Eyes not yet open, I felt incredibly uncomfortable from something I couldn’t place. My head hurt just behind my right temple, I was hot and sweaty and knew for sure I was laying on the most uncomfortable bed in existence. Things were poking me in the back, and the mattress was hard as rocks. If my head could quit pounding I could figure out what the problem was.
“Mom!,” I heard Morgan shouting at me from far away. “Mooooom,” she said it again. Opening my eyes to see her bending over me, face inches from mine, I realized I wasn’t in a bed and the sun was blinding me. I was on the ground underneath the hitch on the front of the camper. Immediate pain rushed into the side of my head and I vaguely remembered the skateboard that I was helping Morgan to ride. We were in Dyess, Texas at the KOA Kampground while Military Man was gone for another day of Safety School for the Air Force.
“Are you ok?” she asked me, and sitting up, I realized I had just been knocked out. Making my seventh or eighth concussion, I knew the confusion and the similar situation, except usually it was a soccer coach standing over me asking me if I knew where I was, not my daughter telling me to wake up.
“Morgan can you go get me some ice and my phone,” I asked her and she raced up the steps into the camper, eager for a chance to be a real doctor. Jake, still hanging around asked me if I was ok, and I said yes, but I couldn’t remember what exactly happened.
“Well, Morgan was on her skateboard and then you tried to catch her and hit your head on that,” he said while pointing to the hitch of the camper. “Oh yeah, her board flew out and I lunged,” I said to myself with more pain surging to my temple.
Returning with a Coke (she couldn’t find the ice packs), a roll of toilet paper and the dogs, chaos ensued in the next few minutes. As I sat in the folding chair, Jake went back to playing on his own skateboard, Gunney and Arco seemed very distressed at my situation and if one was in my face trying to lick me the other was running laps around me. Meanwhile, I tried to hold the Coke on my head but Morgan was so busy wrapping my brain with toilet paper (for healing) that by the time she finished the entire roll was relocated to my head, face and neck. Looking at her work and feeling very proud of herself, a passersby going to their own campsite slowed to gawk, and all I could do was wave. But I didn’t have a good grip on the Coke, and it sailed right from my hand, arcing in the air as everyone’s eyeballs watched. Too slow to even respond, I could only stare at it like a science experiment when it suddenly landed and blew up, sending Coke spraying in every direction, including the slow-passing car.
“They’re rolling down their windows now mom,” said Jake as he pointed at the vehicle.
“I am SO sorry,” I said from my wobbly state in my chair, but with toilet paper wrapped so tightly around my face it sort of came off like a mumble from Frankenstein’s monster. “Iiiiiiii ooooooohhha Aaaaahhrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyy.”
“You have another concussion,” said the Emergency Room doctor a couple hours later. “You have to quit hitting your head because it seems like you’ve lost your short term memory,” he said. “Right,” I replied, “because I like to hurt my brain and forget what was apparently the most incredible trip of my life.”
“You also need to take care of that broken toe,” said the nurse with my discharge papers. Like a shockwave from an earthquake, when I stood up from the chair at the campground after knocking myself out, I went to move the step that sits at the bottom of the camper stairs, and apparently dropped it on my toe, cracking my pinky right in the middle. Not a complete break, but enough to both count and hurt. That was the point where I decided to call Military Man and cry “Uncle” because I realized in that moment I completely forgot what I was even getting up to do. I couldn’t remember anything from earlier in the day, or where we were (which wasn’t that uncommon with all of our national travels lately) and most importantly, as I stared at the Junior Ranger hat that was on Jake’s head and covered with pins from our hikes, a huge black space came up and blocked where Yellowstone should be in my memory.
The most epic trip of my life and I couldn’t remember any of it. Having an internal panic attack that mirrored my external physical pain, I took the kids and dogs inside and frantically tried to find my pictures of Yellowstone while I waited on Military Man to make it home and save me.
The photos were there, but still nothing remembered.
And then I found a video of Gunney and the kids playing at a campground trout lake, and remembered that at least. I could remember walking him across the dirt paths and through the woods with Bear Warning signs, and remember finding more animal tracks with him, and watching him chase ducks and splash in the water. It wasn’t just a video, but it was the only memory I had. I know I actually remembered it, because watching the video, I thought any second I will see Arco carrying around my shoe, and it never happened. But Military Man confirmed it was just behind me at the time I filmed. If Gunney was in it, I remembered. If he wasn’t in it, I didn’t remember.
“Technically, you don’t know what you can’t remember,” said Military Man that night in bed. “So you could have a lot more memories of Gunney in Yellowstone but you don’t remember them yet.”
“Thanks a lot turd!” I told him, realizing he had a point. But, something felt solid about that one piece. I had Gunney. “Just relax,” he said. “They’ll come back, but you need to recover first. The harder you try to force it, the more you won’t remember.”
“Well at least I remembered Gunney acting like a puppy again on the lake,” I said to comfort myself. This dog snoring just beside me in the floor was nearly 14 years old, and when I first met him he was barely two. Walking into Military Man’s house, this bolt of white lightning and fur came flying to me, and I knew it was a Labrador Retriever as I grew up with them. But like a heat seeking missile he whirled circles in front of me, tail breaking my shins with his explosive wagging. Every time I tried to pet that dog I either got a face full of wet nose or a simultaneous leg bashing from his tail and body enthusiastically bouncing off of me. I knew I was in love. With both the dog and Military Man.
Over the next week as I tried to rest and remember things, all that came to me was a belief that we had wonderful family time although I couldn’t remember exactly what we did. I labored over photos on the camera card and vaguely remembered taking some and others were a mystery like someone just like me filled in on a vacation in my place. I was jealous of her!
Regardless of what I could and couldn’t remember, Gunney and Arco were my constant companions, and although Arco usually steals the spotlight, it’s for his obnoxious behavior. If it’s comfort and companionship, then Gunney is king. There is something about the nature of Labrador retrievers; the tail never stops wagging and their eyes are always staring at you, big endless pools of love that can absorb whatever your soul puts out. There for an ear twirl or a head scratch, or secret 3am snack like licking the burnt marshmallow remnants off the fire pit skewers, he was always there. He didn’t care what I forgot, and unusually, I didn’t forget a single thing about Gunney’s week in Yellowstone.
Nearly two weeks had passed since my concussion, and we returned home to Tucson Arizona. Our Yellowstone trip had just concluded the week before my head injury and it was something I’d wanted to do my entire life, and was robbed from me in an instant.
Gunney was acting like he was getting a cold, and over the course of a weekend went from running up the stairs of our house on the Air Force Base to just picking one spot and never moving.
“He has to go to the doctor Monday morning first thing,” I told Military Man. “He quit eating his food, he acts like his body hurts, and he’s really congested.”
Lab’s don’t quit eating, ever, so I knew something was very wrong and by Sunday night, his stomach had swelled to such an extreme state of roundness that I was convinced he ate something that blocked his intestine. “Like my Power Ranger phone,” said Jake, still searching for a toy now six-months lost. “Or my glasses,” said Morgan who was desperate to blame anyone else for losing her expensive education enablers.
“It’s blood,” said the veterinarian after taking Gunney to the back for an exam. “And the results show that over half of the blood in his body has been pumped into his abdomen.”
“What does that mean,” I asked.
“Basically he is an old dog, and he is covered in bumps and lumps, some of which are definitely not just the fatty kind. I am absolutely positive he has an abdominal tumor, and likely a massive one, that has ruptured. It’s pumping blood everywhere it shouldn’t, and I’m sorry, but euthanasia is really your only option. I can’t believe he is still alive after what I’ve noticed.”
“So it’s not just a pile of socks, or a kid’s toy?” I asked hopefully.
“No, it’s definitely not,” he replied with sad but honest eyes.
The vet left to prepare and Jeremy and I just looked at one another, trying to hide our emotions so that our kids wouldn’t be traumatized. All I could do was cover my face with Military Man’s shirt. I thought Gunney was doing so well, he was taking arthritis medicine that made him run wild and free, and I had Christmas plans to make him his favorite dog treats and well, just have more life with him. “We need to tell the kids,” MM said hoarsely in my ear.
Sitting on the floor, all around Gunney, we all held hands. Someone had to say something, and MM had his head down. It was me. It was going to have to be me.
“Y’all, Gunney is very sick, and we won’t be taking him back home today.”
“Where’s he going,” Morgan asked.
“He’s going on to Heaven,” I told her.
“NO!” she shouted, hugging his neck.
“Do you want me to say a prayer,” I asked the kids, and it was Military Man that said yes. With a silence in the room, I prayed for what I believed.
“God, we love you today, and we know you love us and our dog Gunney. We know he will not be alive much longer, and I am praying that Jesus sit right here with us through what we are about to have to do, and personally escort Gunney to Heaven. We believe animals do go to Heaven, and that Gunney already has a beautiful place waiting. We are praying today that you give us all peace in this moment and those to come, that you heal our hearts, and you pore your love on us. Please help Morgan and Jake to understand your love, especially now, and especially help us all know that this is not the end. You say wherever two or more believers gather, that you are there. Well then I know you’re here, and you’re already giving Gunney comfort. I do believe you’ll stay with us and you won’t leave Gunney’s side. Thank you Lord for loving us this much, and for being with us in this hour. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Military Man squeezed my hand across Gunney’s neck and didn’t let go. The only sound in the room that emerged was from his tail. That same violent lab tail that beat me up on day one, was still wagging slowly, very slowly, and Gunney looked like even without euthanasia on the way, he would cross the Rainbow Bridge on his own very soon.
We took the kids to sit with the receptionist, and it was just MM and me when the shot was done. Gunney wagged his tail all the way into his afterlife. I’m confident it was because Jesus was entertaining him and he found some old friends.
Too numb to cry, we went to get our kids and Morgan wanted to see Gunney one last time. Jeremy took her back there, and it became real. Running from the room sobbing straight to me I swooped her up and faster than a speeding train, every Yellowstone memory I lost crashed down on me.
Yellowstone came back, like a gift in trade for letting my dear friend go, and I was given back the rest of what mattered. It came back like a lightning bolt and that’s what it felt like too. Hanging on the end of a prayer, with an empty mind and hurting heart, I was pierced with my memories.
With every step I carried Morgan out toward the car, a new memory came back. My family. My thoughts when I saw them all experience buffalo, and flying Hawks and head butting bull elks in the early morning mist… Their joy at late night star watching and bacon smells waking them for breakfast.Even the burned 3am sandwiches that set off the camper alarm the day we went wolf tracking. I remembered how much I love being a mom on those days, and teaching my own kids the real life subjects that I think matter, like life skills and hiking and orienteering, and sugar rush 101 from Fun Dip on the 8th mile, and how to be explorers like Lewis and Clark. And how not to give up like Rocky Balboa and mostly, how to love each other every day no matter what. My memories came back at a time I needed them most.
There was the night the kids were positive a bear was rocking the camper, and squeals and shrieks mixed with pacing dogs left us wondering what was bumping us in the night. The next morning there were tracks of all sizes all around the RV, but the only ones on the camper, clear as day, were raccoon feet. It made me laugh out loud in the middle of Morgan’s sobs and my own pain.
