I spent the Winter Break of 8th grade sitting in an RV in white-white rural California. My grandmother passed away a few months prior so mom decided we’d spend the holidays with grandpa for his “last winter.” For the record, he lived another 12 years.
Grandpa’s dilapidated house hadn’t changed (or been cleaned) since The Great Depression. There wasn’t enough room for everyone to stay inside (there was one bed), so we slept in the RV parked in the driveway. No plumbing, no TV, and no phone. None. That was all in the house, crammed into every imaginable space between the piles of junk: batteries of every size, old cabinets with missing drawers, broken radios, rusting food cans, locks without keys, you name it. Crap was literally everywhere.
It was purgatory for a 13-year-old. My brother, cousin, and I served our time skating on cracked pavement, playing MtG, and buying Flaming Hot Cheetos at inflated prices from the 7–11 down the road.
Mom tried to make the best of a bad situation. Grandpa was known for being cold, I knew him for being a bigot. He was from another era, a time when it was cool to hate Yellow People.
Mom insisted we spend time with him, I resisted with all my effort. She eventually conceded; we didn’t have to talk, but at least sit and enjoy each others’ company. This meant we had two choices: watch Jeopardy or learn how to play chess. The latter seemed more appealing, I can only watch so much Jeopardy. Grandpa’s method of teaching was mercilessly defeating his grandchildren and then scolding us for not thinking at least 10 moves ahead, 10!
How exactly was I related to this guy again? I’m sure there was a lesson to be learned, but I didn’t give a shit.
No utilities meant no heating inside the RV. The Central Valley gets cold during the winter, especially during the winter. The one thing we had plenty of was blankets; lots of old, mothballed blankets.
We slept in our clothes to keep blanket usage to a minimum. I also wore a black beanie to bed, pulling it low to keep my face warm. I walked to the back of the RV to say good night. My mom looked up from her magazine and burst into laughter.
“Oh James!” she roared, “with your peach fuzz, you look like a Mexican!”
After some brief embarrassment, I pulled the beanie down even further over my eyes, gave her a nod and said, “goodnight, ese.”
The RV erupted in laughter. We all needed the laugh. In the dead of winter, I couldn’t have been more happy to be misidentified.