Every summer, when I was a little girl, Dad took two weeks of vacation. One week was for getting ready to go, and one week was for the actual vacation. He always took us camping. Dad learned how to camp in the army, but he learned how much fun it could be from Mom. Mom camped when she was a little girl, and that’s before there were even campgrounds.
First off, we had to bake cookies for the trip. Mom had a big lard-tin that had to get filled up with home-baked cookies. Deanna baked Cherry Winks, yucky, I hated those: marachino cherries and corn flakes, I hated both of those things. Corn flakes ’cause of the six thousand boxes we ate saving Post Toasties box tops for all those free cereal bowls and juice glasses, and marachino cherries were so sweet they made my teeth hurt. Vickie made no bake chocolate cookies, that’s the first thing I learned how to make in 4-H Cooking; except for learning how to make a root beer float, but that doesn’t count, that’s just scooping and pouring, any do-do bird can do that. Bonita made peanut butter cookies, yummy, those were best still warm with a glass of good, cold milk. I liked to hold a bite of cookie in my mouth and let the milk soak in. That’s almost the same as dunking, but no crumbs in the milk glass. Mom hated dunking, it was against the rules. I made chocolate chip cookies, my very favorite kind, and the kind I got my first blue ribbon for in my first year of 4-H. Each of us Big Kids made about 10 dozen cookies. I had to eat some right out of the oven, ’cause that caramel-good smell with melting chocolate made my mouth get slippery inside and it seemed like those cookies just begged to be eaten. That left a big greasy stain on the newspaper, so I put new cookies on those stains, so Mom wouldn’t know I snitched cookies.
That was just about enough for one week of camping, ’cause some days we got ice cream instead of cookies.’ Making cookies took a long time, ’cause I could only bake one sheet at a time, and each sheet took exactly 12 minutes. Let’s see, that’s 12X10 or 120 minutes. Okay that was only 2 hours of baking, but then there was the mixing and washing the dishes, and finally packing into the tin, with a perfect circle of waxed paper between every layer of cookies. Holy smokes, that was a project. Twelve minutes was too long to just sit around staring at the oven, so I liked to read in between. The only trouble was, if I got lost in my book and forgot to set the timer, pretty soon somebody was yelling, “The cookies are burning,” which was usually Mom, ’cause nobody else paid attention to smoke like Mom did. Grandpa was a fireman, so she knew all about fires and she was scared to death of our house burning. She was always saying, “Are you trying to burn the house down?” That was another one of those questions I wasn’t supposed to answer. Once I wondered what she would say if
I said, “Yep. That’s exactly what I was trying to do. I’m surprised you noticed.” It was only a thought, I knew better than that: it would be sassing and it would be a lie, so I just kept that thought in my head where it belonged and shook my head ‘no.’ Besides, I was really sorry I burned those cookies and stunk up the whole house and wasted food, all on account of my own forgetfulness.
Next I helped Dad fix fences. That was fun, ’cause he let me drive the tractor, and test the fences for grounds. It was quiet out there in the pastures with the cows all around, and Queen Anne’s lace blooming high up over my head making everything smell green and sweet. Sometimes a sweat-bee would buzz around me. Mom showed me how to show a sweat-bee who’s boss. I just swatted ’em straight down toward the ground; then that bee would buzz off all dizzy and hardly knowing which way was up. We did all that work in the springtime, like I told you about before, but before vacation, we double-checked to make sure. Ralph, one of the teenagers Dad hired at haying time, always came by and did chores, but he lived three miles away, so if the cows got out while we were gone, they could be wandering for hours before anyone noticed, and the phone could be ringing off the hook and neighbors knocking the door down, and nobody to get the cows back behind the fence. Good fences are more important than anything before vacation.
For some reason, tons of stuff in the garden got ready for picking right about when we were ready for vacation. Beans and tomatoes and cucumbers had to get picked. Mom was right there in the kitchen while I was baking cookies, canning away, so nothing got wasted. She packed up tomatoes and cucumbers and sometimes plums from the tree out in front of the brooder house, so we had fresh stuff to eat while we were camping. That saved money, too. Nobody ever said so, but I was pretty sure God gave some extra points for time off in purgatory for saving money.
Next was packing. Mom and us kids got all the camping gear down for the attic: tent and tent poles and stakes, tarps, cots, sleeping bags, ice box, Coleman stove, lantern, flashlight, pots and pans, clothesline, clothespins (the snap kind that we only used when we went camping, so we didn’t need a clothes pin bag), water bucket, dipper, dish pans, hatchet, and lots and lots of playing cards. She gave me and Bonita and Deanna and Vickie each one empty beer case she got from the grocery store; that’s for packing our clothes: new shorts and shirts Mom made specially for the trip, a pair of jeans, our beach towel, sweatshirt, underwear and bathing suit. Most of the time we wore our bathing suits; clothes were only for if it got cold or we went to town. Each Big Kids helped a Little Kid pack. Mom packed all the food and Dad packed up the trailer. Nobody helped Dad pack the trailer, except to hand him stuff, ’cause he had to have the trailer ‘just so.’ Nobody knew what ‘just so’ was except Dad, but it took a lots of studying and adjusting and loads of time. By the time Dad got everything packed ‘just so’, he was letting out low grunt noises and rubbing the back of his neck up there where his head sits, and pinching the top of his nose between his eyebrows.
While all this was going on, the house was getting cleaned from top to bottom: dusting, mopping, scrubbing, and vacuuming. That house looked like company was coming on Easter Sunday when we got through. The whole place was Spin-n-Span and smelling like pine and Bon-Ami when we finally got in the car to go UP NORTH. Mom said, she didn’t want anyone coming in a messy house if we got in a car accident and died while we were on vacation.
Right this minute, camping gear is littering my living room, cookies are baked, and food is ready for packing; the vegetables are picked, and the Pet Nanny is coming to babysit the house and cats and feed the fish. I’m still planning to stay in my bathing suit as much as possible, play cards, and visit. You see, every year Mom, the Big Kids and the Little Kids and all their kids and grandkids get together for a camping trip. I can’t wait to see everyone.
Oh, and yes, the house is spotless. I’m not worried about dying with a messy house; I just look forward to coming home after all that outdoor living to Spic-n-Span, super cleanliness, and sliding in between nice crisp clean sheets. Remember when I told you I missed my house so much I hugged the carpet when I got home? That’s exactly the way I still feel when I get home from camping.