Bob looked up from the vacation brochures he’d been perusing. “These are all way too expensive. Let’s go camping instead.”
Sue joggled Jason on her hip. He was teething and cranky. Sometimes the motion soothed him. Sometimes it just made him puke.
“You mean rent an RV? Where should we go?”
“No, no. Real camping. In a tent. I’ve heard of a great campground up north.”
“You can’t be serious. How can we go camping with a seven-month old baby?”
“For heaven’s sake, Sue. Our ancestors managed to spend weeks at sea and then months clearing the land and building cabins. If those women could manage it, I’m sure you can. You’re just spoiled.”
“Spoiled, is it? When was the last time you did a lick of manual labour?”
Bob waved her objections aside. “It’ll be great. You’ll see. Fresh air, lazing in the sun, swim whenever you want. Let’s invite Betty and Derek and their kids. Ben and Sam can play with Joey.”
He called Derek and soon had everything arranged. None of them had any camping equipment, so the guys organized a shopping expedition. They came back several hours later with two tents, seven sleeping bags, several coolers, two new fishing rods, and several cases of beer.
“Everyone should pack what they need,” Bob told Sue.” Toys and games for the kids, food and cooking supplies, clothes, whatever you need for a week. We’ll leave Friday afternoon, as soon as I get home from work. Make sure everything’s ready.”
“You expect me to cook meals? With no stove?” Sue couldn’t believe it.
“Just basic stuff. You know, hot dogs, that kind of thing. We’ll catch fish for some of our suppers, and the kids can pick berries for dessert. “
Sue made a mental note to pack lots of bread and peanut butter, and anything else that wouldn’t spoil and didn’t require cooking.
By the time everything was packed into the car Friday afternoon, it was past suppertime. Joey refused to get into the car. “I’m hungry,” he said in the whiney voice built into seven-year-olds.
“We’ll stop at McDonald’s,” Sue said, ignoring the dirty look Bob sent her way.
“You could have made sandwiches or something,” he grumbled. “We’re already late.”
Derek’s car pulled up at the curb. “We’ll follow you,” he shouted out the window.
After loading up with hamburgers and milkshakes at the drive-through, they started up the highway, behind a long line of other cars whose drivers were trying to escape the city’s heat. It took three hours to reach their destination, with Joey kicking the back of Bob’s seat and repeatedly asking, “Are we there yet?”
Sue, meanwhile, was trying to feed little Jason, but the motion of the car made him puke even more than usual.
Bob pulled into a marina that boasted a small store, a gas station (on the water, of course) and a long dock with several boats bobbing on the wash from the motorboats speeding by.
“I’ll go check in for the boat,” he announced. “Be right back.”
“Yes. Didn’t I mention the campground is on that island?” He waved his hand at a wooded island about half a mile away.
“No, you didn’t.” Sue glared at him. He didn’t notice, because he was already heading for the store, which sported a sign in the window: check your boat here.
He came back with a brochure he handed to Sue before following a youth in a shirt that said “Staff” to a motorboat at the far end of the dock.
While she waited for Bob to return, Sue skimmed through the brochure. It invited the reader to have a great time enjoying the wonders of nature but to be a responsible camper by following the rules. Repeated several times through the brochure was the phrase, “If you bring it in, bring it out again.” She hoped that didn’t mean there was no garbage collection at the campsite. Jason went through a lot of diapers, and she didn’t want to be packing those back out. Especially after they’d ripened for a few days.
Bob and Derek conferred for a few minutes, then Bob came back to the car to inform Sue that it would take several trips to get everything across the channel. They would take the women and children over first, with as much equipment as they could load. He hoped while the men were doing all this work of ferrying, the women could make supper, since everyone was hungry again.
Of course Joey and Ben wanted to ride back and forth on the boat with their fathers, so it took even longer than anticipated to ferry everything across. Sue and Betty hadn’t been able to start a fire to cook hotdogs, because of course the matches came over in the last load. After a hot few minutes of name-calling and finger-pointing, Derek huffed a fire into being while Bob staked out the tents.
The sun had gone down by the time the sleeping bags were unrolled and the bags stowed.
After a restless night lying on lumps of earth and stones Bob hadn’t bothered to remove before laying out the tent, Sue woke up to Jason’s hungry whimpers. She groaned as she rubbed her aching back. Picking Jason up, she carried him outside to feed him.A few minutes later, Bob joined her.
“Did you make coffee yet?” he asked. “When will breakfast be ready?”
With her free hand, Sue pointed to the cooler holding the milk and the bin holding the cereal. “There’s your breakfast. You’ll have to make a fire to boil water for coffee. There’s instant coffee in the bin with the cereal.”
Bob stared at her. “Aren’t you going to do it?”
“No. I’m busy trying to feed your son, and let me tell you, neither of us is having fun so far.”