If I had lost Gunney and all of my memories… But it’s not how it went for me.
Jake still doesn’t understand what happened to Gunney, and occasionally will ask if he’s hungry yet. Morgan misses him terribly, and my sister mailed her a giant stuffed yellow lab that usually sits on her own bed, “to hug on as long as she needs to.” She has taken every photo in the house of Gunney, including his collar, and made a shrine to him on her desk in her bedroom. Every day that passes she smiles a little more and cries less. We’ve traded tears for funny stories about the dog that never stopped.
“Like the time I was in the kitchen and he was in his soft crate in the living room, and I heard a massive banging commotion. Looking around the corner I saw the crate, now upside down, all the way on the other side of the living room, and it was still moving, Gunney working hard inside it to get it to roll like a hamster ball. He made his way into the kitchen, mighty proud of himself, face smooshed in the mesh with a doofy grin…”
Up after dark one night last week, MM and I were sitting on the back porch having a drink and I was telling him more Yellowstone stories I remembered while he politely listened as if he hadn’t been there himself. “Do you remember the Beaver Pond Loop Trail hike we did by Mammoth?,” I asked him.
“Yes, do you remember carrying the kids for the last two miles off the mountain,” he asked.
“Yes, it was my first memory leaving the vet’s. I picked up a desperate Morgan who literally couldn’t walk any farther, and although the situation was different, I remembered.”
Not even all the candy and sugar in the world could have helped our kid’s hike any farther that day. They had trained with us and were good for about five miles. We chose to hike the Beaver Loop because it was marked as a nice five mile hike around beaver ponds with lots of elk and wildlife to observe. It was marked wrong, and was just short of 8 miles all said and done. We would have never done that to our kids if we had the correct information. It nearly got dark on us by the time we made it out of the woods. I was so proud that day of our kids, because they made it about six miles without a single complaint. We watched elk, and deer, and we saw a snake, some tiny chipmunks, and saw tracks of a million kinds of animals.
“What about your gangrenous leg,” he asked me to see if I remembered.
“Oh yes, I can’t believe I forgot that one,” I said as my leg became the discussion of anyone in Yellowstone that saw me wearing shorts. During the second day there, on the Beaver Pond loop, Jake ate green Fun Dip and gave me an open bag of it back “for later.” Well later, when he wanted it back, the bag was there but the powder was gone. It wasn’t in my pocket. I gave him a new pouch of colored powdered sugar to enjoy with a solid stick of more sugar, and it wasn’t until after arriving back at the campground much later did I find the missing dip. My new hiking pants had mesh pockets, and the powder slowly poured out and down my thigh, all the way into my boots for over half a day, and as I sweat, it colored the dip it’s vibrant green. And then it stained my leg. The stain was so intense, no amount of soap, or rubbing alcohol or other chemicals could get it off. So anytime I wore shorts, specifically one time at Old Faithful waiting for the eruption, some Japanese people were all pointing at me and talking in Japanese.
“They’re staring at your leg,” said MM thorugh the side of his mouth. “If they stare any longer they’ll miss the good stuff because they aren’t even facing the geyser.” And then I saw one of them pull out a phone on a selfie stick, and turned himself around so that I could clearly see my leg around his ear in the photo.
“Oh hell no!” I said. “I’m putting on some damn pants!” Having missed the geyser myself because I went to the bathroom to change (I carried pants in case it got colder).
Returning as the crowd departed, my selfie stick friend asked me with a thick accent, “You hov ah gongeen?” and he pointed at my leg.
Military Man died laughing, and I said NO, while digging in my bag for a pack of Fun Dip. Handing it to him, that was the last time I was interested in joining group activities.
After that we stuck to more scenic parts of Yellowstone, making memories that had nothing to do with gangrene. I kept a bucket of plaster of paris in the truck, and every time we saw some new animal tracks, we wasted a half hour and let the kids mold them. We have buffalo, deer, elk, moose and even badger paws all neatly molded to do something with to remember our trip.
In the middle of reliving my memories, our song for right now came on. Deciding to stand up and slow dance in our backyard to “White Lightning” by The Cadillac Three, MM made a lone comment, that the song now reminded him of Gunney.
“…stole my heart Faster than a heat-seeking missile on a mission, Faster than a bass to the hook when daddy’s fishing, Faster than a walnut rolls off a hen house, Faster than a whiskey shot goes down down south – Ooh I saw white lightning – Ooh I saw white lightning”
I could still hear the music playing even though our dance floor was being drowned out by an engine run on the flight line close by, and MM sang along, ” Faster than McQueen running them red lights, Faster than the Duke boys jumping that hillside, Faster than Elvis could shake, rattle, roll, Faster than the skirt flyin’ up on Monroe, I said Ooh I saw white lightning, Ooh I saw white lightning White lightning, ooh, I saw white lightning, White lightning.
When the song ended we sat back down, but sharing a chair as we sometimes do. “I know what you mean about the song. Love is love, and if you love someone, or even your pet, it’s easy to associate the lyrics. Especially when that particular song is talking about the speed of love, and all I picture is Gunney and his insane speed in his hay day. I’m still keeping it as your ringtone, although now it makes me a little sad,” I commented.
“I’m not changing it as yours either….Gunney sure was something,” he thought out loud.
“ You know I vaguely remember the drama with your old truck, and I am still trying to remember the drive getting to Yellowstone,” I told Military Man.
“There’s probably a reason you can’t remember all of that one, and I’d guess it’s intentional, not due to head trauma,” he replied with a squeeze of my hand. He filled me in on how we left for our trip and made it two-hours out of Tucson before his truck just quit, leaving us to limp back home and ultimately trade out the ride for a slightly used 2015 Ford F350 already rigged for our exact hitch.
And then he continued on about the increase in our debt and how we stopped at Lake Powell just outside of the Grand Canyon and yelled at Europeans that were sunbathing topless (among other actions) right in front of our kids.
He continued the story with our staying at some hot springs in Iowa that took us so long to get there we never got to enjoy them. Although we stayed in a campground crazier than walking Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras and I decided I neither cared about those memories or felt bad I forgot them.
There’s something about Yellowstone that makes it the total package for my senses, as if all of my senses had no separation and what I heard I also could feel, smell and see without discernment of which sense was receiving the info. It was something I have never experienced before and then got to experience again when my memory returned. The first corner we rounded in Yellowstone on that first day there was a clear trout stream swiftly running around the bottom of this beautiful mountain stretching up with evergreens, pines, gorgeous trees and variations of vivid colors. An elk was lying in the grass below and steam was rolling off of his body. I felt a need to go buy fancy trout fishing clothes and stand in the middle of the water like a postcard but I haven’t got the faintest idea how to fly fish for trout. I told MM it was like I’d just arrived in heaven, and ironically, people that have near death experiences and describe visiting heaven have commonalities in their trips, regardless if its a 4-year old or an 80-year old- all senses blend into one and there are even more than that in heaven. And all colors are so vivid it’s hard to tell exactly what color you’re looking at. It’s so bright and so full of so many. And something else these near-death experiencers describe is seeing animals. Lots and lots of joyful animals. Some people reunite with their beloved dogs and cats, while others just describe seeing Jesus with a horse. When I was in Yellowstone I watched animals and just enjoyed the spirit they each put out to the world, and can embrace the same joy when I remember Gunney.
Our sweet Gunney is somewhere across that Rainbow Bridge, likely with my dog Dixie and all the other dogs I’ve ever loved, and I have the memories of our wonderful stay at Rainbow Point Campground in Montana, and that evergreen candle to remind me of just how much I loved and was loved there and that for that week, all my senses were one.
“Can we go back next year,” I asked Military Man. “Only if you want to live in a cardboard box after I retire,” he replied.
“That’s just fine with me. I’ll never complain about sitting around watching your beard grow. It’s probably one of my most favorite hobbies.”
“White Lightning” by the Cadillac Three
She stole my heart
Faster than a heat seeking missile on a mission
Faster than a bass took a hook when daddy fishing
Faster than a walnut rolls off a hen house
Faster than a whiskey shot goes down down South
Ooh, I saw white lightning
Ooh, I saw white lightning
Faster than McQueen running them red lights
Faster than the Duke boys jumping that hillside
Faster than Elvis could shake rattle ‘nd roll
Faster than a skirt flying up on the Row, I said
Ooh, I saw white lightning
Ooh, I saw white lightning
Ooh, I saw white lightning
Faster than number three breaking every record
Faster than a tree dies in the desert
Faster than a bug splattered on my windshield
Faster than you die when you take too many pills
Ooh, I saw white lightning
Ooh, I saw white lightning
Alabama moonshine intoxicating this old heart
Holdin’ a metal umbrella when the storm started
Oh that’s what love’s supposed to feel like, yeah
Oh that’s what love’s supposed to feel like, woah yeah
Oh that’s what love’s supposed to feel like, yeah
Oh yeah that’s what love feels like
Ooh, I saw white lightning
Ooh, I saw white lightning
by Rebecca with no comments yet
Sitting down in a lawn chair in the living room of our new sticks and bricks for an unpacking break, my mind was in a fog of cardboard and box cutters. From the corner of my eye, I saw the back door open, and Jake’s peanut butter and jelly hand slowly and awkwardly reach into the house, grab something from off the floor, slam the door shut and run away into the backyard. At the time my only thought was that I could see him once again so that was good. Ever since the moving truck arrived, he and Morgan started a game called “Boxtrolls,” where they would crawl inside any moving box and roll it around the open spaces until Military Man or I would shout the line from the actual movie, “Boxtrolls.”
In our worst British accents with a hint of redneck we would say, “Looook at all these boxes juuust lyyyyy-ING aboooouuuut!” and the boxes would giggle, until we would poke them with our toes during unpacking. Then, a child would jump from their hiding place and take off box-less to a new empty container in a different room. Sometimes the boxtrolls jumped and giggled, but occasionally Jake fell asleep in one and we would have to find him. Actually we would tell Arco to find him, and it never took long. He just likely followed the smell of sweaty boy mixed with dirt and crumbs.
We’d been playing the boxtroll game for two days when I sat down and saw Jake sneaking something from the floor. I actually thought later it was the dog poop bags and he was finally making his own wish come true – to pick up Arco and Gunney’s gigantic turds. I was so tired that I just didn’t care.
Until Morgan stood at the backdoor, looking out the window and muttered, “what the hell?”
“Morgan!” I said. “Check your mouth!” My six-year-old is all about muttering “the rude words” just out of earshot so we “can’t punish her if we don’t know exactly what she said.”
Standing up to see what she was looking at, I saw Jake, sitting in the kid’s John Deere gator, pretending to drive it. Every so often he would throw his head back and crack up laughing, then grab the steering wheel with one hand and wave frantically with the other to pretend drivers. The battery was dead from being in storage so the gator didn’t actually go, but he was passing someone all the same. I opened the door just in time to hear a strange mechanical redneck voice bellow,
“Now that’s some major Buuuuull Shit right there!” and Jake was covering his face and laughing again.
“JAKE WALKER! You give back your daddy’s BS button right now!” I yelled at him. Realizing he hadn’t stolen the poop bags, but instead found the gag gift I sent Military Man for one of his deployments a few years ago, it was what I saw Jake swipe from the corner of my eye and was now using it to play “Angry Driver.”
