Last Saturday, I read this story at a local music festival. Telling or reading a story is so different from writing it and waiting for a response. It was the second year for me at the festival. Last year, I got to know the real definition of stage fright. You know when people say they are so nervous might pee their pants? Yeah. No exaggeration. I was that scared. This year, I was much less nervous. People laughed in all the right places. I think I like this story-telling gig. I just might do it again. Here' my story:
When I was a little girl, every August Dad took two weeks off from working at Ma Bell for a 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.
Mom camped when she was a little girl, back when Times Were Tough, before campgrounds. Grandpa had to put bees’ wax on his tent to get it waterproofed.
Grandpa just drove the family around until Grandma said “dinner’s ready.” She had food cooking in a pot under the hood of their engine.
They camped right beside the road; wherever they stopped. Usually by some lake or river.
The first thing WE had to do to get ready was bake cookies. Mom had a big lard-tin that had to get filled up.
My sister, Deanna baked Cherry Winks. Yuck, I hated those: maraschino cherries and corn flakes. I hated Corn flakes ’cause of the six thousand boxes we ate saving Post Toasties box tops so all eleven of us got free cereal bowls and juice glasses. Besides that, maraschino cherries were so sweet they made my teeth hurt.
Vickie made no bake chocolate cookies. Vickie was the littlest Big Kid, so she got an easy recipe.
Bonita made peanut butter cookies. I liked those warm with a glass of good, cold milk. I held a bite of cookie in my mouth and added the milk. That’s almost the same as dunking, but no crumbs in the milk glass.
Mom hated dunking, it was against the rules.
I made the chocolate chip cookies. Those were my Blue Ribbon specialty. I had to eat some right out of the oven, ’cause that caramelly-good smell mixed with melted chocolate made my mouth get slippery inside. Taking cookies left greasy stains on the newspaper. I put new cookies on top of those stains, so Mom wouldn’t know I snitched any.
I had to go to confession for that: stealing, lying, disobeying. I never knew how I should categorize it. Or was that three sins in one action I had to be careful, cuz not confessing a sin was a sin too.
Sometimes I forgot to set the timer and got lost in one of my Book-mobile. Pretty soon Mom was shouting:
“The cookies are burning,” and “are you trying to burn the house down?” That was one of those questions I wasn’t really supposed to answer.
I just kept my smart-aleck thoughts in my head where they belonged and shook my head ‘no.’
Dad got busy fixing up stuff in the barn to make it easy for Ralph. He was one of the teenagers Dad hired at haying and vacation time. He lived three miles away, so if the cows got out while we were gone, they could be wandering for hours before Ralph knew about it, with our phone ringing off the hook and neighbors knocking our door down, and nobody to get the cows back behind the fence.
Cows are super-smart about discovering bad fences. Dad said they put their chin hairs up against the wire to see if it tickles. No tickling and they just barged on through.
Good fences are more important than anything before vacation.
I helped Dad make sure the fences were in tip-top shape. 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 up to my shoulders making everything smell like green carrots.
Sometimes a sweat-bee would buzz around me.
Mom knew how to show a sweat-bee who’s boss. Just swatted ’em straight down toward the ground; then the bee would buzz off all dizzy, hardly knowing which way was up. You can do that to a sweat bee.
Never try that with the kinds of bees that like to live in wood piles behind the church. Those will chase you right into the church and pretty soon all the women who’ve ever been moms, or ever had a mom will be swarming around, putting ice on you or baking soda poultices and ointment; oooing and ahhing like nobody’s business. If that didn’t feel so good, it might be embarrassing.
Tons of stuff in the garden got ready for picking right about when we were ready for vacation. Early in the morning, us kids picked beans and tomatoes and cucumbers and corn.
Mom was right there in the kitchen we baked cookies, canning away, so nothing got wasted. Besides canning, she packed things up so we had fresh stuff to eat while we were camping. That saved money.
Nobody ever said so, but I was pretty sure God gave some extra points off in purgatory for being thrifty.
Mom and us kids dragged all the camping gear down for the attic: A huge tent that was about big enough for a circus, and wooden tent poles and stakes. Dad said it was an army tent. We could’ve fit all the Little Kids in the tent bag and had ‘em come out one by one, like a clown car. Tarps, canvas cots, sleeping bags, ice box, Coleman stove, lantern, flashlights, pots and pans, clothesline, clothespins, water bucket, dipper, dish pans, hatchet, and lots and lots of playing cards.
Mom gave each Kid an empty beer crate 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. If it didn’t fit in that beer case, tough luck, it was staying home. Anyways, 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 up their beer crate.
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 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.
Amidst all this hubbub, the house was getting cleaned from top to bottom: dusting, mopping, scrubbing, and vacuuming. The whole place got Spin-n-Span and smelling like pine and Bon-Ami. It looked like company was coming on Easter Sunday, 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.
I always said a Sincere Act of Contrition when Dad started up the engine. I said sorry for all the bad things I did, forgot to do, or forgot I did. I wanted to be on the other side of the Pearly Gates before the neighbors started talking. I’m pretty sure criticism gets a busy signal in heaven.
I hear a lot of talk about how life was simpler back in the good old days. Maybe some things were. But it sure seems like it was a whole lot more work to relax back then.