Her voice reminded him of a volcano about to blow. He dug out a pot and filled it from the pump a quarter mile away. By the time he got back, Derek had woke and added wood to the coals from the previous night’s fire. Heavy smoke blanketed the campsite. Bob coughed his way through it to set the pot on the fire.
After breakfast, Bob and Derek loaded a cooler of beer and their fishing rods into the boat. The kids were still sleeping after being up late last night, or they could have gone too, Derek explained. Bob nodded.A few minutes later they motored off.
A little later the kids crawled out of the tents. Betty, awake by then, poured them cereal and made hot chocolate with the water left in the pot. The novelty of sitting on a log to eat had worn off, and the kids grumbled the whole time.
“Guess we’d better bring that picnic table over here,” Betty said, jabbing her thumb at it.
Jason was already asleep again, and Sue laid him on the sleeping bag and joined Betty. With twenty minutes of grunting, heaving and swearing, they wrestled the picnic table to a spot a few feet away from their campfire. Betty filled a large pot with water from the pump and heated it over the fire to wash the dishes.
“I’m bored,” whined Joey. “My game doesn’t work.”
Sue checked his tablet. The battery was exhausted. “You forgot to charge it before we left. No way to do it here.”
“That’s so lame!”
“Anyway, you kids should enjoy your time here in the woods. Why don’t you play a real game?”
“Well, you could pretend you’re pioneers. You know, a few hundred years ago this was all wilderness. No one lived here but the Indians. Then when the Europeans came, they explored the land. Some of the Indians were friendly but some weren’t. Why don’t you explore? Just don’t go too far and get lost.”
Joey and Ben conferred for a few minutes in low voices. Then they both nodded, saying “Yeah! Yeah!” in excited voices.
“C’mon, Sam, you can play too!” Joey said. The three of them ran into the woods.
“Isn’t that nice?” said Betty. “Usually they don’t want to play with Sam. They say she never wants to play fun games because she’s only five. Being away from the internet is bringing out the best in them.”
The women made more coffee and sipped it, enjoying the sunshine and the peace of a summer morning. Around noon the men returned. They hadn’t caught any fish, but they’d evidently enjoyed themselves. They were mellow with guy love and didn’t even mind having to wait a few minutes for the women to make their sandwiches.
A little later Ben and Joey came back.
“I’m starving!” Joey said.
“That’s what the fresh air does to you,” said Derek.
“Yeah, bro!” replied Bob, giving him a high five.
“Where’s Sam?” asked Betty.
“Over there,” Ben said around a mouthful of peanut butter and jam sandwich. He waved toward the woods.
“What’s that on your face?” Betty asked, peering at him. Gobs of red clay circled his eyes, and he had slashes of what looked like charcoal across his cheeks.
“War paint. We were playing Indian.”
Sue and Betty exchanged a look. “Was Sam an Indian too?” Betty asked.
“Nah, she was a pioneer,” said Ben.
“And where is she, exactly?”
“In the woods.” Catching the evil eye from his mother, he got up. “C’mon, I’ll show you.”
The adults and Joey followed Ben a little way into the woods. They found Sam sitting against a tree, her hands behind her stretching around its trunk. Vines were twisted around her wrists, and tears were running down her cheeks. Her long brown hair was spread over the tree trunk above her head.
“They said I had to stay here. They’re going to torture me and scalp me,” she sobbed into her mother’s shoulder after Betty freed her.
Betty rounded on her son. “How could you be so mean?”
“We were just playing. We weren’t really going to scalp her. We didn’t even have a knife.”
Ben backed away from his mother’s accusing finger. The men nudged each other and grinned. Derek winked at Ben, who hurried to hide behind him.
“Aw, they’re just being kids,” Derek said. “Using their imaginations. That’s a good thing.”
Betty glared at him and stomped back to the campsite, pulling Sam by the hand. Sue and the boys followed.
The men ducked off in a different direction. A few minutes later the putt-putt of the boat engine starting announced their departure.
“Why don’t we go for a swim?” Sue suggested. “There’s a little beach near the dock.”
The kids spent the rest of the afternoon splashing in the water, playing “Jaws” and pirate. Of course Sam was always the victim. Betty had to remain on guard, lest the poor child be drowned. Betty and Sue and even baby Jason, freed from his diaper, had a dip.
At supper time the men returned, still with no fish. Sue cooked the last of the hot dogs. After supper, they toasted marshmallows on sticks and sang around the campfire until bedtime.
As they crawled into their tents for the night, Sue warned Bob, “Don’t even think of taking off tomorrow and leaving the kids behind. You promised this would be a family vacation. You guys need to spend some time with them.”
Bob agreed, but a moment later was snoring. Sue suspected he hadn’t been listening.