Juanita E. Mantz: “Flintstones Land”
Selected by Alexis Rhone Fancher, Poetry Editor
Mom and Dad fight the whole way from California. They fight about which way to turn and where to go. They fight about when to eat and they fight about us kids causing a ruckus. Mom gets mad because Dad always likes to take the long way. Dad uses a Thomas Guide, which is a big book full of maps. The only time Mom and Dad aren’t bickering is when Dad turns on the country station and they sing along to Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, with me and my sisters snapping our fingers to the beat.
We are driving to Flintstones Land in South Dakota. Mom and Dad are here for my sister Roberta’s wedding in Jefferson. Dad says we came to South Dakota so we could see Mount Rushmore, too. That’s the super-high mountain of rocks with the presidents’ faces carved in it. We also visit a cave where you could see a bunch of crystals hanging from the ceiling. It is so pretty.
On the road, I stare out the window and me and Jackie play the alphabet game, watching signs for A to Z. We stop at Motel 6 to sleep. We all share a room and eat McDonald’s for dinner.
I can’t believe it when I see Flintstones Land. I yelp in happiness. The Flintstones are one of our favorite cartoons. We are staying in Dad’s pickup truck in the RV park next door, sleeping in the back of the shell on packing blankets.
I am riding Dino the dinosaur. I am playing with my sisters in a rock house. I am full of joy.
Flintstones Land is magic. It’s everything. It’s so colorful and bright, just like the cartoon. Jackie and I climb into a rock car that has rock wheels. We pretend we are at the Flintstones drive-in movie theater and that the car is about to tip over from the weight of a brontosaurus steak. Annie begs to get in but we ignore her.
Dad yells “Yabba dabba do!” He raises his fist in the air and smiles. Mom winces, shakes her head, and smiles. She is trying to let go and have fun.
This is before Dad wrecked his legs from moving furniture for far too long. This is before all the years of Dad’s smoking and beer drinking took their toll. This is when Mom is working only one waitressing job and times are good. My parents are still “bill-poor,” as Mom will say, but there is enough money for this vacation.
Flintstones Land is even better than Disneyland to us as kids. The park shines in my mind, an image imprinted there to drown out all the bad days. I tell myself, Remember all the good times. There were many good times. Remember? Why do you always focus on the bad times? Remember the good, remember, remember….
What I remember most are the rocks. There were lots of colored houses made of rocks. Everything was made of rocks, including all the Flintstones cars and the tables. There were painted signs with images of all the characters. It was the opposite of high tech, and when I tell people about it now they do not believe it existed. It will take me years to try to write about it. As an adult, I will not fully believe it existed, as if it was a figment of my imagination, until my twin sister Jackie visits it with my mom right before it closes for good in 2019. Jackie buys me a Flintstones Land T-shirt. But let’s get back to then, and to my memories before they glide away.
Here is what I remember. There were statues of all of the characters, with places you could put your head through to take a picture. I imagine that I put my head through Bam Bam and then Dino and ignored Betty and Pebbles as too girly. As a kid, I want to “bam bam bam” like Bam Bam rather than wear a dress and pearls.
Dad peeks his head out through Fred Flintstone. Mom peeks through Wilma. I point my fingers like two guns at Dad, yelling my favorite rhyme, “Bang Bang! You’re dead, brush your teeth and go to bed!”
Despite all the arguments and fights, my parents are beautiful at that age. Mom’s thick hair is in an updo like a beehive and she’s wearing shorts and a striped shirt. Her skinny legs are dark brown from tanning at the beach. Dad’s in his thirties, with his big belly hanging over his wrangler jeans, topped off by a blue shirt and a bolo tie. His cowboy hat is in the pickup truck. Dad’s smiling again and pulling out his false teeth to make us all laugh. I watch Mom laugh as Dad tickles her and slaps his knee, crossing his eyes as he ogles her.
My sisters and I run around Flintstones Land screaming and giggling. Mom and Dad eat Wonder Bread bologna sandwiches from a Styrofoam cooler. We slurp Shasta colas out of cans to quench our thirst. The soda is so cold it burns my eyes. I wipe the orange bubbles off my chin and grin.
Writing this story, I think I want to reach out and make us all hold hands. Sentimental, I know, but so needed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Juanita E. Mantz (“JEM”) is a writer, a USC Law educated lawyer, a performer and podcaster who believes writing has the power to change the world. She graduated from UCR in 1999 and from USC Law in 2002. She has been a criminal defense attorney with the Riverside County Public Defender for over a decade representing mentally ill clients. Juanita is also a creative nonfiction writer whose YA memoir is titled "Tales of an Inland Empire Girl" (Los Nietos Press, Jan 2022) and she also has a hybrid chapbook that challenges mass incarceration policies titled "Portrait of a Deputy Public Defender, or how I became a punk rock lawyer” (Bamboo Dart Press, Aug 2021). Her stories have been published in literary journals, newspapers & anthologies. She is an alumna of the VONA & Macondo workshops and serves on the Board of Directors of the Inlandia Institute. Juanita has presented at the UCR Punk Conference, AWP, Listen to Your Mother, Burbank and Beyond Baroque. She produced and taught the ASA 2020 Freedom Course on Combatting Mass Incarceration. She will be appearing at UCR Writers Week in February. She is in the low residency MFA nonfiction creative writing program at UNO. Check out her “Life of JEM” blog on blogspot and her video podcast of the same name where JEM does live interviews with writers streaming on Facebook and Twitter. You can find her on Twitter @lifeofjem and on Insta @lifeofjem1. Find everything on her author website: https://juanitaemantz.com.