Sometimes we went way, way far away from home to camp. That took forever. Mom and Dad scooped us right out of bed, still in our pajamas, and put is in the car so early in the morning, it was still dark and headed Up North to Brimley Park. That was way up in the Upper Peninsula, across the Mackinaw Straits. We had to take the Ferry over there. That was really fun. I never saw a boat so big it could take thousands of cars over, all jam-packed together like sardines in a can. Once Dad got the car in the Ferry, we squeezed out and took a walk around, and watched the white caps crash up against the ferry. The smell of the lake filled up my nose and reminded me that this week was going to feel like it lasted forever. Still I couldn’t dilly-dally yet ’cause if we weren’t in the car when the Ferry got to the other side, our car would hold up everybody else, and people would be mad as wet hens at us. That’s no way to start a vacation.
Once Grandma got the bright idea to send Mom’s cousin Joey along with one of her girlfriends. Grandma was always thinking Mom needed some help with all us Magpies. Grandma had two boys first, then Mom way before she had Aunt Annie. Uncle Gene was a big teaser from the get-go, and Uncle Kenny was a pee wee until after he got out of school, then he got big and strong, but it was too late to be much help for Grandma; besides, she didn’t believe in boys doing much work. Mom didn’t either, but Mom had four girls before she had any boys. That was the best idea Mom ever had, ’cause she put us girls right to work, so by the time she had any boys, she had a whole bunch of girls to help her out. Grandma should have done that, ’cause then she would know that all the help she tried to give Mom kinda backfired.
The year we took Joey and her girlfriend camping with us, we got to the Ferry, and as usual, we had to wait in a big long line of cars forever and a day. Joey and her friend decided to get out and shop awhile even though it was night-time and no stores were open.
“Ple-ease,” Joey said, looking all sweet and honest as could be. “We’ll only be gone a minute.”
Mom pressed her lips together tight and looked over at Dad who was leaning over the steering wheel and looking out over a sea of cars, like maybe if he looked hard enough that Ferry would come into view. That look of Mom’s was her secret signal for Dad to say no, but for some reason Dad missed the secret signal that time.
“Do you have a watch?” he asked. “Be back in no more than 30 minutes.” It turned out “shop” really meant walk around and swish their pony-tails like they were on American Bandstand until some boys noticed them, then flirt awhile ’til they lost track of time, so Dad got our car up to the front of the line and couldn’t get on the ferry because no Joey and no friend. Three more Ferries came to shore before Joey showed up, and no friend.
“Where’s Janet?” or whatever her friend’s name was, Joey said, like Mom and Dad were keeping track of her and they should know what happened to her friend. Dad told Joey to get out and find her friend and be back there before the next Ferry or he was going without them. By that time I had to go Number One, but I kept quiet because for one thing, I for sure wasn’t going to make us miss that Ferry again, and for another thing, I didn’t want to miss what Mom was going to say to Joey and her friend ’cause I could tell she was hopping mad, and Dad was rubbing the back of his neck and squeezing the place between his eyebrows again, and that was a bad sign.
The next Ferry docked and the line started to move. Dad inched the car forward to get back into line.
“Dean, you can’t just leave them.” Mom said. Dad just kept inching forward, looking straight ahead, like he didn’t even hear Mom, and I knew he did, ’cause everybody hears what Mom says, even when they pretend not to. Just as Dad was about to roll onto the ramp and get on board the Ferry, Joey snapped open the door and the two of them jumped in. Joey almost sat right on Bonita ’cause she was drawing pictures on the fogged up window with her finger, so she didn’t see those girls coming. She quick scootched out our the way, just in the nick of time
Mom whipped around so I could see her whole front side from the back seat window, where I was sitting in the little nest I made for myself. Loren Deedie Bopper almost woke up in her arms. Then Mom said in her maddest of all voices; the voice that was all quiet and every syllable pronounced distinctly, like she wanted to make sure you took the time to understand every single word; the voice that sounded just like the air felt before a thunderstorm, all quiet and full of electricity and about to explode with thunder right behind it. “Do you girls know how long we waited? I hope you realize what an inconvenience you created for us.” Joey and her friend just looked at Mom, like they were afraid to even blink. I saw Joey’s jaw loosen up, like she was about to say something, then she clamped it shut again.
That’s all I remember of those girls and that trip. I don’t think I saw them the rest of the week. Dad kept saying stuff about teenagers and Elvis Presley and jungle music, until pretty soon, Mom’s brown eyes got all light again and she started to laugh up a storm. after that, when they told that story, they just laughed and laughed, one starting a sentence and the other one picking up to finish the story.
I guess that’s the secret to having a good time. Just keep laughing. Even waiting in line for hours more than necessary can get pretty hilarious if you remember it with a sense of humor. Oh, and another thing, just because somebody has a bright idea, even if it’s your own mom, you don’t have believe it’s right for you. Mom never took a helper along again. She had all the help she needed right in her own back seat.