For the last two weeks, we’ve been camping.
We haven’t been that far from home, as my husband didn’t actually have time off work. But we went anyway, seeking a bit of respite from the everyday noise we live day in, day out.
Before we left, we talked about how we’d relax, sit in the sun. Swim every day. Take the kayaks out.
These were nice thoughts.
We came to the campground on a Saturday and set up the trailer. If you’ve ever done this, you’ll know it’s pretty well an all day job. If you haven’t, watch the movie RV with Robin Williams.
Then you will know. You will understand.
That first day is sort of exhausting, especially when you add in four kids and two dogs.
We get in, right, find a good spot with enough of a back lot to set up a few games and it’s got a good fire pit. Close to the outdoor pool. We pull in, get the rig leveled, get it unhooked from the Yukon.
At that point in the day, it was about six thousand degrees in the sun. We all were drenched in sweat, carrying around equipment, getting the electric and water hooked up, hauling out camping chairs.
Finally, we were done.
Problem: we had not yet purchased any food for this impromptu little trip. The trailer was too hot to leave the dogs in while we left, so we took them with us, even though my 5 year old dog, Zoey, is hysterical about car rides.
I don’t mean hysterical in a good way, either. Everyone was hot and hungry, and of course the kids were complaining, when do we get to eat, Mom, Mom, Mom, we’re dying Mom, Mom? Mom! We’re starving to death! MOM! So we think, God, we’ll just grab Taco Bell right quick, then go buy groceries. No campfire tonight.
But it was still awfully hot outside, and we worried that if we left the dogs in the car it would be too hot, and if we rolled the windows down while we ate, there was a likelihood that Zoey would attempt escape, due to her aforementioned vehicle hysteria.
Problem: What to do with the dogs while we eat and shop for groceries? Bingo! Husband has a brilliant idea, he’ll drive up the road a few miles, leave the dogs with his brother. Pick them up when we’re done.
So we drop the dogs off, and as we’re pulling out, they’re staring at us out the window, forlorn, clearly we’ve abandoned them, Mom? Mom? Mom! Where are you going? MOM! DON’T LEAVE US HERE TO DIE!
And the kids in the backseat: Mom? Mom! Are we going to eat now? Can we eat? What are we going to eat? Why can’t we eat right this second? Is food going to happen soon?
So we get to Taco Bell. Manage a fairly uneventful meal. Head to the local grocery store.
This was about eleven at night. My daughter decides she’s too exhausted from the day to be able to shop with us, so she stays in the car. Husband, me, and three kids head in. This is an unfamiliar grocery store, so we’re walking slow, trying to find everything. Trying to think what we need, why didn’t we write a list? Our brains are too hot and too tired and too filled with tacos to think straight.
And the children all have their own sugar agendas. They take advantage of our zombie-like state. Mom? Mom! They wave boxes around at us. Can I have this? Please! I need this! Mom? Mom! I’ve never had a triple berry cream cheese chocolate icing covered Danish! I NEED THIS! PLEASE! Lemon bars? Mom? Mom! MOMMOMMOMMOMOMOM! Fruit snacks? Bananas! OH MY GOD! Look! New flavors of Doritos! PLEEEEAAAASSSEEE! We give in on things we never ever buy. What the heck. It’s vacation. Sort of. In some way. We’re camping five miles from home. Still.
Also, we are too tired to read ingredients. Husband and I meet eyes over the yelps of the children. We know what we want. Oh yeah. We nod at each other, smiling slowly.
Sleep. We want sleep.
As long as whatever the kids are throwing in the shopping cart doesn’t sport a poisonous decal on the side, we don’t care. Whatever. Let’s just get this miserable job done.
Also, I slipped a couple of clearance rack tank tops and a sweater in, because I’ve lived with my husband for over twenty-two years now, and I perceived he was too tired to realize what I was doing.
But I mean, heck. It’s vacation.
Finally, we finish. Pick the dogs back up. Drive out to the campground. Try to keep everyone quiet so no cranky neighbors call security on us, because it’s happened before (when one of my kids was laughing out loud at two a.m.) and we haul all the groceries into the trailer. Put them away. Think longingly about sleep. Sleep. SLEEEEEEEP.
Tomorrow will be fun, kids. Mom promises. But right now you all need to just shut up and go nighty night, okey dokey artichokey?