“What was it doing on the floor,” asked Military Man when I told him the story later. “I have no idea,” I replied. “It must have been in one of the random junk boxes we let the kids unpack, well dump, all over the kitchen.”
“And where did he learn a game called Angry Driver,” asked Military Man.
“Have you seen how you drive,” I retorted? “Technically Jake called the game “Daddy Driver” but I changed it to “Angry Driver” so you don’t feel bad about yourself.”
Going back to unpacking more boxes after monitoring Jake’s lengthy timeout, I started thinking about how simple life was in the Crowded Camper. It took us one hour to unpack all of our belongings from the RV into our new home, and as I placed them in their new spaces I felt sad that I couldn’t just reach out and touch everything all at one time. Now, the clothes were upstairs, kid’s toys were in their own rooms, dishes down in the kitchen, books in a pile in the future office… The camper was so simple, so easy to clean, and so crowded with every space always serving multiple purposes.
People always ask me why I call our 41’ fifth wheel a Crowded Camper, and I always reply that it’s not about the size of the camper, but the size of the life you squeeze into it. Kids play and sleep and craft and cry and get into mischief, and bring back leaves from walks, and sit on the kitchen counter for boo-boo repair. I sew arms on dolls and patches on pants from the bathroom, and Military Man used the bedroom to sleep, to study, to work, to thread fishing poles and to sometimes, occasionally fold the laundry. The dogs claimed every space as their own personal priority number one for whatever they wanted, and the fish lived on top of the stove. Nevermind the kids also slept in the living room by night and home-schooled during the day. Everyone that ever spends time in an RV understands the nature of every space serving multiple purposes, and looking at it that way, it’s easy to see why Crowded Camper is a description of the lifestyle you put into it, not necessarily the size of the rig.
Looking at our house now, with more than 200 boxes left to unpack, I found myself missing that simple life already. “Dang it self, make up your mind! One second you want out of the camper and now you want back in it…” I was so ready to get some space where my bathroom didn’t have to be my office, but I was drowning in sea of boxes and the claustrophobia was enough to make any normal person wish they were just anywhere but there.
“Most of our furniture is broken or damaged,” said Military Man as we surveyed the inventory of possessions we’d waited for since February to come out of storage. Two desks, a hutch, and a mirrored side table were all cracked and broken. Our 42-gun safe was apparently dropped somewhere on the move and the steel rods were engaged, meaning a locksmith has to drill it for about $600. The treadmill we literally just finished paying off was dropped on its nose and cracked worse than old deck paint. The pintail duck mount had his butt broken off because he wasn’t in a sturdy crate; just thrown into a cardboard box. The list goes on and on and on, and our insurance claim is nearly $10,000. Now it’s a waiting game to see what the moving company argues and then we argue back. It’s a good thing we are hoarders and kept every receipt for every large item we’ve ever bought.
Feeling bitterness with each box I cut open, I was brought back to reality by the kids once again. This time they were shouting, and banging around downstairs, and things were crashing in the distance. Believing they were fighting, I ran downstairs (muttering to myself about how many dang steps it was from point A to B) to play referee and instead I saw them, in our family room, each standing on opposing brown leather couches facing one another. The ottoman was in the middle, and because the space was so small, the ottoman was nearly touching both couches at the same time.
“Ready, steady, GO!” shouted Morgan, and Jake launched himself into the air, bounced on the ottoman, grabbed it with his hands and smashed into Morgan’s couch.
“GO MORGIE” shouted Jake, having since rolled out of the way. She then launched herself onto the ottoman, bounced dramatically like a flailing flamingo, and landed upside down on the other couch, feet up in the air and banging off the window.
“What was that!” I yelled at them.
“We’re surfing!” said Jake with a smile as big as his whole head. “Yeah! We are on a team, and we have to get there and back before the shark gets us!” added Morgan.
“You’re breaking our furniture!” I exclaimed. “But the shark is going to get us!” whined Jake.
“There is NO shark. You’re going to knock the walls down before we’ve even moved in! And QUIT USING THAT HALF WALL AS A SEAT!” We have a wall between the office and the family room, with a giant cutout and a ledge on it. I don’t know why it’s there, except to allow you to stare at people doing something else in a different space. It’s just another wall that our entertainment center can’t go on!
And then, Arco leaped into the air, from behind the wall of the future office, and stuck his head and front paws on the ledge of that pony wall that joined the two spaces just above the couch that Jake now sprawled on. Playfully snapping his teeth in wild excitement, a mere foot from Jake, both kids screamed “THE SHARK!!!! And technically his mass of flying fur caused me to jump, because I had no idea it was him at first! The kids took off running upstairs, with the wildebeest playing ocean predator for the current game they were enthralled with.
“Between the kids and Arco, I give the house a month before it burns to the ground,” I told Military Man. “They are acting like nuts!”
I can’t believe we survived the camper, with the way the kids (and dogs) act. Actually Gunney has been sweet as usual, and he’s very useful in cleaning floors. But put the rest of them in the country and they just run and dig holes, and take up every inch of space. Put them in a camper and the space takes up every space within them. Then move them into a house and that space that built up inside them apparently blew up, because they are certainly acting out.
I got fed up the other day because I could hear a grouchy giggling box due to the fact that I’d taken to long to find it. I just wanted to kick it a little harder than I should… But I didn’t. And I never would. I just went to my own bathroom, locked the door, and ate chocolate from my secret desert stash, that I have no plans of sharing, because the house is so big they would never smell it and come nagging me for some. Except for Arco. If it’s food of any kind, he will sniff it out, but the door was closed so all he could do was wedge his little sausage toenails under it, in a gesture that said “put chocolate right here.” Instead I used my foot to shove his back out from under my door. I heard him actually huff at me before he flopped somewhere across the room.
My secret desert finished, I realized Jake fell asleep in a box again, and he had his standard awkward explanation for it. It was “Panny Bear and his Bar-Maid.” (a reference to Paddington Bear stowing away in a boat with his marmalade, but it comes out like a really bad title for an adult movie, that so far I’m glad he hasn’t talked about in public, because I don’t feel like explaining that one).
Continuing to set up our new life in Tucson, I have been thrilled to have a dishwasher once again, and use it all day every day. Even if just for a fork. That thing is going to be running! But last night I unloaded a dish with Morgan supervising (it’s one of her new chores), and I complained that the plates weren’t getting all of the lasagna off of them. To which she replied, “It’s a dishwasher mom, not God.”
Later, I was out talking on the phone with my dad when Morgan found me. She was frantic and said Jake needed help, that he was stuck in the bathroom. I could hear him screaming from upstairs and hung up on my dad. Heading toward the stairs I asked Morgan where in the bathroom he was stuck, and she said, “On the wall.”
On the wall…..
How in the hell does a kid get stuck ON THE WALL? Rounding the corner to the bathroom, I saw Jake, dangling from the towel rack, his little chicken wing wedged between the rack and the wall, one leg on the sink, the other flailing all about.
I freed him from his position, helped him calm down, nothing was cut, bruised, broken or bleeding, and asked him what in the world he was doing.
“Tricks mom,” he said. “Dad hasn’t put up the trampoline yet, so I was playing bounce from the toilet to there.”
“And you got stuck on the wall…” I replied.
“I know,” he nodded in agreement. “Isn’t that some bullshit?”
Sometimes, you just have to walk away.by Rebecca with 5 comments
(PICTURES will come soon! I still don’t have that part of my computer available yet)
End of April
Excitedly anticipating the arrival of our new washing machine from Lowe’s, Military Man received a call that it was now backordered (on the day it was due to arrive). The new arrival date would be the end of June, just in time for the kids and I to move into our house on the base. “Thanks God,” I thought to myself. “Even when I try and fix the problem, you cut me off at the pass!” (Military Man is scheduled to go to Safety School in New Mexico a week after we move into our house, so he will be living in the Crowded Camper for another month while I unpack our house… It’s always the way it goes, right, military families?) We would not be getting my washer in time to do me any favors, but it would still be here for Military Man to easily cleanse his flight suit while he is gone to Safety School in New Mexico. Cursing my miniature living, sick of hunting for quarters to pay the “Laundromat Troll” (as my kids call it), and ready to just give away my worldly possessions to become homeless, (“Well, they don’t have to wash stuff do they,” I told Military Man in a huff), Military Man handed me a bag full of change, some detergent and dryer sheets as he left for another overnight squadron trip. “I’m sure you’ll be fine,” he said with a kiss as he drove off for another flight of family freedom. As he was backing out, I’m pretty sure he shouted “No soup for you!” with a cackle, reminding me of the Seinfeld episode where all the people stood in line for the best soup ever, and the “Soup Nazi” would pick and choose who got a bowl. If you didn’t get chosen, he would shout “No soup for you!” just like Military Man did to me, referencing my desire to get the washing machine and I just can’t have one. I replied with my middle finger, as he was too far away to hear any words coming out of my mouth.
Picturing my life homeless, standing around in my one pair of designer shoes (Christian Dior that I paid a car payment for from the discount rack at Neiman Marcus about 10 years ago and still wear as I’m confident they turn me into a princess until the clock strikes 12), my favorite bonfire jeans and my old Mississippi State University soccer team training sweatshirt, now all holey and mangled from a long life of homelessness, definitely smelling like an un-drained black tank that stunk up an RV parked in outdoor storage, in the summer, in Arizona, after baking for three months.
“MAMA! Why are you smiling like that,” Morgan asked with an eyebrow raised.
“Like what,” I retorted, realizing my daydream brought me evil happiness, as I was standing on the corner not doing a damn thing…
“Like the bad guy!” Jake chimed in clearly thinking of our game of good guys vs bad guys, and they always make me play the bad guy.
Even later in April
“JESUS WILL FORGIVE YOU!” Morgan shouted at the pediatric neurologist, who was administering an entire toolbox full of Botox injections into her left arm and leg, to help relax the muscles from her spastic cerebral palsy. In a heavily sedated state, she was awake enough to scream with every injection, but not enough to ever know or remember what was happening to her. A mother’s nightmare to watch, it lasted about ten minutes. Ten minutes of my life that equated to more stress and suffering than my whole life combined, and it wasn’t even happening to me. I turned 36 just a couple weeks before, but witnessing that procedure aged me to 50. I’m sure of it. Feeling a desperate need to swoop her from the situation yet knowing how much the Botox helps her when she has a growth spurt, I watched and held her hand, when she wasn’t punching me in the eye, and right when I was sure my heart burst in pain, she yanked free of me, sat up and shouted those words to the neurologist. “JESUS WILL FORGIVE YOU!” I first thought “Preach it girl, cause he is THE supreme bad guy” and then I envisioned how well she would be able to play tee ball when this was done and held tight to her hand again hoping for the end of it all. (I was led to believe the procedure would be done under full anesthesia, not like this), and the neurologist laughed out loud while Morgan lay back down in a sedated haze. The nurses and support staff all looked bewildered, and I finally felt the need to justify her words… “She just started at a private Christian school. They trade Common Core for religious fervor.”
