January 20, 1978, 8:30 p.m.,a Friday night, the seven of us loaded into our RV and left Granada Hills, CA for our thirteen month journey. We would drive the Pan-American Highway from California to Argentina and beyond.
“WE” consisted of Bill and Carol Sirimarco, also known as Dad and Mom. Four of our sons: Randy, John, Paul and Gil and a neighborhood friend John McClung hereafter known as John Mc.
Bill was at that dangerous mid-life crisis age of 41. His hair was thick and wavy and still all black.
For the trip he'd shaved his beard but grown a bushy mustache. He had put on a few pounds through the years of the good life, but wasn't really fat. His brown eyes usually had a twinkle in them, sometimes good and sometimes bad. I was just short of 40 and still trim and slim. My dishwater blond hair was cut short and straight, it wasn't too flattering but it would be easy to care for. I have hazel eyes that change color with my moods; everyone knew that when they were green don’t mess with me.
John McClung a neighbor and friend of Randy’s jumped at the chance to go with us. He had worked for Bill the last few years at the jewelry store as a deliveryman and general "jack-of-all-trades." At 25 he was a little pot-bellied, his pants permanently ridding low. Ever since I'd known him he needed a beard trim and a haircut. His gold-rimmed glasses were forever sliding down his nose and without thinking he would push them back up using his middle finger. Whenever he was lost in thought he chewed on his bushy mustache. Before we left we tried to convince him to cut his shoulder length brown hair. He predictably said “NO.” He was looking forward to a great adventure.
We pulled our son Randy out of high school so he could help us prepare for the trip. He was six months from graduation (little did I know we would never hear the end of that!) He was and still is an interesting person. Since he was a baby and started crawling using the top his head and feet he has always been an individual. A loner, he preferred his motorcycle, snakes and spiders to people. At that time (in fact all through high school) he dressed only in blue denim shirts, Levi’s, and black engineer boots and always with his Buck Knife on his belt. Don't forget the black leather jacket. His straggly, thin, reddish blond hair fell almost to his shoulders. He wouldn’t cut it either.
John, Paul and Gil made up the rest of the crew. We called twelve year John “Houdini” because whenever there was work to be done he disappeared. He was agile and sure footed (anyone who can get out from under an 18 wheeler while his bike is getting run over has to be fast) so we used him to load the roof of the motorhome. When we could find him. John, “Don’t call me Johnny!” was quiet, shy and not at all fond of new situations.
Paul and Gil were the youngest vagabonds. They’d been out of school since the end of November too and had no problem with it. Paul at nine was just the opposite of John. He loved new people and places and always wanted to be in the middle of everything. While helping load the trailer he accidentally set off the alarm then tripped his Dad as he ran to shut it off. As Dad tripped and slid, his hand went through the kitchen window breaking it. Typical Paul adventure.
Seven-year-old Gil, like his older brothers, was blond and blue eyed. He looked out for himself and was afraid of nothing; with four older brothers he had no choice. He thought it was funny when they threw him off the balcony into the huge green bean bag chair.
Maybe the trip wasn’t such a bad idea, how much crazier could life get?
Our oldest son, Dennis, at 19 had decided we were crazy and he stayed behind. He had moved out the year before and had his own life. At the time he was living in a 15 foot trailer in the middle of the Mojave Desert and working as a sail plane instructor. We were crazy?
Jan 20, 1978
Our furniture had been packed and in storage since the beginning of December. Ready to be shipped to us when we settled in our new home in Argentina. All that was left in the house was a couch and chair that appropriate enough were designed to look like packing crates. Our friend Joe would pick them up after we were gone. For a month we slept on the floor in sleeping bags. I remember longing for our big, soft and warm waterbed. An oversized green and white Coleman cooler sat on the kitchen floor and the refrigerator in the motorhome held our groceries. Meals were usually Taco Bell or McDonald’s. For Christmas dinner we had a treat - Pioneer Chicken. To try to make things seem more normal I bought a tree from the grocery store! The boys decorated it with popcorn, cranberries and paper rings. It didn’t take much work cause it was scrawny, with only a few branches and not very tall. Until then, the smallest tree we ever had was ten feet. If it didn’t touch the ceiling it wasn’t a tree. It was sad but fun. There weren’t many presents, only things that would pack for the trip.
We had planned to leave in November but didn’t ‘cause the deal on the house fell through. Escrow was supposed to close the 20th of November. On the 19th the buyer’s loan fell through. Maybe someone was trying to tell us something? There was nothing we could do except hope for another buyer and that time of year there weren’t many around.
So we had to decide, start over again in LA or move on out.
Bill had talked about driving to Argentina since we bought the white and blue 24-foot Pace Arrow motorhome in 1972. We spent weeks looking at different styles and makes of motorhomes. Finally we found exactly what we were looking for. Open space and practical furnishings. The bigger and more expensive the motorhome was the more impractical it seemed. I can’t imagine going camping in something with mauve shag carpeting and pink velvet seats, not with five boys that’s for sure. I could just hear me: “Take off your shoes. Don’t sit down you’re dirty, etc.” What fun. Through the years as we used it Bill made modifications to “improve” it. He modified a closet to install a microwave, made all the cupboards slip and sound proof and added extra water and fuel tanks.
I never really thought he was serious about driving to South America. I should have known better. Once he made up his mind to do something; he usually did it.
The summer of 1978 Bill decided that now was the time to go home to Argentina. We spent many hours discussing it. (I listened - he discussed.) His arguments FOR were varied: “It would be a better place to raise kids.” “We could live better there.” “Think of every thing the kids will learn, something new every day.” “It will be a learning experience for you and the boys.” “Trust me, you’ll love it.” Who could resist this logic? I even started to look forward to it.
And being the obedient wife I was I said “Whither thou goest I will go.”
After months of postponement and preparation it was NOW OR NEVER as we set off on our drive South on the Pan American Highway