29
Aug

Camping With Kids - A true story

‘Camping with your children brings families together.’ The full magazine article went on to describe the family sitting around a roaring fire, making S’mores, roasting marshmallows, and making memories to last a lifetime. That’s what my family needed. More bonding and less bickering. I tossed the magazine and phoned my husband. “We’re going camping with the kids.”

By the time he got home, I had I borrowed a tent, a kerosene lantern, sleeping bags, a campstool, camp cots, cooking gear, kerosene cook stove, and an ice chest from friends and made arrangements for the neighbor to feed the cat. Hubby capitulated with arm-twisting and the promise of a fishing trip later that summer. It took the promise of a Barbie doll and roller blades to gain the children’s cooperation.

The smooth-talking Outdoorsman salesman persuaded sold me dehydrated ham and eggs, powdered potatoes, canned beef stew, dried prunes, beef jerky and powdered applesauce. He guaranteed I had enough to cook, stew, puree, and heat over a cheery campfire and create gourmet meals for a family of four for two days. The picture on the dehydrated ham and eggs showed a mom on a hillside with the breeze blowing through her hair. The canned beef stew can showed Daddy snoozing in a camp chair with his dog at his feet. The brochure promised memories to last a lifetime. It had to be true; it said so, right there on the front label.

We set off for a campground in the redwoods, about an hour away. The drive was punctuated by my son’s fingers in his mouth, eyes crossed, and tongue protruding while his sister screamed, “Make him stop looking at me!” Precious kids!

With no guardrails on the steep, winding road to our campground, rocks rolled over the canyon edge as the car wound around hairpin curves.

We found our assigned campsite one-half block from the outhouse and 200 feet from a pipe with a faucet on top, surrounded by 263 bees. Thus, an explanation of the phrase–dry camp. No running water, no electricity and the aforementioned outhouse.

After pitching our tent, hubby started to assemble the camp cots, only to find the poles on the end of each cot were missing. Our sleeping bags would now lie on the hard ground. My thoughts strayed to my own bed with fourteen inches of cotton batting, memory foam and bedsprings. Ah, well, I reasoned, the promised family togetherness would be worth it.

The children chased around the camp, and then my 7-year-old daughter requested I accompany her to the facilities. We walked past other campsites and noticed folding chairs, down comforters, portable record players, and Porta Potties. What did they know that I didn’t know? The answer soon became clear. Within fifteen feet of the outhouse, all that we had previously thought we knew about outhouses didn’t hold a candle to the reality. An indescribable smell hung overhead like a cloud. The outhouse door hinges defied latching. Holding our noses, we rushed the door. The sight inside took away all bodily urges and we raced back to our campsite. The bushes held more promise.

We learned that up the road was a washhouse with real toilets. We made a plan to do a bathroom run after dinner. Also, no open fires were allowed in the fire pits. No problem. We had the little kerosene stove to cook our instant and dried foods... Hubby unpacked the stove. Flip this, fold that, click in the burners, attach the kerosene tank, pump it up and light with a match. Easy-peasy! He pumped and pumped vigorously–it would not light. The sssssssssheoshee emanating from the kerosene tank could only mean…a minute hole in the tank. Thus, no hot water for a dried, vacuumed-sealed, gourmet meal.

“Don’t worry,” I assured my disappointed family. “We can eat the canned beef stew cold.” I reached for the can opener. “It must be here somewhere.” No can opener. “Um…I must have left it on the kitchen counter.”

Like all survival conscious men, Hubby always carried a pocket knife. He attacked the can with a vengeance. The children sat with tin plates in their laps, like the hungry waifs from a Charles Dickens novel, waiting for their daily gruel.

My daughter’s shriek interrupted my fascination with the jagged hole Hubby was gouging into the beef stew can. She danced around the cold campfire, beating her chest and tore at her tee shirt, which I pulled over her head. A flattened kamikaze bee dropped to the ground, twitched and lay still. Several inflamed bumps swelled on her chest. Of course, the first aid kit was likely lying beside the can opener on the kitchen counter. We painted her upper torso with a mud poultice.

By now the ragged hole in the top of the stew can revealed its contents. Unfortunately, it was all too reminiscent of the contents in the outhouse. The anticipated hopes of the family gathered around the fire, eating a gourmet meal tumbled into the dirt next to the stew. The children tossed their tin plates beside the mutilated can and ripped open a bag of dried prunes.

Ah well,” I mused, as I bit into a dried prune, “family togetherness….”

Shortly thereafter, the sun disappeared behind the towering pine trees and darkness crashed around us. It was 5:45 P.M. “We can sit around the fire pit by lantern light and pretend we have a roaring fire. We’ll tell stories,” I cheerfully suggested. (You can see this coming, can’t you?) A few pumps on the kerosene lantern should have blossomed into a soft and romantic glow…but didn’t. “Please don’t tell me the tank is empty,” I squeaked, barely able to distinguish the features of my amazingly quiet children who were holding hands in the darkness.

