Vacations near water were the best. Our shoreline at home in Northwest Washington was sheltered by the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound created a rocky, sea-weedy, barnacled barrier from full size waves. So we were excited to spend a few days camping on the Oregon coast. Things we loved about Oregon included No Sales Tax! Real Sandy Beaches! The Actual Pacific Ocean!
All seven of us piled into our Chevy Suburban with an elaborate seating arrangement based on age and number of pillows. Big kids sat in the way-back on the removable bench seat with pillows and blankets (in permanent recline-position); younger kids sat in the middle with backpacks full of travel games. Mom and Dad sat up front, manned the ship, and monitored snack-consumption. All the camping gear was stowed in a rented u-haul trailer we pulled behind the Suburban.
On the day I'm remembering, we were weary of traveling. We'd stayed with our Grandpa in eastern Washington for a sunny beginning to the vacation, and seen some beautiful territory along the nearly 300 miles from Wenatchee to Vancouver, Washington. It was hard to believe that the scraggly, brush-covered hillsides were in the very same state as our mossy, evergreen hometown. But it had been hours since our last stop, and we were all a little stir-crazy.
As we approached the I-5 bridge over the Columbia river, we predicted who could hold their breath the longest. In the tradition of road-tripping families across the country, we used the length of the bridge as our goal. The highway lifted above solid ground and the tree line zipped past us. All five kids inhaled loudly.
Then, silence. Except for Mom and Dad chatting up front and the sound of our nine passenger Suburban traveling at 70 miles per hour (not unlike a 747 at thirty thousand feet).
We glanced at each other to gauge our competition. My lungs began to burn. The seconds ticked slowly. Our faces turned red and our cheeks puffed out around pursed lips.
Somebody exhaled. One down. We tried not to look at each other, in case of laughing out loud.
Someone else exhaled. The two breathers compared their total time and watched the three remaining.
Two more exhaled, loud enough to sound like all three kids. The bridge ended and we crossed into Oregon.
Just as quickly as inspiration struck, we forgot our breath-holding game.
Except for Elliot. He continued holding his breath. Everyone else was facing forward talking about what our campsite might look like, but I watched him without drawing any attention, wondering how long he’d hold out.
Finally, in the loudest burst of breath yet, Elliot exploded.
Dad jumped in the driver’s seat, startled by the noise.
“Who was that?” Dad asked in a raised voice.
I assumed Dad was impressed by the landslide winner of the breath-holding contest. In an effort to give credit where credit was due, I yelled up to the front seat, “That was Elliot!!!”
As soon as I said it, I realized my mistake. Dad looked up into his rear view mirror to make eye contact not with the contest winner, but the culprit. Dad was not a fan of being startled, but I remembered this too late. Not that raising five kids would make a person jumpy; Dad had always been easy to scare (and always with negative consequences).
Elliot was still breathing heavily and recovering from his feat of lung strength, but he got an angry scolding.
I looked at him sympathetically and whispered, “Sorry.”
He shrugged knowing Dad wasn't really angry with him, just irritated from the scare.
But then I smiled, and quietly congratulated him on his record-breaking time.
10 years later I still ask him, "Remember the time I got you in trouble for holding your breath?" The more years that pass, the harder we laugh.