After a brief episode about people fighting over which beds they get, the kids start getting their beds ready. This is where the vacation started to take a left turn.
Sort of, veered off the road and off a cliff, into a lake, as it were.
My daughter was folding down the couch bed and froze. “Uh…Mom?” She sounded sort of panicked.
I mumble something to the effect of, “Whaaa…sleep…sshhhh…”
“The floor is broken. I mean, cracked. I mean, the floor under the couch is ripping apart.”
Surely this can’t be right. The floor was perfectly fine at the end of last summer, the last time we used the trailer. I go to inspect.
But she’s right. There is a long tear in the linoleum. I slump my shoulders and go to tell my husband.
He kneels down to check it out. Grabs a piece of linoleum, rips it right apart. “There’s water under here,” he says. “Standing water. I wonder where that’s coming from. Get the flashlight.”
I get the flashlight. He inspects further. “Oh,” he says. “There’s bugs down here, too.”
“BUGS!” my daughter screams, grabbing her bedding and jumping to the bunk bed, where her brother is already half-asleep.
Probably termites, I think. That would be our luck.
We get towels. Soak up the water. Husband takes a knife and cuts out a giant chunk of the linoleum. He is fascinated with the bugs. I am fascinated with the thought of sleep.
He asks Siri about the bugs. Siri says they are mold mites.
“OH MY GOD THE BUGS!” my daughter is shouting. “THIS IS THE MOST DISGUSTING THING TO EVER HAPPEN OH MY GOD!”
So by the time we get the mess cleaned up, and the bugs safely vacuumed away, it’s about four in the morning. Finally, time to sleep.
Except, it began to rain. It rained and it rained and thundered and the lightning was so bright, it kept lighting up the entire trailer. And my husband kept getting up to check on the floor, see if more water was coming in. At some point, he went to the bathroom, where he found water coming in from the little skylight, and mopped that up, left a towel down. Mumbled something about fixing it tomorrow.
Eventually, the rain stopped. And that’s when we heard the clack-clack-clacking sound coming from the air conditioner.
We turned the fan up, then down. Fooled with the temperature. Husband took some mysterious part of the AC unit down, inspected it. Couldn’t figure it out. Swore. Mumbled. Put it back together.
Monday he had to work. And at work, he kept thinking about the reason the little skylight might be leaking. So when he got back to the campground that afternoon, he grabs the ladder, climbs up on top of the trailer, and instructs me to go into the bathroom, and crank the handle until he says stop.
So I do. He’s crouched up above the thing, this little plastic dome, pushing, pushing, as I crank. I can see his face turning red. It’s hot outside. He’s determined to fix SOMETHING.
But the thing would not shut all the way. And I had cranked it all the way down. I see this look of resolve pass across his face, and I think, DON’T. But…he does.
He takes his palm and slams it against the plastic. It shatters, and little bits of plastic and sawdust rain down on my head. I think, this is beginning to feel like we are trapped in some version of a National Lampoon’s Never ending Miserable Camping Vacation movie.
So now, he’s stomping around on top of the trailer. Muttering, cussing, talking about burning the trailer down, the stupid piece of bleep bleep bleep, wishes he’d never bought the mother effing bleep bleep bleep, can’t get a break no matter how hard he tries, etcetera.
My son stands frozen for a second, then hollers, “Um, Dad, I’ll run up to the camp store, see if I can find anything to fix it! Maybe they got…I dunno…duct tape or something!” and off he runs.
Smart boy, I think. I wish I had thought of a reason to run.
Instead, I stay put, cleaning up the mess. Listening to husband have a breakdown on top of the trailer.
Lightbulb! I say, Hey, I’ll go up to the camp store and see if they have a service out here, or know a company that does on site repair.
Husband waves at me to go on and go, disgusted with the trailer, with himself for pushing too hard, with camping, with life in general, why can’t he just be a single guy with an easy life, living on a beach in Florida.
So I get a name of a company, bring it back. He calls, leaves a message. We sit at the trailer the remainder of the day, waiting for the company to call back, or show up. They don’t.
Finally, later the next day, a big, burly woman in a van pulls in to our campsite. I show her the problems we are having. She checks the air conditioner. She checks the little skylight.
She tells me to tell my husband to quit trying to fix things. I do not relay this advice to my husband.
