Summer Days, Blue Jeans and Grand Theft Auto

Have you ever wanted something so desperately that you would do almost anything to possess it?  Was there ever an object you coveted so dearly that you knew you could NOT live without it?  I get it.  I’ve been there.

Years ago, I went to some extreme measures to get what I wanted.  The object of my desire?  A pair of jeans.

The year was 1976.  I was 14 years old.  Our family had recently moved from Toronto, Canada to the California Central Valley. My dad was the new pastor at a church in Modesto. You would think, coming from a bustling metropolis filled with subways and freeways, hippies and high-rises to a small cow-town surrounded by orchards and ranches, that the social advantage would be mine, but you would be oh, so wrong.  In that rare and strange kingdom known as adolescence, I knew I was a fish out of water the moment we arrived. 

For starters, we were Canadian.

Add the fact that my dad was a Pentecostal preacher and you start to get the picture. Conservative, modest, polite – these are a few of the words that would accurately describe my parents.  They weren’t stuffy or strait-laced.  On the contrary.  They were warm, friendly and fun to be around.  But, still…Canadian. 

I had mixed feelings about our move.  On the one hand, I was excited.  The lure of California, palm trees, beaches and celebrities was definitely on my mind.  I had no concept of the miles that stretched between Modesto and Hollywood but, how far could it be?

On the other hand, I was just starting to come into my own with my friends in Toronto and didn’t relish the thought of breaking into a new social group. “Didn’t relish” is my way of saying I was obnoxious and whiny throughout the whole move.

The breed of teenager our family discovered in Modesto was vastly different from any variation of the species we encountered in the past, as though we had stumbled upon some wild, lost tribe.  At the time, I thought this was a reflection of all California teens but, in hindsight, I think this particular group of kids was unique to that place and time.  It wasn’t long before I felt like I belonged – a long-lost feral dog finally reunited with her pack.  But those first few months were awkward, to say the least.

We arrived in town during Easter Break so our first encounter with locals was the youth group at our new church.  My sister, brother and I nervously walked in – the new pastor’s kids.   We dressed as we always had at church back in Canada, with Kathy and I in sweet, modest dresses and Karl in slacks and a button-up shirt. 

When we walked into the youth group, that first Friday night, I looked around and sized up the other kids.  Not a single girl in the room was wearing a dress.  The uniform of choice for male and female alike was t-shirts and jeans or shorts with a few pairs of overalls thrown in here and there.  Sandals, Vans and even a pair of bedroom slippers were the footwear options.

Immediately, I sensed how out of touch we were.  But, in spite of our awkwardness and differences in clothing choices, the group of kids we encountered were unusually friendly. Not Canadian friendly, in that ‘nice to meet you –  let’s shake hands’ kind of way we were accustomed to but in a singularly American way with big smiles, hugs and loud laughter.  It was heartwarming and I felt like we were being greeted by a roomful of over-eager puppies.

That night, after we arrived home from church, Kathy and I laid it on the line with mom and dad.  We would-not, could-not humiliate ourselves by wearing (gasp!) dresses one more time to youth group.  We emphasized the fact that we would “never go back again” if we couldn’t wear jeans like the rest of the kids.  My parents, thank God, shrugged their shoulders, muttered something about “when in Rome…” and gave in to our demands. 

Maybe now you are starting to get the picture of how, in my desperate attempt to fit in, I needed The Jeans.  I discovered them that summer. 

I am not talking about any old run-of-the-mill jeans.  The pair I coveted were the pinnacle of 70’s disco-era attire – Chemin de Fer bell-bottom, lace-up jeans.  These were the jeans that every Farrah Fawcett wanna-be, Studio 54 diva and Cosmo model wore.  In other words, they were as essential as feathered hair and Dittos to any teenage girl in the 70’s. 

This was a non-negotiable issue.  I had to make them mine.


There was one major hurdle in acquiring these jeans. My mother.  She did not share my sense of urgency regarding this necessary purchase.  When I showed her the must-have pair at the store in McHenry Village, she shook her head and said, “You already have a couple pairs of jeans and I’m not spending $35 on that pair!”

It still boggles my mind, how my mother could have been so callous and neglectful of my most essential needs but, there it is.  I don’t think she meant to be cruel but she clearly didn’t get it. No amount of pleading and begging was going to change her mind.  It was clear that I would have to take matters into my own hands.

The opportunity presented itself a few days later.  Mom and dad were out of town for the night, attending a conference and they left my brother in charge of Kathy and me, which basically meant, we were on our own. I knew I had to act fast.