My long-suffering husband pumped furiously on the lantern, to no avail. That family memory joined the beef stew, oozing into the mountain dirt, casting an ominous green glow.

I munched on another dried prune as we visited the washhouse where we thankfully used the facilities. Returning from the washroom, Hubby turned off the headlights and we sat in total disillusionment and despair for about five minutes, staring at the sagging tent, dark fire pit and useless accouterments. Should we give up and go home or stay? Going home meant driving down death hill, at risk of plunging over the canyon, or going to bed at 6:30 PM in the hot tent.

My husband wanted to chance the hill and sleep in his own bed. I insisted it was only twelve hours till dawn when we could strike the camp and get out of this hellish nightmare.

From the barely discernible expression on Hubby’s face, I knew he would never forgive me.

Our four sleeping bags touched on the canvas tent floor. An enormous lump pressed into the small of my back. Why hadn’t we cleared the rocks off the ground before we set up the tent? We could only wiggle and squirm and try to sleep. Blackness...hot air...kids snoring… Was that a bear? No clock... I heard a mosquito. Mosquitoes find me the way bears find honey. I had to get inside the sleeping bag or be eaten alive…. Oh Lord, what time is it? I poked my husband. “Honey, what time is it?”

He groaned and looked at his luminous dial. “9:30,” he growled.

I would not survive the night. I would go insane before dawn. The strains of Kum-By-Yah drifted faintly from another campsite. I hated those well-prepared campers.

Within a few hours, the unbearable heat turned into a freezing mountain chill. 895 hours later when I could faintly see Hubby’s scowling face, I punched him. “Are you sleeping?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

We struck the tent, wadded and pitched it into the station wagon. We tossed our still unconscious children on top of the tent. The sun cast a faint glow across our neighbors, dreaming of last night’s gourmet meal cooked over a functional camp stove and story time, having bonded with their kids beneath the lantern light. We roared out of the campground and hurtled down the hill, spewing rocks over the canyon wall. We did not look back.

By 7:45 A.M. we were at our kitchen table eating bacon and eggs. We laughed about the camping disasters until the tears rolled down our faces. It became a memory that will last a lifetime.

 

16
Jun

57 Years Ago Our Honeymoon Story!

 

While sorting through my cedar hope chest recently, I uncovered my wedding gown and honeymoon nightie. A few shreds of rice still clung to the satin material. I thought back on the days of our unusual honeymoon as I folded and smoothed the purple nightie.

June 17, 1962 was a perfect day. The sun beamed bright through the stained glass windows. The scent of flowers and music filled the auditorium. “With this ring, I thee wed,” we each stated, and we were man and wife, twenty years and eighteen-years-old respectively.

Following the reception, consisting of wedding cake and fruit punch, we raced through torrents of rice, eager to reach our secret honeymoon motel in a nearby lake-resort town. That night, we planned to celebrate by having dinner at a real restaurant.

While dating as teenagers, we had eaten at hotdog stands, drive-in movie snack shacks and BBQ’s with family, but we had never gone to a real restaurant. A candlelight dinner at a restaurant seemed to be a rite of passage, signifying that we were now married adults. It would be a cherished memory, a perfect beginning to our wedding night.

The sun shone hot on our heads as we drove our 1958 MGA with the top down toward the lake. The excitement of the day took a toll on my young husband. His head began to throb and maybe nerves played a role as well. The expectations of “the wedding night” created some anxieties for him that many young grooms don’t experience today.

Several hours later, we reached our honeymoon cottage. My young husband threw himself on the bed, head pounding, eyes aching, a wet cloth held to his forehead. He begged to be allowed to die in peace. He wasn’t up to dinner at a fancy restaurant. “Tomorrow, honey,” he promised, “just let me go to bed.”

A brand new blushing bride, on the eve of my wedding, I pushed a grocery cart through a tiny grocery store in the resort town and selected spaghetti, hamburger, tomato sauce, lettuce, and salad dressing. I soon stood in front of a tiny stove in our honeymoon cottage, cooking spaghetti while my new husband groaned on the bed with a migraine headache.

“I hope this isn’t a sign of what’s ahead,” I thought, as I added a pinch of salt to the boiling water. “This is NOT how I planned my wedding night.”

Monday dawned bright and clear, a hot and perfect June day and we slept late, lulled by the lapping waves on the nearby shore, headaches and anxieties of the night before a forgotten memory.

We spent the afternoon under a willow tree in the park, snuggling on a blanket, watching the squirrels. We spoke of which restaurant we would choose for our special dinner that night to celebrate our one-day anniversary. We swam and frolicked in the lake. My new lord and master climbed a nearby diving board. “Hey, Hon, look at me,” he shouted, spreading his arms wide and launching into a perfect swan dive into the sparkling water below.

