Beverly Sommers sure can write! Her First Love from Silhouette and Keepsake books were always my absolute favorites. The little bio writeup in the books revealed why her characters and the exotic locals she described were so vivid , she had lots of interesting jobs often dealing with children , and traveled , living in numerous exotic places which wiggled their way into many of her stories. I recently read this story Keepsake #3 Starting Over which I had not read back in the 80’s – to think I had nearly missed this treat!
Though the back blurb promises a story about an exciting road trip featuring hero Ritchie and gal-pal Arlie the actual road trip only consists of twelve pages. Their’s more going on than the average teen series fiction. First off the story is taken from the unusual I point of view – and even rarer from the boys point of view. Second the story is about fifteen year old Ritchie and his twelve year old brother being kidnaped – or rather , re-kidnaped , kidnaped back – by their mother. It seems nine years ago Ritchie and Paco were taken by their father during an ugly custody battle who shuttled them off to a backward district of El Salvador where Ritchie and his brother have been raised caring for chickens and little else. Suffering from California culture shock the boys spend their first night sleeping on the floor , blanche at hot dogs and find showers a novelty. Though Paco quickly adjusts to their new life finding a friend down the block , Ritchie spends most of the time avoiding his mother and plotting an escape. Just as he’s about to totally write off the benefits of sunny California he meets Arlie , a streetwise neighbor who teaches him to play basketball , how to dance and takes him to his first pool party. She is sweet and sassy and envious of his unshakable bond with his father and becomes intrigued with Ritchie’s plan to walk – i.e. hitchhike to El Salvador. The undercurrents in the book are marvelous – Ritchie is rather ruthless concerning his mother , he admits they never had much of a bond and knows that Paco with his beauty and charm is a better match for his oft showy mother. Though Ritchie contrariwise admits that he might be making his mother out to be more of a monster than she is that she was probably expecting the two boys she lost , not two soon-to-be-teenagers who are completely uneducated. Both boys have never gone to school , can only read a little Spanish , and know nothing of geography and money. Ritchie eventually gives in to his tutor only in the hopes that his newfound education will help him return to El Salvador. But when the actual road trip occurs it’s foiled within twelve pages after a group of surfers pick them up and Arlie hurts her leg at the beach forces them to return home. Luckily their timing was perfect because Ritchie’s dad risking possible jail time has come to California to see his boys.
The reunion is bittersweet , though Ritchie’s mom is furious with her ex-husband sparks fly at the possibility of rekindling a romance which Ritchie notes with a touch of nausea saying if they do they might louse things up. Meaning his moving in with his father. Paco his brother decides to stay with his mother , though a reader can note that the mother’s displeasure in this arrangement is that she still feels as though she’s lost Ritchie – old Ritchie , and new Ritchie and Paco is no bargain , selfish , manipulative – even the mother knew his flaws and sighed over the fact that one son hates her guts the other is only allowing himself to be bought. Pretty heavy stuff for a teen series book but it’s all marvelously laid out making a reader feel a breezy sense of satisfaction that a writer gave her something more than a dance to think about.
One of my favorite ideas is when Arlie at the beach , knowing there is no turning back has Ritchie help her chop off her hair , super short , before dying it pitch black so that she can travel incognito as a boy. It made me immediately think of all those Disney Sunday’s back in the 80’s and waiting for one of my favorites to pop up – Swiss Family Robinson and that scene when it’s discovered Bertie in her ringed skullcap is actually Roberta! 80’s hair ran the gamut between short and long depending entirely on certain fashions or fads. Actual boy-cuts were only sported by the most daring. But in 1987 short hair was pretty in – Lindsay Crouse’s hair in House of Games seems to suggest of her character like Bertie/Roberta a tomboy infiltrating the world of big boys where everything is a con-game. Anna Magunson in Making Mr. Right has a short sassy hair do completely set off by her sassy attitude and funky outfits – tight dresses and boxy little bolero’s with geometric cut out’s in back. But my all time favorite boy’s cut – again 1987 is Mary Stuart Masterson playing the ultimate tomboy Watts in Some Kind of Wonderful , with multiple pierced ears , two tone bleach blonde hair on brown – cut in a darling little cap that blows the sixties pixie right out of the water. Other 1987 Short do’s – Kristy Swanson’s chicly butchered hair in Flower’s in the Attic which might’ve bombed out with blue jeans – but paired with an antique lace dress , Kristy looks superbly angelic. And Madonna reinvents Marilyn Monroe’s bob for Who’s that Girl but paired with thick black eyebrows it’s a bit too much.
Though the story was good , real good , I have to admit I was disappointed that I wasn’t sold the promised road trip. I have a thing for road trips, possibly perked by an independent feature I caught one day on Family Channel and it’s a childhood fave , nothing spectacular mind you. It’s called On Our Own and was done in 1988 though the dates could be off. I say that because I always found it strange that the girl who plays Kate in the movie , Amy Allred, plays an approximate 12-13 yr. Old and looks the part , but a year before that she played a sixteen year old in The Witching of Ben Wagner and looked the part , of course I’m splitting hairs but if anyone’s that good of an actress I don’t know how she didn’t get anymore parts.