I discussed the options with my new friend Tam.  The one part of this memory that’s fuzzy is where I procured the necessary funds for my purchase.  I didn’t have a job.  My parents were not overly generous with allowances and I never saved any money I was given.  So how, exactly, I ‘found’ the $35 to buy the coveted jeans is anyone’s guess.  Let’s just leave it at that.

Money in hand, we had to get to the mall.  Now, Modesto isn’t that big and I was used to riding my bike or walking wherever I needed to go but for some reason, on that particular day, I felt that we should be transported to the mall in a car.  Maybe it was the importance of the task at hand.  What to do?

I opened the door to the garage and there it sat.  My parent’s 1972 baby blue Lincoln Continental.  This vehicle was more boat than car.  Not exactly the sporty race car I would have preferred but reliable transportation nonetheless. 

Let me remind you, dear friend, that at 14 years of age I was still a long way away from obtaining a legal driver’s license or even a driver’s permit.  But I was not about to let technicalities get in my way.  After all, how hard could it be?

I had observed my dad for years, as he drove.  I started young, sitting in his lap with my small hands gripping the steering wheel while his big, steady hands guided the vehicle. As I got older, he taught me how to turn the key in the ignition, put the car in gear and had even let me get behind the wheel once or twice and drive from our cottage to the railroad tracks. 

I felt that he had given me all the necessary training and essentially granted me permission to drive whenever I felt I was ready.  I was tall and could easily reach the gas and brake pedals.  I was ready.  What could possibly go wrong?

Tam hopped into the car beside me.  I started the engine, put the car in reverse and slowly backed out of the garage.  Success!  This driving gig was even easier than I had imagined!  I could picture those jeans in my mind’s eye.  I was only a few miles away from making them mine.

Slowly, we made our way through town and eventually arrived at the store without a single hiccup.  I made my purchase, clutched the heavenly denim to my chest and made my way home.

Two blocks away.  Just around the corner.  Almost home.  We pulled up to a stop sign.  To my left was a van.  You know the type.  It had an awesome paint job with a wide pinstripe down the side and a bumper sticker that read, “If This Van’s A Rockin’ Don’t Come A Knockin’!”  This was no mini-van.  I slowly pulled forward to turn right when, out of nowhere, there was a kid on a bike.  I slammed the brakes!  Oops.  That was NOT the brake pedal. 

There he was, lying on the ground looking up at me with abject terror in his eyes.  I had knocked that poor kid right off his bike and onto the ground.  To make matters worse, Tam started wailing.  “Is he dead?!  Oh, dear Jesus!  My mother’s going to kill me!  What if the cops come?!  We are in SO much trouble!” 

“Just.  Shut.  Up!”  I screamed at Tam.  As I assessed the situation and tried to calm my friend and my nerves, the boy hopped back on his bike and pedaled away furiously. 

With my heart pounding in my chest and Tam still freaking out in the seat beside me, I drove the rest of the way home.  Slowly, I pulled into the driveway and eased the car into the garage.  That’s when I heard it – a high pitched “Screee!” as the driver’s side of the car scraped against the garage door frame, leaving a two-foot scratch in that beautiful baby blue exterior.

I had no idea what to do at that point so I did what every other conniving, spineless, lying teenager would do.  I closed the garage door, hid the jeans in the back of my closet and waited. 

I put the entire incident out of my mind when, two days later, I heard my parents in the kitchen. “Anita!” my dad called out.  “You scratched the side of the car getting into the garage.”

I’m not proud of this, but it’s the honest-to-God truth.  I sat in the family room and listened as my sweet, innocent mother protested and my dad blamed her for what I had done.  I sat there, with the flames of hell licking at my feet for surely, anyone who would let their mother take the fall for their sins was heading ‘down there’ on the fast train.

But my seared conscience held firm.  I never said a word. 

My list of transgressions related to those jeans was already long. 

  • Petty theft
  • Grand theft auto
  • Driving without a license
  • Hit and run
  • Destruction of property

I was in deep.

Two weeks later, I pulled those Chemin de Fer’s out of my closet and added to my list of sins when I lied to my parents and told them that my friend had given me the jeans.

Every time I looked at myself in the mirror, with those jeans on, I thought, “I am surely going to hell but, I sure look foxy!”

Over fifteen years later, when I was a mother myself, with my first teenage daughter, I remembered the incident and ‘fessed up to my parents. They sat there looking at me with jaws dropped.  My mom turned to my dad and said, “See, Albert, I told you I didn’t scratch the car!”

I’m still grounded.


Fess up! Do you have a favorite summertime memory or a childhood infraction you’ve never owned up to?  I would love to hear it and I promise, I won’t tell a soul. Leave your best behaving-badly story in the comments below. Confession is good for the soul!

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