Somewhere between, “Look at me,” and the sparkling water below, something went dreadfully wrong. He hit the water with a resounding kersplash. Breaking the surface of the water, he held his hand to his left ear. “I think I broke something.”

The local emergency room confirmed, indeed, he had broken his eardrum. The doctor advised bed rest and a quiet night…

As a recently married woman, I pushed a grocery cart through a tiny grocery store in the resort town and selected hamburger, tomato sauce and French bread. On the eve of my one-day anniversary, I heated canned spaghetti sauce and listened to my young husband snore as he slept off the effects of prescribed pain medication.

Tuesday dawned bright and clear, and we slept late, being lulled by the lapping waves on the nearby shore. All afternoon we churned up the beautiful waves in a rented speedboat. Tonight was the night! We would have a romantic dinner to celebrate our two-day anniversary.

The sun shone deceivingly bright on my young husband’s bare legs and before we noticed, they had changed from white, to pink, to bright red.

My young husband moved slowly toward the MGA, each painful step tugging at his sunburned legs. He tried to pull on his trousers, but the effort was too painful. By evening, my young husband lay on the cool asbestos floor tiles (who knew?) of our honeymoon cottage, moaning. “I don’t think I can put my pants on. Sorry, hon. No fancy dinner tonight. Maybe tomorrow?”

A fairly jaded wife, I pushed a grocery cart through the tiny grocery store in the resort town and selected hamburger, tomato sauce and cookies. The storeowner smiled at me. After all, I had shopped there three afternoons in a row and had become his newest frequent shopper. I vowed to speak to mother about marriage. If this were going to continue, I needed to learn to cook something besides spaghetti.

Wednesday dawned bright and clear, we slept late… (you get the picture…) We spent the afternoon driving around the lake. In the late afternoon, we stopped at a nice restaurant before any further calamity could strike. We celebrated our three-day anniversary. It was as romantic as I had imagined. My husband’s head didn’t ache, his ear didn’t throb, his sunburn had faded to a dull pink, his pants were on, and we didn’t eat spaghetti.

After dinner, at a drive-in theater, necking in the front seat somehow didn’t hold its pre-marriage appeal. We determined it would be best to leave when the movie was half over. It was getting very late, nearly 9:30 after all, and we were anxious to return to our honeymoon cottage.

Thursday dawned bright and clear, and we slept late, lulled by the waves…

By late afternoon, we thought about the events of the week. A migraine, a broken eardrum, sun-burned legs… It became clear that we should cut our honeymoon short and return home before any further disaster occurred. I felt the need to speak to mother about expectations of marriage in general, and recipes in particular. By early evening, we bid the honeymoon cottage farewell and started home.

Instead of taking the freeway, a crooked road down the mountain would take thirty minutes off our travel time. We were both eager to reach home and resume…what honeymooners resume.

The air was warm and balmy as we left the resort town. Driving the mountain road was difficult, with switchbacks and no roadside safety rails. Slowly maneuvering hairpin curves, eyes wide, we saw broken, twisted cars in the canyons below. Had they run off the road or shoved into the canyon to dispose of them? Nearing the bottom of the mountain, we saw the valley stretched before us. The terrible ordeal was nearly over.

My young husband shifted gears and revved the engine. Nothing happened. He shifted to another gear and stepped on the gas. Nothing happened. The car coasted into a convenient gas station. He crawled under the car, and found….a broken axle. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he thought about what might have happened if the axle had broken just ten minutes sooner on the treacherous road at the top of the mountain. We were safe, thank God, but 80 miles from home. What to do?

As a mature, experienced wife of four days, able to handle any emergency, I dropped coins into the telephone. Daddy answered, and I said, “Daddy, come get me….” whereupon, Daddy exploded. “Where are you? What has that horrid beast done to my baby girl?” I explained that the beast had done nothing that I didn’t want done, but never the less, the axle on the MG was broken and we were in trouble.

Daddy drove an hour and a half, rescued his baby girl and towed the car 80 miles at the end of a rope; a discouraged young bride and disgruntled half-frozen groom.

Perhaps it was a test to see if our commitment was real. If we had felt the disasters of the week predictive of our future, we might have applied for an annulment the next morning. Perhaps we were too naïve, too inexperienced, or too much in love to fully realize the pitfalls of married life that lay ahead. Suffice it to say, we stuck it out.

Fifty-seven years have passed and my husband’s hair is gray and my face is wrinkled. We have endured through sickness and health, successful and business failure, the birth of children and the loss of loved ones, but we continue to face life’s challenges together.

****

The pungent aroma of cedar clung in the air as I placed the purple nightie back into the hope chest and closed the lid. I closed my eyes, remembering the thrills, frustrations and the romance of that week.