If you’ve never seen the movie it’s about four children – Mitch , the oldest probably fourteen or fifteen , Kate – twelve or thirteen , Travis – about 8 or nine and Lori about 2 , who have just lost their mother to a lingering illness. Stuck in Thompson Hall and faced with the probability of being separated in foster homes ( they have just learned Lori will be leaving the next morning ) they decide to take off for their uncle Jack’s place in Nevada.
Oddly enough there are two versions of this movie one was released to Family channel and one was released by Feature Films for Families. Even stranger is that the second release in 1998 has scenes that weren’t shown in the Family channel version – more about that later.
As the kids make a daring escape at night , complete with music that sounds suspiciously like the chase music for the Goonies , they turn a fire hose on the cranky wardenlike nurse , climb down an access ladder from the roof, hide from the police in a weedy empty lot before making their way across the city through huge water ways , across caged bridges all with the soundtrack booming out original songs by the Osmond boys. It’s kitschy but great! By the time they make it back to their duplex it’s morning and while Mitch climbs through the window into their old apartment , Travis wants to see if he can get his dog – Ralphie back from his neighbor. With Lori tucked into the families bashed up Voltswagon bug the two find their tasks wrought with snags , though Mitch finds uncle Jack’s address the cache of money he’d hoped to find in his mother’s bill box produces a measly nine dollars. And a police cruiser pulls up forcing Kate and Travis to duck under the outside stairs. Fortunately the police’s snooping and questioning of the neighbor allows Travis to get Ralphie when he wanders out as the door is left open. With the police gone and Ralphie reclaimed they can rejoice as long as Mitch deflects Kate’s probing about how much money he got – enough – he says vaguely.
I must have watched this movie about fifty times – okay okay possibly more but it’s always interesting that no matter how many times you watch something you can still get something more out of it – say how’s this – who is Lori’s father? Their father is mentioned several times and it’s later learned * spoiler* he’s in jail but the way the kids talk he’s been gone for years. More about that later. Back to the road trip. As Mitch tears out of the parking garage , nearly running down a neighbor who tries to stop them – this is more for laughs – anything to show a guy in his underwear crashing back into a pile of garbage cans but even more to show him getting up to give his shorts a harumph hoist. Yes it’s that kind of movie – all throbbing with the original song – We’re on our own – we can make it to-ge-thur! When I first started watching this I was positive Kate – Amy Allred had sung parts of the song – I was startled to find out the singers were all boys! No biggie – I made the same mistake later on with Hanson – I was positive
Mmm Bop was sung by a mix of boys and girls.
Heading out of L.A. the kids take the back roads stopping for a picnic along the way with Mitch stopping for groceries and just about exhausting their funds. As a kid I couldn’t help wondering why they hadn’t packed better , didn’t they have any groceries left in the house – a loaf of bread , peanut butter? How long had they been staying at Thompson Hall? Enough of that. I love how they show that the kids are developing their own fractured family as Mitch finally breaks it to Kate over peanut butter sandwhiches at their picnic stop in an old stone ruin that they are down to a dollar , ninety five. This foils Kate’s idea of going out for hamburgers and is miffed that he didn’t tell her. They have officially turned into a kinda bickering mama and papa. What are they going to do when they need gas? – Mitch has a few ideas. Now depending on which version you watch the new character of Peggy Williams ( a dead ringer for Stepfanie Kramer – Hunter – and this is weird because I thought it was her and they’d messed up the end credits because the little girl Lori her name is Stephanie Kramer! ) a school teacher on Christmas Vacation keeps stopping at gas stations to phone her mother. In the first version I saw on Family channel her mother is never shown , she’s just a voice and her conversation is limited to complaining about Peggy’s rambunctious dogs left in her care.
In the second release her mother pops ups at intervals changing the vibe of the movie that the entire story is being told over the course of a single phone call. The mother’s roll however seems to be there only to state the obvious – that it’s wrong for the children to drive without a license and when in the next scene they steal gas at a gas station that yes , they should’ve done some odd jobs to earn the money – but this is redundant – especially when if we are to agree with her , if they’d done everything by following the rules they never would’ve met Peggy. This happens after Mitch falls asleep at the wheel , sending the little bug rocketing over rough terrain before crashing into a cactus. When Kate wakes up to gasp what happened? Mitch can only lie – I pulled over. The next morning when Kate sees they are parked at the edge of a gorge rips into Mitch , breaks down in tears and glares at Travis who ill timed had scouted and brought them a cattle skull – a possible symbol of their fate. No money , no car , no mom.