She fixes the skylight, but can’t do much other than super glue a piece of the air conditioner, something about the fan blade blah blah, but they don’t make them anymore, blah blah, hope this glue will just hold on for a little while, anyway kids. That’ll be two hundred bucks, thanks, call me anytime.
At that point, my kids had invited some friends out to stay over. They were looking forward to going up to swim, do some fun stuff. I stayed back at the trailer as the repair lady fixed our broken stuff. I think, well, anyway, I can enjoy the sun. Sit out here and crochet, read, work on my new novel.
I put on sunblock, but burnt through it anyway, as I generally do, because I got the fair Irish skin of my ancestors. I went in, put a little aloe on, came back out to work, tried to find a slightly shadier spot.
My skin feels weird. More than the painful feeling of burnt skin. It feels…I don’t know. Can’t figure it out. Itchy, I guess. Itchy on top of the sunburn. Several hours later, I realize this is not just sunburn. It’s a rash. A terribly itchy, painful, burnt, filled with hives, rash. I drink some Nyquil, as it’s the only thing with antihistamine in it that I’ve got at hand.
The next day the rash was worse. I went out, bought some Benedryl, and some Benedryl cream. I think, surely this will clear up soon. I can’t think of anything strange I’ve gotten into. I begin to wonder if the nice woods behind our lot has something poisonous in it. Wouldn’t that be just my luck?
We went up to go play mini golf with the kids. On the way, the service airbags light comes on in my Yukon.
Next day, husband goes to work, I take the Yukon in to be serviced. No problem, bad sensor, have fixed by this afternoon, that’ll be two hundred eight-three dollars, thanks, call us anytime, pleasure working with you.
By then, the rash had worsened and was making me so insane with the itchiness, I made myself a doctor appointment. Doctor looks me over, questions me, decides I am allergic to the sun, puts me on steroids.
“…and Valarie?” she says as I’m leaving. “Try to stay out of the sun.”
No swimming for me. No kayaking. This sucks.
But all of this was worth it, totally worth it, guys. Because of one conversation.
My husband was making a big breakfast the other day, outside. French toast, sausage patties, eggs. As he was getting ready to cook, the older man camped next to us wandered over, struck up a conversation. He was a nice guy, said he was seventy-five, and his eyes were lined from frequent smiles, and his skin was tan. The kids were still half-asleep, and I brought out my little crochet bag, sat down under the awning in my lawn chair, and got back to work on a granny square blanket I’d been working on.
The man looked at me and grinned. “Hey,” he says. “My wife used to do that. That thing…”he waved at my hand holding the crochet hook, “that thing with the, the hook there, and the uh, string. Er, thread. Yarn. Whatever.”
I smile pleasantly. “Oh yeah? That’s nice.”
“Yup. She did that for years, but she give it up now. Now she does needlework.”
He suddenly slaps my husband hard on the back. “Do you know what she used to make? Peter warmers!”
My husband’s eyes widen. He coughs. He mumbles something indeterminate.
The man carries on. “Made them all the time. It was great. Birthdays, Christmas. Peter warmers, all the time. Like a gag, see.”
Husband says something along the lines of, “Oh yeah, hhmmn, nice, haha.”
They stand in silence for a few moments, sipping coffee, staring at the woods. The man breaks out into he-hawing laughter. “Goddam peter warmers, for Christ sake! Hahahahaha!” He slaps my husband on the back again. My husband laughs obediently.
“Warmers! For peters!”
Now they are both laughing so hard, they are bent down, coffees forgotten on the picnic table, holding their knees, quite literally hooting, laughing so hard the sound becomes just repetitive harsh, raspy breaths shoved out through ridiculously wide smiles.
As soon as they’d begin to settle down, the man would hoot again and shout, “Goddam peter warmers! PETER WARMERS!” and off they’d go again.
“Peter warmers! So they don’t get cold!”
Finally, the man says, “Well, I’ll let you get back to making breakfast. Good talking to ya!” and heads back to his trailer. My husband stands, spatula in hand, watching the man’s legs disappear around the side of his camper. Once they are safely inside and we’ve heard the door close, my husband slid over to me and whispered, “Was that guy talking about peter warmers? Is that really what he said? I wasn’t entirely sure…”
And that was when the dark clouds rolled in out of nowhere, and the winds were suddenly 60 MPH, and the kids and their friends started running around, trying to catch things that were suddenly airborne, like our yorkie, and the platter of sausages flipped over and blew away…