Returning to the kitchen, I dropped a pinch of salt into the spaghetti bubbling on the stove. Much like a pinch of salt adds a touch of flavor to a desired recipe, it takes a touch of adversity to appreciate the full flavor of life. I smiled at the memory of a honeymoon cottage by the shores of a sky-blue lake, and a tiny stove, where another pot of spaghetti bubbled three nights in a row.

Despite the unexpected events that occurred that week, it was the most wonderful, exciting, perfect honeymoon a woman could ever experience, because I was with the man I love

 

14
Feb

A Valentine Story - The Secret of the Bells

This fiction story is based on my own experience in Austria in 1987 when I was told about the 'secret of the bells.'

Rolling thunder drowned out the clanging church bells across the street. Lightning zig-zagged across the sky. Fear clutched my heart as Mother Nature crashed around me. Was this reality, or had I been caught up in a time warp that transported me to another place–magical, ethereal, and terrifying? Stay calm. It’s just a sudden summer storm. A torrent of water rushed down the Austrian cobbled street, threatening to overflow the gutters onto my feet. Were the bells warning of some disaster? Had war been declared? Had someone assassinated the President? Did Austria even have a President?

Cold spines of rain stung my face and bounced off the pavement onto my legs. Another clap of thunder and a flash of lightning made me jump. I pulled my sweater tighter around my chest and huddled closer to the wall beneath the narrow, striped canopy. And then a man stepped beneath the awning and tilted his umbrella over my head. “Do you wish to share my umbrella?”

“Thank you, how kind.” His presence soothed my fear. My pattering heart slowed. “The storm came up so quickly, it caught me quite unawares.”

“Sudden storms are not unexpected at this time of year.”

We stood side by side beneath the canopy, watching the ribbons of lightning zigzag across the afternoon sky, chatting about bells and clouds and weather. I tilted my head toward the church towers. “Why are they ringing the bells? Is there an emergency? The street is flooded.”

“The priests ring the bells to frighten the storm clouds toward the next village.”

I suppressed a smile, doubting that bells could drive away the clouds. “If that’s true, I’m sorry to say, it’s not working. It’s been raining buckets for twenty minutes.”

“Oh, it’s working fine.” A smile lit up his face. “But, the next village also rings their bells, and the storm clouds get confused, so they drift back here again. From village to village they drift. Soon they will find a quiet place where they can rest.”

I was pleasantly amused, but did not wish to dispute his quaint belief in the magical power of the bells. As we talked, we stood shoulder to shoulder. His scent comforted me–a woodsy manly scent, strong and secure.

A train whistle pierced the air. At the sound, he turned. “My train... I’m sorry, I must go. You will be alright?”

“I’ll be fine. Thank you for sharing your umbrella and for the secret of the bells.”

He caught my hand and lifted it to his lips. “It’s been a pleasure. I wish we had more time to… Good-bye.”

We looked deep into each other’s eyes and in those few seconds, as his lips brushed my fingertips, I was whirled through another time warp. In that instant, surrounded by the lightning and the chiming of the bells, it was as though we shared a lifetime together, infinite days and endless nights of love. I heard the blare of a hundred marching bands, saw the night sky explode in a cacophony of fireworks, felt the coolness of a thousand springtime rains, the color of a hundred rainbows, and an untold myriad of golden sunsets…

The rain stopped as he released my hand, waved a final farewell and strode toward the train. As he disappeared into the station, the blare of marching bands…became the tinkling bells around the cow’s necks in a nearby field. A final streak of lightning…replaced the image of fireworks in the night sky. The sun came out…and cast sparkling rainbows through the dewdrops dripping from the awning.

His scent lingered, but as I reached for the place where he had stood, the memory of his touch melted through my fingertips. I ran toward the station, “Wait! I don’t even know your name. Wait!”

The whistle blew and the train clacked down the track. The magic spell was broken. Was it a crack in time and space? Was it an entire lifetime of love that two strangers shared in those few moments, or was it just a dream caused by the magic of the bells and the storm clouds?

****

Years have passed. I’ve had the best life one could hope for–marriage, a satisfactory career, and children. But, every time I hear church bells, I close my eyes and remember a summer storm in a faraway land.

I am reminded of church bells echoing from mountaintop to mountaintop, as the storm clouds scramble from village to village in their frantic search for a silent, peaceful place. Finally, they drift onto a quiet hillside where the only sound is the tinkling of cow’s bells, as they amble across the meadows and disappear into the mist…. and I remember the man I loved who was only a dream

****
If you enjoy this short story, please check out my published novels on Amazon. Black Cat's Legacy, Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer, Black Cat and the Accidental Angel, Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot, Mrs. Odboddy - Undercover Courier, Mrs. Odboddy And Then There was a Tiger, and All Things Cat (short story collection about cats).

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