cool our faces; there was no changing landscape to capture our attention. There were only four, hot, grumpy kids bouncing off the walls desperate to escape the stifling, stuffy car that reeked of sweat. Finally, Dad took pity and allowed us to get out of the car so we could enjoy the lawn area of a large, multi-story colonial hotel while they toured the facility. A huge tree dominated the curbside.
We exploded from the car. Kathy and Bill ran to the lawn and raced in circles. I plopped on the cool grass. Jim followed Mom and Dad, and then called to us. We gathered and then entered an arched portico and headed down a hall. The walls were bare except for peeling plaster. It felt like a prison. There was no pool, air conditioning, or kid amenities, just the beautiful tree in front with its patch of shade. After a brief tour and another rejection, we grudgingly piled back into the car. Jim and I went to our respective corners and Kathy wedged herself between us. We drove off with Mom’s head buried in a map giving directions to our next inspection stop.
Somewhere along the route, someone asked, “Where’s Bill?” His background hum of constant chatter was missed. It had been way too quiet for way too long. Dad snapped around and looked over his shoulder. Mom levitated from her seat and swung to face the back. Maps fluttered to the floor. Jim, Kathy and I looked in the back, then on the floor at our feet, as though we expected to find him underfoot. Jim moved the cooler to make sure Bill was not up to one of his tricks and hiding. He was not in the car. Mom’s panic became palatable as she tried to reconcile the horror of having left her baby boy behind. And Jim and I became the target of her angst. We were the oldest and should have kept an eye on him. Jim thought Kathy was keeping an eye on Bill, Kathy thought Jim and I were. In actuality, I was in my “love lost world” and didn’t pay attention to what was going on around me. Kathy was Kathy, going with the flow. Jim was Jim, lost in his own world, listening and learning.
Jim and I were old enough to appreciate the dangers surrounding an abandoned child in Mexico. Bill’s chronic asthma required daily medication and constant monitoring. His wheezy breath was part of the background noise we had missed. Fear, guilt, and worry consumed us like the shroud of God as we raced back to the hotel. All thoughts of Jim Dillon evaporated. Dad took command and focused on driving. There was no squabbling now. The panic in Mom’s eyes glinted with an intensity that kept us all quit. Seconds turned into minutes as we raced back to the hotel.
An audible sigh of relief escaped our car when we spotted Billy. Mom burst into tears. Billy’s chest was heaving, tears dripped down his freckled face. He sat between two maids under the big, beautiful tree that had first captured our attention. Our car screeched to a halt. Mom and Dad jumped out and Dad told us to wait in the car. We did not complain. Mom encircled Bill with every part of her being. In halting Spanish, Dad profusely thanked the maids, “Much, Mucho Gracias.” One maid spoke English and explained that she found him wandering the halls, hunting for his family. Without hesitation, Dad opened his wallet and offered the two women a reward. They would have none of it. They had children too. With many more thanks, Mom and Dad returned to car, Billy in tow. He clamored into the second seat with Jim and I. Kathy hopped into the back. Teary eyed, Bill caught my eye and said, “Everyone left me.” Hugs calmed us. Dad did a head count before he put the car in gear and said, “This is enough.” Mom retrieved the map from the floor and he drove directly to Hotel Las Brisas. No more inspection stops. No more comments about the added expense. No more waiting in a stifling car.
At the hotel we had our own private pool in back of our pink two room casita. The city of Acapulco spread out before us and lit the night with a thousand points of light. It was not the typical motel our family frequented when on the road. Ice and drinks were brought to our room, the flowers were real, and the pool water clean — no floaties, black mold, or slimy steps. Only Jim and I were allowed to hop aboard a pink jeep to explore the resort. Billy kept close to Mom and Dad, and from then on we did a head count before Dad put the car in gear. It was the best and the worst vacation we ever had — thanks to Billy.
Righteous Brothers, Unchained Melody 1965, written by Alex north and Hy Zaret in 1955.