The very end of April
“Holy crap!” I shouted at Military Man. “What!” he came running expecting a snake somewhere in the RV, and I pointed at my computer instead. “It’s dead!” Playing with my computer, doing nothing really, except pushing buttons and hitting the space bar like it was a million dollar miracle, he declared, “I think it’s dead.”
And that was it, my only computer (a Mac Mini that I hook up to the TV monitor in the RV) quit on me. Being that my backup external hard drive is full and our get out of debt plan doesn’t cover additional computer storage, I went into panic mode trying to restore the Mac, because it holds the entire unpublished second book of the Crowded Camper series, all of my artwork, photos, etc. I “save and save often” but not to an external source. Trying to figure out how I was going to restore my entire second book, (nevermind blog) I felt transported into the Little Rascals movie…
“And the clouds opened up and God said, ‘I hate you Alfalfa.’” Grabbing the moneybag, I went to feed the Laundry Troll, because I had nothing left to enable my life’s procrastination.
“You’re leaving again?” I said irritated, to Military Man, who was packing for his next trip. With his new job he doesn’t deploy, he tests things that would possibly be adopted by the Air Force for the J-model C-130’s within search and rescue. So once he tests stuff that passes, he flies to other squadrons and shows off that stuff, let’s them play with it, and then he comes back home. It’s the show circuit for nerds, and while he’s out being nerdy and playing with new rescue toys, I do my chores, plus his and lately it’s been driving me crazy.
“Yes, I’m leaving again, but my mom will be here today to help you this week.” Hallelujah, my partner is retail crime, is staying in the Crowded Camper for a whole week, Military Man will be gone, Morgan will be at school, and she, Jake and I could spend MM’s extra travel pay before he even gets it from the finance office! (That’s the military way after all… ‘While you’re away, we spend your pay’) That doesn’t work so well on deployments, because they only get paid $3.50 extra a day to be fighting a war, so I can basically get a tall mocha from Starbucks, without any extra fluff in it. (See everyone has to suffer and do without during a family member’s combat tour).
The first night of her arrival, I pulled out the couch and inflated the air mattress. It was our third replacement in the Crowded Camper, because our heathen children think they make good trampolines. A jumbo double layered queen size mattress, she and Morgan went to sleep happy and woke up to a nearly flat bed. Jake, asleep on the cot was oblivious to the mattress leaking, but the other hens in the house certainly were not.
“The mattress is flat!” Morgan grumpily declared. “I can see Morgan,” I replied. “You’re lucky your dad’s not here and Gran-D (his mom) is, because he said the next time the mattress goes flat he won’t buy another one and you’ll be sleeping on the floor. We can’t let Gran-D sleep on the floor so let’s go shopping!”
Trying to save just a little money, we went to the Base Exchange where shopping is tax free, and I bought the only air mattress in stock.
The next morning, Morgan woke me up by storming into my room and shouting at me, “This mattress is too lumpy!” “What are you talking about?” I asked her. “Let me show you!” she hollered back.
Walking downstairs to the fold out couch, Gran-D was sitting in the recliner, looking like she didn’t sleep a wink. “How was this mattress,” I asked her, “because Morgan said it’s too lumpy.”
“Well, you can feel all the dents in the top,” she replied in her kindest voice. Peeling the sheet off of the single layer mattress, I looked and saw what they were talking about. It had a billion dents in the top, built into the design, but when you lay down on them, you feel them regardless of how many blankets you pile on top.
“Shoot,” I said. “I will take it back.”
“No, don’t do that,” Gran-D commented. “Maybe tonight, we can put this thin dented one on top of the double layer one, and we won’t notice it going flat underneath.”
It sounded like a good idea to me, so that night, we inflated the leaking jumbo mattress, then we picked up the thin dented one, and placed it on top.
“WOW,” Jake said, looking at the great towering stack of inflated beds. “You could swing from the fan now!” He said excitedly, as he tried to race to the pile and live out his dream. If you looked at them, they really did almost reach the ceiling fan. “Don’t sit up tonight,” I said, “Or you’ll get a haircut.”
“Maybe you could just leave the fan off,” Gran-D suggested. “Oh, I guess that makes sense.”
Watching Morgan and my mother-in-law climb the towering cliff of inflated plastic, I thought about the Princess and the Pea and giggled. (A lonely prince wanted a wife, so his mother said one day a princess will come, and we will give her a test. We will pile all of the mattresses from the palace onto one bed, and place a tiny pea under the bottom one. Only a true princess will know it’s there.)
“More like the Mother-In-Law and the Air Mattress – a trailer park version” Military Man said over the phone. Laughing together over the mayhem that was the bed downstairs, I prayed Jake wouldn’t secretly turn the fan on after I went to bed, and attempt a reality of that fantasy he had.
I woke up to muffled talking and thumping around downstairs, so I went down to check it out. Seeing shadows moving around, I asked if everything was ok.
“Well, the bottom mattress is going flat,” said my MIL. “I’m trying to stack things in the back to keep us from falling behind the couch.”
“What if we just re-inflate the bottom one, since the leak is so slow, and y’all can go back to bed. It won’t deflate on you over the next couple hours.” I said.
After putting the air back into the mattress, I watched as the first tiny princesses crawled her way back up the tower, giggling as she went, and finally disappearing at the top of the mountain.
With the camper covered in shadows, my MIL stepped up on the recliner, and then jumped to the top of the top mattress, and what happened next was a blur! Apparently she hit the top, but in the quest to get up there she landed on a corner, and everyone knows that air mattresses are never stable on the edges. Doing a backwards roll, she picked up speed, head leaving the edge of inflated plastic, then her feet, flipping up and over, until she completed a full airborne flip, nightgown flying like a parachute behind her. Landing on the floor, with a massive BANG, Morgan squealed for her nighttime Cuddle Queen (because we all know grandma’s love cuddling with their grand babies) and at the same time somebody farted. When the fart happened, Jake woke up, “what’s going on? Who farted?” he asked, rubbing his eyes, trying to decipher the shapes in the dark all around him.
I laughed, Morgan laughed, Gran-D laying somewhere on the floor was laughing, although it sounded like she was in a tunnel, and Jake, finding it all hilarious, kept thinking he was the reason for the 2am side-splitting humor, kept repeating his question, “who farted?”
Turning on the lights, because I couldn’t find my MIL, I realized she landed upside down, and was wedged, still with her feet over her head, but under the folded out couch and right next to Jake’s cot. “I’m stuck,” she said through tear-inducing laughter. “Who farted?” Jake shouted again, and Gran-D replied, “I think it was Morgan,” and Morgan from her elevated tower shouted down, “I did NOT!” and she started bouncing in total defiance of the blame placed on her, smacking her head on the ceiling of the camper.
“Don’t pop that air mattress!” I screamed, while helping unfold our poor Gran-D.
“So basically Jake has been re-enacting the whole thing all day,” I told Military Man over the phone. “He flips backwards off the couch, while simultaneously making a farting sound upon impact, then jumps up to tell Morgan to quit farting so much.”
“So how does the Camper version of the princess and the pea end?” asked Military Man. “Basically you’ll know you have a good mother-in-law when they can suffer the worst trailer induced torture and still stay another day with you.”
“She’s one in a million,” said Military Man. “That she is,” I replied; with total joy that without a doubt I’m so lucky to have her when I can’t have him. “I still won’t ask her to drain the black tank while I walk the dogs.”
“Yeah, that might be pushing it,” he replied.
Feeling like the laundry champion of the camper for once again suffering the drudgery of the Laundromat, I received a phone call from the Maytag repair company that we forgot even existed.
“Ma’am, we have the parts needed to fix your washing machine, and we’d like to come out this week if that’s ok.”
As I was about to say “don’t worry about it, we gave up on y’all and ordered a new one,” something imaginary slapped my face and reminded me that it’s on backorder and costs a lot more than the cost to repair the one we already have…
“YES! The sooner the better!”
I couldn’t believe it! Actually I really couldn’t, and would be shocked at all to see them show up, much less have the right parts.
A few days later, the original repair guy was at the gate to the base, and eventually inside our RV taking out the washing machine, removing the drum, showing me where it appeared to have been shattered from an external force, and installed a new one.
We ran a test load of laundry and no floods, bolts of electric lightning or explosions occurred, so I sent him on his way with payment and a $25 bottle of wine as a thank you. “I was saving that for our anniversary, but he won’t be home, so you might as well take it with you!” I told him.
Having already done the laundry for the week, I picked up a pile of clean kitchen towels and washed them again, while the kids and I sat in the floor watching them spin around and around, suds and water flinging past.
“The laundry troll is going to go hungry,” said Morgan. “No he won’t,” I replied. “He was getting tired of Crowded Camper food, so it’s better that the new campers feed him a while.
Around Mother’s Day
“Do you know why all the police cars and fire trucks are at that new camper over there,” I asked Military Man, as we looked at one entire section of Fam Camp that was shut off to everyone.
“I have no idea,” he replied.
With Morgan at school, Military Man, Jake and I watched the light and show most of the day, until we saw a police car arrive with a photographer, and people carrying forensics kits. That’s when we knew something bad must have happened in the campground and we went inside.
“She passed away,” one of our neighbors told us. “He and his wife just arrived, planned to stay for a night, and the next day he found her unresponsive and called 9-1-1. They were pretty young, he was retired Military, about 60 years old, and she was around 58.”
“How horrible,” I thought. “The day before Mother’s day, and somebody’s mother has unexpectedly died. Instead of kissing his wife on Mother’s Day, he’s fielding phone calls from relatives while forensics teams conclude an investigation. Talk about heartbreaking.
“Whether she had kids of her own or not, she still most certainly was involved at some time in her life, with helping someone else’s children, or their pets, or even a friend. I guarantee she was “a mother” to someone out there, and they will miss her dearly.
Finding it hard to be happy on the day to celebrate me, I just wished I was near my own mom to hug her and tell her how much I loved her. Phone calls leave such a void, and being all the way across the country made it even harder. Even my sister and grandma’s and all the other ‘mama’s’ to me in my life, I just missed them all.
Stuffing my face with my Mimi’s Café Mother’s Day brunch, beside my family and campground friends that joined us that day, I emerged from my funk because both kids had to pee, they were covered in syrup, their cups were empty, and they were getting fidgety.
It’s hard to be moody when your children have needs.
Later in May
End of the school year approaching for Morgan, washing machine doing a happy dance every time I fed it dirty clothes, we agreed a change in scenery was needed for the Memorial Day weekend. The campground was getting hot with the Arizona heat, and I was sick of looking at the depressing parking spot where the campground stranger passed away.
“Let’s go camping with our neighbors,” said Military Man. Memorial Weekend – another opportunity to be moody for those we’ve lost, I quickly remembered my the beliefs I adopted from an Army Ranger on a deployment – “What I do in my life has nothing to do with my grief or sadness. How I mourn is my own business, and no single day will replace them.” I quickly shook off the grumpadumps I’d been wearing for a couple weeks now, replaced them with strength and happiness, and I found myself very excited to be back in my own life, taking the Crowded Camper out of Fam Camp for the weekend and parking it at Catalina State Park next to new friends!
