Dad took two weeks of vacation every summer. 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 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, that’s just scooping and pouring. Any do-do bird can do that.
Bonita made peanut butter cookies. Yum, 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 each. 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.
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: it would be sassing and it would be a lie. 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.
Ralph, one of the teenagers Dad hired at haying time, came by and did chores while we were gone.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.
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. Mom 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. 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. It looked like company was coming on Easter Sunday. 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.
Now camping is so much lighter. I still have loads of stuff to pack, it takes up about a tenth of the space. I’m still stay in my bathing suit as much as possible, play cards, and do whatever the kids want to do. This year it’s just me, CoCo, Ceci and Ceci’s kids. Not all the Big Kids, Little Kids and all their families like most summers. Loved One is staying home this year. A quiet summer. I will miss the hubbub. And, I’ll enjoy the quiet.