I came home from camping this year, a day early. My I-phone and Weatherbug notified me of pending thunderstorms the day we planned to break-camp. There’s nothing worse than taking down a wet tent and packing up wet gear. Well, on second thought, a week of rainy weather with nine children in a canvas tent might beat all forms of torture. That’s what happened more than once, when I was a little girl. Somehow it seemed more like an adventure than any kind of torture. We always went camping the first week of August when it often rained every day and got pretty darned cold at night. I’m not sure why Dad picked that time of the year, but he never varied.
We never knew for sure if it was going to rain all day or just for a little while. Sometimes we got all cooped up in our tent with nothing to do. Dad gave us a dime for each fly we could kill while he took a nap. I got about two dozen, but he said, Show me.” and of course they all fell in the sand after I swatted them, so I had nothing to show for all my work. I got to work again, this time picking them up fast before the sand shifted. Finding a dead fly in a sand floor is way harder than catching a fly in chopsticks like that guy in Karate Kid. In the end, I got about 50¢, just enough for a single dip ice cream cone, or a Hershey Bar or All Day Sucker for every day of the week, or I could get one of those little bears carved out of wood that I saw in town.
If the clouds cleared up and there was enough blue to make a pair of britches, I knew the day would be nice. Grandma taught me that trick. There’s almost always enough blue to make a pair of britches, but sometimes those britches had a lot of piecing to them.
Lots of times Dad loaded everybody up in the car and we went for a long, long ride. He liked to turn down logger trails with signs that said, “NO Trespassing.” When we got going down one of those trails, there was no telling where we would end, and no way to get out, ’cause those trails were one-lane, with branches scraping the sides of the car, and no places to turn around. Sometimes there were such deep ruts the bottom dragged; sometimes they were so sandy we got stuck and everyone had to get out and push the car out. Then Mom drove. Mom was way better at sticking to rules; probably because she went to Catholic school from the time she was four years old. Dad started school when he was four, too, but that was because his big brother Merle, was a scaredy-cat and was afraid to go to school by himself, so Grandma, Dad’s mom, marched Dad right down to the school and said, ‘this boy’s gotta go to school, too.’ Dad learned how to break rules early. I was probably more like Dad, ’cause I was always asking ‘why’ all the time. There were so many rules to keep track of, it was easier if I understood why. Mom got kinda fed up with all the explaining she needed to do, and Bonita said we’d all be better off if I kept quiet, ’cause once Mom was mad at me, she was a tinsy bit mad at everybody. The same thing went for Dad, only he got mad harder than Mom did.
One time when we were out meandering around those unknown roads in the rain, Dad found a huge, tall tower. The kind Forest Rangers used to watch for fires, not the kind Rapunzel lived in. I bet Smokey the Bear used the tower we found, ’cause he was always out preventing forest fires. Dad said, “Pile Out!” and all us kids did; not so much ’cause he said so, but more ’cause it got hot and crowded in that car with all those kids, and no windows down, except maybe a little crack big enough to fit a pinky finger through. And because some kids, especially Julie hated it when somebody else touched them. It was impossible to keep from getting touched in a car loaded with kids. Still Julie blubbered, “Stop touching me.” Sometimes I think Frankie and Loren touched her on purpose, just to make her yowl. Julie had the most piercing whine I ever heard; anyone who heard it was sure to do anything to make that noise stop.
I was happy to jump right out of that car and have a little space; plus it looked like Dad drove us right out from under those rain clouds, and now I could see patches of blue big enough to make a dozen pairs of britches. Right away, I started climbing the tower, even though I could see a sign, plain as day, ‘Danger, Keep Off.’ I kept climbing: one platform, then two, the three, and on and on, until I got to the tippy-top of that tower. Bonita came up right behind me, then Dad, with Loren on piggy-back. I could see everybody else down below, some on lower platforms, and Mom and Deanna, and Julie way, way down below looking up at me like little dolls down below looking up at me.
The Fire Tower’s top platform looked down at the tree tops rippling in the wind just like the waves on the lake. Instead of the smell of seaweed and lake water and sand, these waves brought the clean, green smell of pine and oaks. Far out in the distance, I saw the lake; the whole lake, all the way around. It was quiet and peaceful up there, with just the sound of the wind in the tree branches and the birds tweeting away. No red-winged blackbirds going click-click-click-twawee, like they did at home, getting ready to dive-bomb my head. Then from way down below, Mom calling up: “Be careful. Don’t get too close to the edge.” There was a rail all the way around, nothing to worry about. This was safer than the trees I climbed; just higher, that’s all. I wanted to stay up there all day long and never get back in that car. Of course, that was impossible. I had to climb down, I had to get back in the car, and pretty soon, Julie was squawking, “Don’t touch me,” again. I guess all that peace and quiet had to end sooner or later.
Today, I’m all unpacked, I got the laundry done, and things are on their way to back to order again. It never did rain on that last day; so much for modern technology and gadgetry. I could have had one more day of unscheduled bliss. But then again, I was getting pretty homesick, and my two cats, Sasha and Misha were starting to miss me, too. I kind of like sleeping in a bed. A real bed, with real sheets, and no sand. Ahhh….