We hiked, the kids had mud and water balloon fights, there were no curfews, no agendas, and none of our Military Men had to be at work for 5 days. My Military Man grew his vacation beard, which I love, as it symbolizes the fact that our family can finally be first for this moment in time. We had bonfires, we searched for scorpions at night with a black light (they really do glow!) and we listened to old country music on the radio. With Johnny Cash singing about A Boy Named Sue, we realized our own boy was going to have a birthday very soon. Recalling the fact that it was Johnny Cash songs that served as the catalyst to help Military Man and I to talk again after Jake was born and tucked away in the NICU, I looked around at my happy family and our new friends and felt a peace that we are all together for now. (Military Man was deployed when Jake was born a few weeks early, and we reconnected over country music and 3am feedings with the night nurses.)
The next morning, with the magic of a campground bonfire left in a pile of ash, and our campground sitting only 45 minutes from the military base, I had to bring Morgan back to town for an eye exam, something she’s never been able to focus on until now.
“She’s farsighted,” said the optometrist. “This explains her struggle with reading, and glasses should help solve the problem quickly.”
Making it back to the campground, I told Military Man the results, and we both felt relief at understanding the reason she fought us so much over books until now.
Beginning of June
“I LOVE my glasses,” squealed Morgan over the pretty pink frames with silver hearts on the sides. Ever since they came in, she wants to read and write all of the time, and is finally finding the joy in stories.
“I wish I had a pair of glasses,” pouted Jake, his little lip stuck out in patheticness.
“Your birthday is just a couple days away little man,” said his daddy. “I’m sure you’d rather have something else besides glasses.
“Ohhhh, I would! I want a door!” he shouted, eyes wide in excitement.
“A door?” asked Military Man.
“Yeah! A door and my bedroom!” he said while clapping at his own ideas.
Today, Jake turns 4-years-old, and even though we still don’t have a door to give him, that leads to his own bedroom, with his old toys and “wemote kertrol cars” we DO have a second-hand kid sized Razor Quad (a 4-wheeler) waiting just outside the door to the camper. So when he does open THAT door, he will see his shiny prize, just for being born.
I can’t wait for him to wake up, so he can throw on his new helmet and terrorize all the neighbors in his pajamas, inspect the tires on all of their campers (because that’s what he does) now at alarming speeds, and cause general mayhem and heart palpitations for all 98 campers in the vicinity.
I can’t wait for Morgan to wake up, and wish him a happy birthday, and read him the card that she wrote all by herself, words finally spaced far enough apart to realize they were words, because she couldn’t see that they weren’t before. I can’t wait to eat his “emergency vehicles” cake and ice cream (I’m totally taking the piece with the fire truck so I can shout “nee ner nee ner” with every bite, and I’m sure, like he does every year, Military Man will play us some old country that includes Johnny Cash songs.
I also can’t wait to move into our house on base. It won’t be long now. I’ve gotten to the point where I just can’t wait in line for the toilet anymore, we don’t have toddler toilets now as the kids are both potty trained, and there are no woods for me to use in the event of an emergency.
There’s just a bunch of crappy campers, all around us, and thankfully no more of them have died. Even if they did, nothing can steal my joy today. This day, finally, I think the clouds have opened up and God said “I love you Alfalfa.”
Don’t forget, if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read The Crowded Camper goes to Little Rock, FREE here
Follow Crowded Camper® on Facebook HEREby Rebecca with 1 comment
Arco (a Belgian Malanois and our retired military working dog) must wander the camper and inspect everything over and over and over while we are gone, until something starts smelling a little stronger with each new lap. And then if we aren’t home yet, he will smell it again, and decide to just give it a little lick, which turns into gnawing on a corner, until he decides it actually tastes like a cure for boredom, and then he eats the whole thing. Like the entire side of our couch last week. Coming home to see stuffing strewn about, I began panicking thinking it was one of the pricey American Girl dolls, until I realized it was the couch. I had just taken off my hat, and Arco, educated on the way I throw objects at him when I realize what he’s done, was already dodging a spiraling ball cap.
“Dang it dog! I know you’re bored!” I yelled at the bed upstairs because I knew he was hiding behind it. As I went to collect the stuffing from the floor, a black beast came barreling downstairs and launched himself across the pile, flattening his body and splaying out his legs, so that every piece was buried under his fur. It was as if he was saying, “These are MY STUFFINGS! All Mine!” And as I would try to grab a piece, he would shimmy his body around to lay on top of it so I couldn’t get it while giving me a stink eye. Reminding me of my parent’s nesting Labrador retriever before she gave birth to a litter of puppies, I let Arco keep his stuffing babies and went outside to calm down. The camper was bumping around, so I know he was in there repositioning them so he could lay on every one, like a giant creepy condor on a pile of eggs.
The list of broken or destroyed things in our camper is starting to outnumber the non-broken ones, and my patience for Crowded Camper living is wearing on me. That list includes:
Some of this stuff is covered under warranty, and some of it is not. But, what frustrates me, and I’m sure it frustrates all full-timers, is that to get your warranty work done, you have to take the RV to a dealer, leave it there, and then get it whenever they are done. The dealers around us told us they need at least three days to get everything done, and even then, they might have to order parts. So we would drive it there, they would evaluate all of the broken things, then have to call the companies that provide the warranties, and it’s hit or miss on what would get repaired. It would be at minimum two trips, and hotel stays on our expense. Two trips of moving out, and into a hotel with kids, dogs and the fish, plus whatever we needed for life. If Arco eats the stuffings out of our couch, I fear for what he would do to a shiny hotel room. Even the most well-behaved bomb dog can’t resist a mini-fridge at their nose height.
Why can’t warranty work be done on site? Why can’t companies send out professionals to inspect and complete work wherever you are? Obviously it costs more for them. But when we are traveling, they won’t even consider doing warranty work, unless we are able to sit still for weeks at a time. Some things like the TV, the LED lights, the broken drawer, the broken cabinets, and the bathroom stuff, all have to be repaired at a dealer. Basically if it’s connected to the camper, you have to take it in for work.
Now a few things, like the washer, CAN be fixed on site, but you pay for every trip they take, minus repairs if it’s under warranty. The washing machine couldn’t get fixed until now because we were moving. It broke under warranty, we notified the manufacturer, but they told us to call when we were in a stable position. Now, the warranty is past, and they will only cover half of the cost to replace it since we didn’t take care of it at the time we notified them (Military move doesn’t count). We argued until we were blue in the face, and that was the best we could get.
They sent their best Maytag repair technician out back in early March, and as we pulled into Fam Camp he said, “I’ve never worked on a washing machine in a campground.” “Oh,” Military Man replied. “This one is in our RV, not the laundry facility over there.”
“There are washing machines in RV’s?” he asked.
“Seriously?” I mouthed to Military Man.
“That’s the tiniest washing machine I’ve ever seen,” he commented when he saw it upstairs. Eventually he got it out, tested it like all other Maytag washers, and notified the big boss of the work to be done. He left saying he would be back in two weeks to fix it.
Two weeks later the technician scheduling office called to schedule a repair, but he never showed. When I called, I was told the parts were backordered, and he had no idea why they scheduled a repair. He was apologetic. I kicked the six piles of laundry I had waiting to cram into my repaired washer and took the dogs for a walk using my best swear words to feel a little bit better.
“I’m sorry ma’am, the drum is broken and it’s one of two parts. We won’t track down the backordered parts until we know exactly which one of them is needed,” Maytag told me over the phone after my walk.
“Well, the technician said he doesn’t know, and won’t know until he tries them both,” I replied.
“Well he has to figure it out first, because we can’t just find possible parts for everyone and then have to get them sent back if they don’t work.”
Passing the phone to Military Man before I stuck my virtual foot up their virtual backside over what became a Who’s on First debate, I decided I was completely over warranty work.
Do you ever feel like it’s a scam? It’s almost impossible to get anything repaired when you’re on the road. They won’t even deal with you, and pray you just run out of warranty or just go pay to fix it yourself.
At least when Arco eats the camper I know it’s totally on us, and we don’t have to call anyone to replace it. We can just go waste our money on a new one. Which is why the couch didn’t get replaced and I’m about to cover the destruction with duct tape.
“Your camper is at least 35 in RV years,” my dad said over the phone. “You guys have full-timed so much that even the luxury RV’s aren’t made to withstand that much of people and dogs.”
“I agree,” I replied. “I’m ready to trade it out for a company that actually cares!” “When it comes to warranty work, I think they’re all the same.”
“Do you think houseboats have the same warranty problems that RV’s have,” I asked Military Man over dinner.
“Probably more. I’m guessing barnacle removal would put you in the shop for weeks…”
As my 36th birthday came and went, and the camper continued to fall into further disrepair, I told Military Man something had to change before I went camper crazy. And just like every other fed up RVer, we went to Lowes and ordered a new washer. Taking a month to get here, at least I felt good that something was being done. Obviously Maytag is smiling because we went out and did what they hoped we would, but every now and then, some things just aren’t worth the fight. Actually we haven’t told Maytag. We’re hoping they’re still trying to sort out what part we might need.
My daughter was being bullied in the first school we put her in here in Tucson, and it was a disaster experience. Now THAT we fought over, removed her from the school, and patiently waited to decide what to do next.
In our patience and my month of homeschooling, a private Christian school emerged encouraging us to let her finish her kindergarten year with other children. Nervous to try again, we agreed that if everyone stayed in the camper as much as we were, then it was sure to not survive the summer, the kids would likely kill each other, and I would die of stress induced spontaneous combustion. So off she went and she loves it. Loves it is an understatement. She wakes up at 5am ready to get dressed, and she greets us with a grin at the end of the day. Happiness has replaced her frustration, and kindness replaced moodiness. No amount of camper destruction can take away the joy on her face from new friends, new experiences and a new safe place to learn.
I’ve since decided to use my birthday money on a new outdoor TV, and once again, we are spending our own dollars to fix something that warranty should cover. But I have NO desire to spend my money to stay in a hotel while they fix the TV, when the bill to just buy one would be less.
As we’ve just declared Warranty Work to be dead, I feel more alive in the Crowded Camper and optimism abounds. I have the control to do whatever I want, and I don’t have to spend time on the phone arguing over parts when I could be outside practicing tee ball with my kids before the sun sets on another beautiful day.
I’m ready for outdoor movies again, for happy children again, for peace in the Camper and the usual whump whump when the clothes get lumped to one side in the machine, sending the camper into a bump n jump for thirty minutes and water sloshing from the fish tank. The fish loves that, as Jake no longer does cannon balls on the couch causing the same effect. Soon Diesel, the washer will be fixed and you can puff up like a tiny lion all day long.
And things can finally get back to normal. Well that is until the kids start yelling that Arco is at it again.
“What did he do now?” I shouted last night before bed. “He’s drinking my juice box!” screamed Jake. And sure enough, because Jake thinks the floor is his table, the juice box was there and Arco had his lips around it in a desperate attempt to get the contents out. I don’t think he was “drinking it” but he sure looked like it. I paused, reflecting that he appeared to be sipping it daintily like a lady enjoying her afternoon tea…
“Son of a Bi$th ARCO! That’s not yours!” I shouted. Dodging my purse in mid-flight, he disappeared behind the bed upstairs and I was left to console my tiniest tee ball player.