In comes Peggy , pulling off on the bridge to ask if they need help. Conning her with a story that their father has gone for gas and hasn’t come back yet , they are given a ride to the nearest gas station where their story falls apart. Faced with no dad in sight , Peggy moves to call the police forcing Mitch to steal Peggy’s car. The next scene is great – pulling into a grocery store , they puncture the radiator on Peggy’s car , while Kate frets about the police , Lori needs to go potty and Mitch attempts to scrounge for some food – Kate turns cynical – What are you going to get for a dollar ninety five. Travis ever the optimist finds a quarter and plunks it into a slot machine in the store ( they’re in Nevada ) and of course wins. As coins pour out Mitch races over to sweep the winnings into Travis’s cap , they hurry out to show Kate and Lori. Lori is cute as ever pawing at the coins while Kate licks her lips over the possibilities of dinner – hamburgers and shakes – and banana cream pie.
Dun , da dun da. Two scuzzy creeps who’d watched Travis win , perched before the magazine rack have skulked out to demand the money with sly grins that the quarter Travis found was his. A fight breaks out and the Disney channel version is actually better edited and has Peggy rolling up in back of a sheep truck hemming and hawing over how everything she owns that is wool is going. ( her mascara is askew suggesting allergies – this was never explained in the other version – in fact one could think she might have just been crying )She comes to the rescue threatening the thugs with a cap pistol before demanding the kids tell her what’s going on. She is possibly one of the gentlest yellers I have ever seen! Cue the next scene with the kids getting their hamburgers and shakes and Peggy on the phone telling her mom it’ll be a few more days , that she’s taking the kids to Jacks. After a night in a motel , hitching a ride with a trucker when her car breaks down , they finally arrive at the illustrious Uncle Jack’s – who is every orphans dream dad – he is rich! and has his own horses , planes , motorcycles. Uncle Jack is played by Sam Hennings who made the rounds in the 80’s , handsome and dashing he looks like someone from Nevada.
He greets the kids with open arms , though his stuck up girlfriend – Teresa would like to see them leave , especially Peggy. Even though Peggy’s been there barely five minutes Teresa sees her as a threat! And as Teresa’s obnoxious son breezes in he has to be bribed to play host and take the kids out to see the horses! In their absence it’s revealed that Uncle Jack is one of those in name only Uncle’s and that the kid’s real father is in jail. That’s why I was wondering who is Lori’s father I don’t think the dates really line up.
Meanwhile , out in the barn , Rhett refuses to give them carrots to feed the horses and he and Mitch get into a fight. I love how Kate just leaps in. Mitch’s face is inches from being shoved into a pile of horse manure and she just starts pounding on Rhett’s back. Even Travis gets in on the act and moments after Mitch lands a good nose crunching punch , Travis whips a chunk of what-he-thinks-is-mud at Rhett’s back. Bleeding and smelly Rhett walks back to the grown ups full of complaints. Uncle Jack however had been wanting to do the same thing for months.
Peggy arranges to take the kids back to L.A. on a bus , but the social workers played like a dumb black-cop-white-cop duo show up and Mitch feeling desperate steals the bus and heads his siblings off down some bumpy back roads. In hot pursuit are the social workers , Peggy in a taxi and a sheriff. It ends of course with Uncle Jack deciding to do the right thing , he flies in landing his plane on the highway forcing the bus to slow down and asking the kids to come live with him. Depending on what movie you’re watching there are two different endings – The Family channel one has a voice over of the last phone call between Peggy and her mom , she is delaying her return to pick up her dogs announcing she’s going to spend Christmas with Uncle Jack and the kids. The mother is only too pleased. In the second version the mother is shown and it’s revealed that over the course of their long phone call she was making a wedding cake and setting two Tender Moments figurines on top. She also guesses that Jack is come to pick her up and whisk her off to their impending wedding. I think I like the Disney version better , I don’t have to be told that Jack and Peggy are getting married , they probably will , it’s all implied. They also mention that the kids received community service for their trouble – a lot more subtle than constantly telling us they were up to no good. And did you ever wonder how Uncle Jack handled basically throwing out his girlfriend Teresa and her son right before Christmas or did they just leave? And as for the nostalgia
Kate is a homage to the 1987 prep. Collar shirts under sweaters , tapered stone washed denim jeans with a contrasting darker denim jacket – big and baggy with the sleeves rolled up and cuffed. That was a must. Her tobacco colored hair touches her shoulders in soft waves like a perm that has grown out while her puff of bangs is accomplished by back combing , witnessed once in the movie when she’s finishing up in the motel bathroom. I recall doing that and using the thin little barrettes to create like a poof at the top. That to. Teresa’s long robe-like white coat was also fashionable , it was kinda like a duster only more like an unstructured sweater paired with her Heather Locklair looks and all white outfit it’s a very classy look. I hope you like the pics – I don’t know if you can notice but Kate’s black and red striped sweater is a little Freddy Kruger! and adorable Lori is wearing a Goody barrette.