That was his very first snack prize after his very first game… A momentous occasion, as we all remember the snacks after games, right? Standing there with nothing but his underwear on and his new Braves baseball hat, lip stuck out in a massive pout, I felt joy in my heart that we were finally getting back to normal.
It’s good to just move past the Warranty Rut, and take responsibility for everything ourselves. At least we know it will finally get done.
Well, everything except the Dish upstairs. Ahem… Military Man. (Although reruns of Mr. Belvedere are actually pretty entertaining
On a different note, one of Jeremy’s coworkers and friends from our former base was in a boating accident about a week ago. She lost her leg, and is currently recovering at the San Antonio Military Medical Center. If you’d like to follow her progress, observe her incredibly positive attitude through it all, and pray for her, her blog is here www.oneleguponlife.wordpress.com
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“I got a bike!” squealed Morgan when she woke up and saw it sitting in front of her in the camper floor, pink bow stuck to the seat for a moment.
“Happy Birthday,” Military Man and I told her in a semi-whisper, so as not to wake up Jake, who was sleeping on his cot just a foot away from our pre-dawn celebration. Her beaming smile obvious in the subtle lights of the living room, we knew she got exactly what she wanted.
“Can I ride it now?” she asked, rubbing sleep from her eyes.
“Let’s wait until you can at least see the road outside,” I said. “Besides, you have school today.”
Once Jake woke up, he gave her his present; a miniature pink and cream camper pulled by a pink jeep. “It has a fox family to live in it!” said Jake, excited for her to play with it.
“Ooooh, look at the little tiny baby bottle,” she said, holding something no bigger than her pinky fingernail and pretending to feed a baby fox, or as I was so clearly corrected, “it’s a kit, mom, just like my doll’s name!”
“There are 38 of those accessories,” I told Military Man with an eyebrow raise.
What could only be a nostril flare in relation to the future of the camper, he replied, “I think it’s time to get the floor vent covers that we can close, because we all know, woman, that Jake had some help picking out that present.”
“Touché,” I replied. “But look at that little camper table! It’s sooo cute! And my old doll’s deviled egg can sit on the table there.”
After a Christmas at my parent’s house, where ‘somebody’ lost my vintage American Girl doll, Samantha’s incredibly miniature, and ornately detailed deviled egg from her picnic lunch tin, and then it was found, I’ve become obsessed with making sure it gets appreciated. “But did you SEE how the egg fits right in?” I asked Morgan when she wouldn’t let me put it on the dashboard of her jeep.
Leaving the 6-year-old birthday girl at school, Military Man and I began a conversation about his upcoming travel schedule, the fact that our house in Georgia still isn’t sold, that we are paying a mortgage (plus the trimmings to keep it looking amazing inside and out), and that this is a tight season on the budget.
Not to mention, every day that we call to check our status on the waiting list for a home on base, we continue to move farther down the list. We aren’t really sure how it keeps happening, and as of yesterday we went from number seven on the list to number 13. We haven’t made much of a complaint about it yet, primarily because if we accept a home on base, we lose our finances to pay for a mortgage. We can’t afford to lose the housing allowance until we don’t have to worry about paying for one.
“It might be smarter financially for you and the kids to come with me on the long TDY’s until the house sells,” said Military Man. “I guess so,” I replied. “We are back at the financial reason why we uprooted Morgan during kindergarten in Georgia, aren’t we?”
With bills piling up, a house payment, a campground monthly rental, plus a TDY schedule with it’s own hotels (that yes, the military pays for), we are talking about expenses that no matter what you’re given, you still spend extra when you’re in different places.
Picking up Morgan from her second day at her new school, we found out her teacher forgot to pass out her birthday goody bags for the kids, and she was really disappointed about it. “I just wanted to give them to my new friends,” she cried in the car on the way to the campground.
“I know,” I said, thinking of the 25 bags we carefully built with bouncy balls, bubbles, ninja turtle masks, party horns and rice Krispy treats, sitting forgotten on her teachers desk. “I am sure she will give them out tomorrow. Let’s go ride your new bike!”
Walking back into the camper, we realized Arco, with the jumping skills of a gazelle and the climbing talents of a mountain goat, had gotten onto the counters and apparently leaped up high enough to remove a jumbo bag of dog treats that was perched on the top piece of trim above the kitchen slide out.
Looking at nothing but shreds of a treat bag that once contained more than 300 treats, Arco was nowhere to be found and Gunney, standing in the middle of the shreds was just wagging his tail.
“Obviously he didn’t do it,” I said to the kids. Arco, hiding between the bed and the closet upstairs, was peeking with one eye around the corner of the mattress. “Get down here,” I said. “NOW.” Emerging slowly, and waddling like a woodchuck that lost his legs into his immense extra fat folds, it was clear he’d overeaten.
“Gluttony will get you every time,” I told him, looking at a potbelly usually reserved for piggies. “I know, it happens when I get a bag of Oreo’s…. Your pain is your punishment,” I said into his pitiful, ‘I can’t believe I ate the whole thing’ eyeballs. “You ate it Ralph.”
Realizing my night would be spent listening for the gurglings and burblings of his belly blow up, I set the cleaning supplies on the counter.
“Oh no, what did he eat,” asked Military Man, walking in and seeing the diarrhea preparedness kit sitting there.
After telling him the story, we’ve decided that we need camper cameras. “When we sell the house,” said Military Man.
“Agreed,” I replied.
Maybe, because he and Morgan share the same birthdate, Arco opted to hold it all in until sunrise, and spare me the agony of quarantining the camper in the middle of the night.
“I couldn’t pick it up,” said Military Man, in reference to the diarrhea Arco had that literally went the length of a football field from the parking lot all the way to the dog park. “It was nothing but liquid.”
“Poor dog,” I said.
“Poor dog!” “I had to smell it all the way down there,” he said with a half gag.
“Seriously, at least he was outside! How many laps around the camper does a dog poop to cover the length of a football field,” I asked him, referencing his supreme case of ass flu when we first moved into the camper.
“I don’t know,” said Military Man. “Morgan! We have a math problem for you!”
Excited for something other than counting apples, she was disappointed when Military Man said he was just kidding.
And as if Arco was just kidding too about feeling bad, he decided to once again climb the counter and drink four cans worth of tuna juice while the kids and I were standing outside telling Military Man goodbye for the day.
“You DID NOT!” I shouted at the dog. “I WAS OUTSIDE FOR FIVE MINUTES!” Not able to hide his guilt due to his wet mouth and tuna stench, he stood there and owned the moment. I was also convinced my old dog Dixie would have tried to roll on him. (“Do they have tuna in heaven,” Morgan wondered out loud. “Probably for Dixie,” I thought to myself.)
And then he belched… In my face.
“Lord help us all,” I prayed.
When Military Man returned in time for happy hour, something our campground neighbors started every day at 4pm, I gladly took a chair and a pina colada. Open to anyone in the campground, the group continues to grow and talk, and the kids ride bikes and play where we can all keep a good eye on them.
Disappointed to see Jim and Char leave today, the original happy hour hosts, Military Man and I have taken the torch and it has relocated to outside our camper. “It’s definitely a quick way to make friends, but the moment Arco launches tuna poo through our party, I’m sure we will lose them all and the torch too,” I told Military Man.
And if the prospect of losing friends before we made them weren’t enough, we withdrew Morgan from the elementary school on base after only four days of being there. She didn’t even have a real chance to make friends, but because of the upcoming travel schedule and a few other reasons going on, it seemed like the only option to finish her kindergarten is homeschooling.
“I keep praying for friends and as soon as I meet one, they move again,” said Morgan after her latest bunch of campground pals departed for the Petrified Forest.
“It’s just the season we are in,” I told her with a hug.
“You’re squeezing me too hard,” she said.
“But you’re my friend,” I told her, still not letting go.
“Mom. You’re my friend too. Now let go,” she shoved.
And with that, a new airstream parked in the old friends spot, and two little boys piled out of the truck pulling it, looking about her age.
“KIDS!” she shouted, and off she went to say hello with Jake in tow. From my chair at Happy Hour, I could hear her asking them if they wanted to ride bikes, and I realized the best way to make friends is to just embrace the ones I have right now, sitting in front of me, and worry about Morgan’s education, our finances and Arco’s tuna poo ruining the opportunity in the only way a southern gal can – by embracing the words of Scarlet O’Hara,
“I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
Besides, we’ve realized something else about the Crowded Camper lifestyle, and that’s the fact that making new friends is the easy part. Keeping them when they move is where it gets complicated. We are left with things like Facebook, email and random text messages of photos we think they’ll enjoy. But now that we are homeschooling Morgan, I believe it’s time to bring back the forgotten art of phone calls. You know, the ones to your relatives to see how they’ve been doing lately? Or the one to that friend from highschool that you’ve not talked to in years because you’ve traded the sound of their special voice for ‘liking’ their posts on social media?
As people blitz in and out of our lives, we can show Morgan how they become her friends, and that’s by staying in touch as best we can. And maybe, just maybe, the next batch will stay longer than a few days. Well, until Arco poops anyway.
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by Rebecca with 1 comment
“This isn’t working, something is wrong,” I told Military Man from the hospital room when I was trying to deliver Morgan in 2009. After “pushing” from 2pm until well after 7pm without progress, things took a bad turn. The labor and delivery team had a shift change, and a new team arrived. Believing I should try harder (because clearly six hours of active-labor isn’t hard enough), she began showing duress on the fetal monitor. “I’m telling you, this is NOT working,” I shouted at the nurse, who ultimately agreed and got the doctor. I had been in the hospital for nearly 24 hours already gradually progressing in contractions, constantly feeling in my gut that something was wrong, and having nobody listen to me. Military Man, being this was our first child, had no idea what to do.
The new labor and delivery doctor saw that she was in duress on the monitor, asked me to push a few more times, and then he decided an emergency C-Section was necessary. But due to the excessive amount of ladies having babies on the same day, and the extreme procrastination by my own medical team, there were no operating rooms available. Finally nearly 57 minutes later Morgan was delivered via C-Section. The anesthesiologist gave me medicine that he said would “help,” and the moment the medication was moving through my body, the doctor was getting her out. He held her up quickly without showing her to me, and I heard him say something like “oxygen.”
“Stay with her,” I told Military Man, and that was all I remember. The medicine consumed me and combined with total exhaustion from labor, I passed out. Waking hours later, he told me “Morgan had an open head wound on top of her head from my pelvic bone hitting it during contractions, as well as the chord being wrapped around her neck caused a strangulation that led to her duress. She was never coming out of you naturally. The doctors gave her 100 percent oxygen for over two minutes to bring her from eggplant purple back to a color of the living.”
“Is she ok now,” I asked, and he handed me a little six-pound-girl wrapped in a pink blanket. “Wow,” I thought, “she is mine,” and a wave of contentment soaked through me. And then an unusual feeling of lioness protection instincts kicked in, and a need to make sure nothing bad ever happened to the beauty I was holding. Looking like she had a migraine, I felt terrible for what she went through and praised God she was alive.
“She has cerebral palsy,” the neurologist told me just days before her first birthday. After watching her struggle to crawl, with a left arm that seemed to be uncooperative and bent most of the time, I took her to a medical clinic in Atlanta to diagnose it. Instead he told me she suffered a traumatic brain injury during that terrible delivery, an injury that could have been avoided. Military Man was on a trip with the Air Force, and delivering that news was the worst thing I’ve ever had to tell him. “It’s called left hemispheric spastic cerebral palsy, and he says it’s very mild. She has physical struggles with the left side of her body.”
“But it’s a brain injury,” Military Man said, worried at the findings. “But it’s still our Morgan,” I replied. “Nothing will change what we already love.”
Watching the movers pack our house in Georgia a couple months ago, and saying goodbye to the school and friends we called family, I felt that raw concern again for Morgan and her transition into a new place. “Lord this is out of my control, and I just don’t want anything bad to happen to her.” I am sure all parents feel that way about their children, but when a tiny baby goes through something so unjust before she has even entered the world, I can’t help but want to work harder for a better future to counteract what’s already been done to her.
“Why, again, did your first doctor leave,” someone asked me once. “She had a party to go to, and my labor was taking too long.” “I hope it was worth it,” they replied.
Moving into our RV after the movers cleared out our house, that feeling of worry continued to consume me, but I should have been more concerned about the campground we were staying in.
With my sister visiting, I laid down for a nap in the camper, and Military Man, the kids and she took a paddle boat out on the alligator infested Grassy Pond. Waking to Military Man’s laughter and kids crying, I asked what was going on.
“The paddle boat sank,” he said. “The kids were sitting in the back, and Brandy and I were paddling. But the back end started going underwater and Jake got flooded up to his waist. Morgan started screaming and clawed her way up and over my back, and I grabbed Jake and held him in the air.”
“Holy crap! Did you have to swim back???” I was having visions of gators eating my babies.
“No, we were shouting so loud for help that all these people came running to the dock. It was apparently the farewell party for the campground manager, and we interrupted it with the sinking of his boat.”
“Morgan, Jake, are you guys ok?” I asked.
“Mom!” Morgan shouted at me. “The boat sank, and daddy held me and Jake over his head. I closed my eyes because I knew an alligator was going to eat me!”
“But how did you get back,” I asked.
“Aunt Brandy paddled with her feet,” Jake chimed in.
“I did not!” she exclaimed. “I used my hands Jake!”
“Yeah, and you paddled right between those gators that were trying to eat me!” he answered back.
“We never saw any gators,” she replied.
Paddling the half sunk boat back to the dock, the employees by that time were able to grab the kids and help get my family back to safety. Had I been in the boat I would have died right there. Well after I levitated to shore with the kids on my shoulders. Jesus would have had nothing to my ability to walk on water.
“No matter how hard I try, I just can’t keep scary or bad things from happening,” I told Military Man. “Well, you aren’t God,” he replied. I don’t know why that stung a little bit, but it did.
The Valentine’s day dance was on the agenda for Morgan’s last day of Kindergarten in Lake Park, Georgia. It was timed perfectly, because the whole day was a big celebration. Military Man took the day off of work, so that he could “take Morgan to the dance,” and it was also Arco’s last day volunteering with the school’s Deputy Sheriff.
As much as I felt sad every time I saw another face I loved, I would turn around and see Mlitary Man dancing with Morgan and their smiles were endless. Jake even joined the dance party and all three of them jumped, shuffled, clapped, twirled and partied like they were the only ones on the gym dance floor. As the dance for the kindergarten class ended, “Deputy Doc” went onstage with Arco. The PE teacher announced a special goodbye surprise, and she turned the music to “Who let the dogs out.” The entire class shouted along with the song and Doc and Arco performed a dance onstage. I’m not kidding. Arco with his front paws on Doc’s shoulders, they hopped all over that space until the song ended. Kids clapped and cheered and the next grade came in for their turn at the dance.
Going to Morgan’s room to pick her up, her teacher and classmates gave her a notebook with handwritten letters from all of the kids, as well as a signed picture from the class. Considering kindergartners are just learning how to spell and write, it was such a touching gesture that they each took the time to write down what they wanted to say.
Even the fifth grade class had a thoughtful surprise for Arco. Showering him with jumbo cards covered in pictures of bomb dogs and Arco being a school hero and mascot, those that wanted to, gave him presents of balls, chew toys, snacks, and play things. Some even came onstage to read him tearful goodbye letters. The principal and Deputy Doc then presented him with a Lowndes County Deputy Sheriff’s badge, and I was given a teeny tiny portrait of Doc and Arco for our Crowded Camper. “I know you don’t have much wall space,” he told me.
The PE teacher gave Arco a box that could have served as a sleeping pod for Jake, with a strict warning to open it after we left. And then the last grade of the day swarmed Arco for love and hugs, and the final dance of Who let the Dogs Out went on.
Opening the box later that night we found a signed basketball, that caused Arco to turn into a crazy-eyed lunatic, and we were informed that they let him have all the deflating balls all year long, to which he would assault as if it was a convict on the run. Opening the book of letters from Morgan’s class, I saw beautifully colored pictures of children holding hands, hearts, flowers, sunshine and happy and sad faces. One little boy, that said when she moved he would “put his head in his hat and cry like a girl,” wrote her a note that hit me like a hammer and I didn’t know why. It was a pencil drawing of him and Morgan, smiling, and above it, the note said, “Two by Two.”
The Crowded Camper left Georgia just a couple days after that, heading for our new destination in Tucson, Arizona. Taking five days to get across country, we explored some amazing museums and places along the way.
One day we visited the Southern Museum of Aviation with a kid-size air traffic control tower that Jake enjoyed mashing the crisis horn. Another day we dead-ended into the Women’s Service Pilots of WWII museum in Sweetwater Texas. My childhood role models, they became pilots to ferry airplanes around the US as they were needed. Walt Disney even designed them a logo, called “Fifinella,” to serve as their good luck gremlin in flight. A true league of their own in relation to flying, as a kid I thought they were glamorous and awesome at the same time. I was so excited that we stumbled across their vintage hangar, that I forgot to put my car in park. Stepping out to literally run inside proclaiming, “I am here! You know you missed me ladies!” the car began to roll right at the front door. I fell on the ground and saw it continue driving, Morgan shouting at me from inside.
With visions of a horrible crash entrance, I dove for the car, smashed the break and all was fine. I left a copy of my book with a wonderful lady that worked as the welcome committee, host and tour guide, but also because I felt bad that I nearly turned their museum into a drive-through.
We camped at the Sandhills State Park off I-20 one night, and the kids, being avid diggers of all dirt mounds, were able to jump right out the front door of the camper and start digging. That night there was no bedtime, as the weather was warm and they were so happy.
Our final stop, Carlsbad Caverns, was also impressive. With icy temps and snow falling, we made the kids take the natural entrance with us that wound through the bat cave. “Youre going to earn those Junior Ranger badges!” Military Man told them. “We won’t be taking the elevator.” I had to agree. The chances of us making it back any time soon were slim to none, and I also didn’t want to miss anything. Morgan, having been given strict rules from the park ranger, became the cave police and shushed anyone talking above a whisper. She got onto people for touching the formations, and yelled at me, her own mother, for running down a hill at one point!
Jake had his own set of problems that began about a mile into the adventure. Constantly grabbing his backside he would shout, “my butt hurts!” and Morgan would yell at him, “Jake, stop shouting!”
Nearly at the end of the massive hike, we realized he had his underwear on backwards, so he was basically wearing a boys-thong through the cave.
Departing with hard caver hats for the kids, and two banana puddings (costing a whopping $60 because we bought them at the store 750 feet down in the cave), we realized we were done journeying and ready to be in Tucson. Not to mention, broke from the random travel expenses. “Did that pudding come with a free toaster,” Military Man asked me. “No why,” I replied. “Because at $8 for that tiny cup, it should.”
Parking in our new spot, on the Air Force base in Tucson, I kept thinking about sweet Daniel and his “two by two” note. It finally hit me a couple days ago, after telling Military Man my wish to make friends as special as the ones we had in Georgia.
Everything is always better with someone to share it with. Someone to laugh with, or to be sad with, or to just make it through together. My family was an arms reach away in Georgia, and now they’re on the other side of the nation. My Bible study ladies are still studying, and I’m trying to participate from out west.
“You have me,” he said with a hug. “I know I do, but you know what I mean. Everyone should have a friend close by, and you’ll be TDY a lot coming up.”
“I promise you Becky, we are going to take Tucson and make it our own. You’ll see,” he said with confidence. “I believe you,” I replied.
Having a “two by two,” and having that support system to help you raise your children, even when your spouse is gone, and to keep you going straight, is something I long for in Tucson. The Bible never sent out missionaries alone in the New Testament, and it’s been researched extensively the reason for sending disciples out two by two. I’ve been digging myself on the topic lately.
We shared conversations and food with some wonderful people in the campground last night, and my sorrow for what was left behind is starting to go away. I think of the note, probably not with the message that Daniel meant it to have for Morgan, but as my motivation to keep waiting with an open heart, and my new life will find me here.
Right here, in my Crowded Camper. I will never be able to cover my children in complete protection, especially in the face of change as Morgan starts a new school Monday, but I am able to ask God for that blanket. And I can also mirror Morgan’s prayer that she’s been praying every night for weeks now that, “God will you find me some new friends all of my own in Tucson.”
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by Rebecca with no comments yet
With Morgan asleep on the fold out bed, Jake snuggled into a ball on the cot and the dogs snoring in echoing waves around the camper, life was back to normal when we started full-timing again. It was a little weird, because even though we moved into the camper, Military Man still had work, Morgan still had school, and the schedule was still the same. We didn’t move, except to park our fifth wheel at the campground across from our neighborhood. I pass our house every day I drive Morgan to school. It’s strange.
The day after we moved into the Crowded Camper, Military Man had his farewell dinner with the squadron, and it was a family friendly event. Feeling sad and excited at the same time, I asked him how many people he thought would be there. “I don’t know, the squadron’s a ghost town right now, so I don’t expect many,” he replied.
Well regardless, they were combining the hails (to the incoming new people) with the farewells (for the outgoing ones) with a home brew contest, and I was one of the judges.
“The last time I tasted someone’s home made beer, I blew up like a puffer fish due to the bubble guts brewing inside, developed a migraine, passed out an hour later, and when I woke up those bubbles had to get out. There was no holding that in,” I told another squadron spouse when we started discussing the exciting task of being beer judge. “Hmm, well you’ll have some problems then. Take aspirin and some Gas-X before you go,” she said. “It wasn’t just me,” I replied. “Whatever he brewed, it did that to all of us, and when we all got back to the camper to bonfire, we skipped the fire and fell out exactly where we were sitting… And that was just a half of one beer. Only occasionally someone would jump up and attempt to get to the bathroom. Why I don’t know, because camper walls aren’t really all that sound absorbing.”
So taking my job seriously, I pre-gamed as my friend prescribed, and showed up ready to celebrate our departure to a new adventure. The kids were excited to see their friends, and the restaurant gave our group a private space for the miniature herd to dance and leap around as three and five year olds do when they shouldn’t.
As I was terribly busy and important with my beer tasting obligations, Military Man had kid duty. At some point Morgan wanted to join me but couldn’t, and in best bad-girl fashion, she crossed her arms, stomped her feet and had a toddler sized tantrum in a five-year-olds body. Horrified, Military Man took her to the car for a “do-over” and both returned looking grumpy and flustered.
Expecting only a few people to show up, I was pleasantly surprised to see the group become a giant horde of families, so large that for the first time, I had a hard time finding Military Man when I looked for him. At 6’4” he stands out and above a crowd, but his squadron is full of freakishly tall men, that all look and dress the same, so it takes effort. Effort I was glad to do, because I could tell he enjoyed getting to say goodbye to EVERYONE. Not just a few. Squinting through beer goggles I thought occasionally I saw him laughing and having a good time, except when he made the routine temper tantrum trip to the car with one child or another.
As I finished my job and they prepared for all the standard speeches, I took over as parent again. I then realized the outside patio our kids had been rolling around on for an hour already, was covered with water from the massive rainstorm that came through earlier in the day. Our kids were waterlogged, and I wasn’t about to take them back into the restaurant. Therefore I missed all the nice things the commander had to say, but I knew it would be one of two speeches associated with farewells…
If you did a good job, the boss said so. If they don’t have much to say about your work skills, they talk about how awesome the place is you’re going. I was curious what was being said about my Military Man.
And then Jake Peter Panned across the floor, busted his face on the ground, and stood up with blood pouring from his mouth. Whisking him to the car, it appeared he bit through two places on his lip, his nose was bleeding, and he was developing a bruise on his chin. My friend, the veterinarian, was there, which makes the second time she’s helped me when one of my kids smashes their face. The first time, during the Super Bowl, Military Man stayed home with the party we were having at our house, and she and I took Morgan to the ER. This time, I stuck some ice and a napkin on Jake and waited.
Waited out the speeches, the bleeding, the crying and everything, and slowly it all quit. Jake fell asleep in my lap, and I knew he was going to be fine. Sore but fine. Military Man eventually emerged dragging a crying Morgan. Perching her in her booster seat, and throwing something in the back of the Suburban, we left for the camper. “What’s wrong with her,” I asked him.
“She wanted to play arcade games,” he said with an irritated huff. “We promised her, but with Jake’s face, she doesn’t understand we can’t. Not to mention she’s soaking wet from the patio too.”
This girl went through a growth spurt lately, and left her baggy size 6 girls clothes in the dust. She’s barely hanging on in that size, and I refuse to cross the aisle into full on grown up kid clothes. Not yet. But with that growth spurt I am confident is mood swings, hormones, attitude, and a whole lot of change. It’s hard on anyone to move out of your house and into an RV, much less for children who don’t really understand why. She loves the adventure, but not the part of getting out of the house. (Same here, Morgan.)
Driving home, watching the rain on the windshield and lights reflect off the road, I could see extra lines around Military Man’s eyes. What should have been a great night caused him great irritation in so many ways. Nothing happened the way he wanted it to.
Arriving to our camper for our second night home, Military Man opened the door, I was next in line holding Jake, and Morgan was standing under the awning with her arms still crossed and her lip still stuck out.
“Oh no you didn’t!” he shouted. Fur flying from the camper I realized he grabbed Arco and flung him from the top step down into the yard. Considering he’s as tall as a small horse, he wasn’t fazed a bit by the airborne landing. He just stared at us and wagged his tail.
“What did he do?” I asked. “He crapped all over this camper,” he shouted back. With that he took Jake from my arms, told Morgan to get in the car, and said, “We’re going to the house.”
Climbing the steps and peeking at the damage done, I looked back only to see the car already backing out of the drive. I guess when he said they were going to house, it meant load up or get left out. He was probably barfing in the car anyway, considering his past problems with dog doo. A sympathetic puker, he struggled to keep his stomach contents down anytime he changed baby diapers, saw or smelled dog diarrhea, or even if a kid at school got sick, he would too. If I wasn’t quick, I was getting locked out of our bedroom to deal with the latest round of Tasmanian ass flu. It usually came with a muffled apology through the door, but this time, as the car backed away, I couldn’t see any faces in the darkness. I did get a bright light flicker right in my eyeballs, so I assumed that was his apology as he fled off across the street to seek refuge in our still furnished, and waiting on the movers, home. “Quitters,” I thought looking at the damage.
Having personally walked our back yard earlier in the day, I noticed a couple fresh, large piles of poop so I felt certain that when I dropped the dogs off earlier for some exercise, that they did their business. We removed the dog crates from the RV and put the table and chairs back in, so I was extra sure that dog poop was fresh.
“I was unaware that my life knowledge needed to include telling the difference between a rain soaked dog turd and a fresh one,” I told Military Man over the phone.
Clearly I misjudged the rain soaked turds as fresh ones, and it backfired. Just like the beer tasting was. I guess it was good they left to the house, because my own bubble guts were brewing. What is it about homemade beer and my intestines? At least this beer was delicious!
I had the mess cleaned up quicker than usual, (likely from the excessive practice I’ve had with Arco) and instead of going to the house, I decided to tell Military Man it was worse than I thought, I’d be there all night. I slept like a champ, drank my coffee in peace, and when Military Man called the next morning I said it needed a little longer to air out. Truthfully, I just wanted to hog the best seat on the couch and watch HGTV without eye rolls from the little and big menfolk.
Stomping up the stairs around 10am, I knew my family had returned and chaos came with it. Jake looked downright disappointed so I asked him what was wrong. “The tooth fairy won’t come until my tooth falls out.” Pulling his face up to look closer, one of his front top teeth was definitely loose, his lips were swollen and still busted, and his chin bruise had settled into place. Having never lost a tooth, he is anxiously waiting for his turn because Morgan “keeps hogging the tooth fairy.”
“Well maybe she’ll visit you soon,” I said with a hug.
Later that night after everyone went to bed, we heard Jake banging around the bathroom. Checking to see if he needed help, I saw he had moved his blanket and pillow to the toilet. Curled in a ball in the tiny floor space, I asked him what he was doing. “I’m waiting on the tooth fairy. If my tooth falls out, she has to come through this door to get it, and when she does I will shut it real fast and catch her!” He exclaimed with a grin. “If she tries to leave she has to go down the toilet, then Morgan can see her when daddy flushes the big one. Can I do that mommy? I want to give her to Morgan for her birthday.” He was referring to Military Man draining the black tanks, something the kids love to watch whenever he does it. Considering Morgan likes to “claim hers” as it shoots through the viewing window, Jake apparently thought Morgan would like to see the tooth fairy fly down the chute into the hole in the ground as the perfect present for your sixth birthday. (A tooth fairy wearing a feces tiara going for a royal flush… I’d like to see that too, actually.) Putting Jake back into his own bed, I went to mine to tell Military Man what his son was up to.
“I heard,” he said, still showing frustration that had been building ever since his farewell dinner the night before. “Cloud watching at its finest.”
“Ok, seriously, what’s going on with you,” I asked him. Waiting until I found myself falling asleep, he finally started talking. It seemed that a combination of the move, plus the kids acting wild at the squadron farewell, to Morgan’s holy meltdowns and tantrums, to Arco leaving the turd bombs in the camper, he was both angry and defeated. He’d been wearing that mood for two days. It didn’t help that I missed the speeches, and wasn’t by his side, regardless of the state of our kids at the time.
Never one for giving or listening to speeches in the first place, I felt a steady nudge from the Holy Spirit to just meet him where he was and say something.
“You need to remember that you’re an amazing dad, you’re an incredible man, and people appreciate you. Let this stuff go, Jeremy. If I let every fouled moment ruin my attitude, I promise you, you’d never want to stay married to me. Kids do this stuff. They get into things, they have tantrums, we deal with them as parents should. YOU did good,” I said.
“I know but it was so embarrassing,” he replied. “Let this go,” I said again. “Nearly everyone in there has kids, and understands. It would be much worse if we didn’t “parent” but you did. You have to remind yourself that kids act out but it’s a phase. A tiny phase over the course of Morgan’s life. Don’t let the kids, or the dog, or my not being there take away from the value of today. It’s a good day. We are together, we are headed west, and we have God.”
“If you start singing Let it Go, I will have to throw you out,” he said with the start of a smile.
“I’m just telling you, that our plans get ruined all the time. Our big moments become big disasters, and what we think will be big fun sometimes is a big nightmare. Don’t carry that emotion on you. Just get rid of it. It’s not who you are,” I finished.
And like that, my Military Man lost the extra edges from his eyes, and that beautiful smile returned mine. Darn I love that man.
The next day our list of problems grew, as he realized the basement was leaking in the RV. Finding the source to be a loose fitting in the bathroom sink, he fixed it and left for work. Getting ready to feed the kids breakfast, I reached for the cereal from underneath the island, and it came out soggy. We had a second leak and it was huge. When I looked underneath, I didn’t remember putting a lumpy pillow under there and immediately thought the kids must have done that. When I went to grab it and pull it out, my hand disappeared into it’s insides, and came out covered in oatmeal. The jumbo container of oats was directly under the plumbing, and had been slowly absorbing water for 48 hours, until the carton disintegrated and they exploded around it, growing into what I thought was a giant lumpy pillow. At one point Morgan shouted from her stool in the kitchen, “You caught the gingerbread man!”
And what looked like him was really an oat covered Swiffer duster, complete with little squishy arms and legs.
Skipping homemade breakfast for fast food, I didn’t know what else to do except put towels under there. Military Man said to turn off the water, but the faucet wasn’t on, so I assumed the job was done. When he called me over a break I told him what I had done, and he got silent on the other end of the line. Never a good thing.
“Becky, go outside, find the water hose and Turn off the water,” he said again. “Ohhhh, THAT water.”
Job done, I cleaned the RV, started a load of laundry, left for the house to finish preparing it for the movers and to let the dogs run in the yard. Military Man beat me back to the camper and was patiently waiting by the washer upstairs.
“What are you doing?” I asked. “See these blinking lights,” he pointed at the machine.
“Oh don’t tell me it’s clogged again,” I said. “Noooo. Do you notice it’s still the same load in there?” he asked.
“Good grief, don’t start trying to give me lessons,” I retorted. Darn, I really want to kick this man.
“Remember when you turned off the water earlier today,” he asked. “Yes, so…” “There’s no water to run the washing machine,” he said and walked off. Staring at the machine I wanted to kick it too. Less than a week in the camper and already we’ve had two leaks, the dog left a welcome mat out of turds for us, and Jake’s trying to cram stuff down the toilet. We really are back home.
“Hey, what speech did you get,” I asked Military Man after water was again running to the washing machine and everyone was settled in for a bedtime movie. Holding my hand and staring at the TV he said, “Well it wasn’t about where we are going,” with peace in his voice.
“Good job, J. I’m always so proud of you.”
In other news ‘The Crowded Camper goes to Little Rock” eBook is available for Pre-Order. It will be ready and immediately downloaded to your device this Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2015. Why Valentine’s Day? Because we hope your hearts are as crowded as your campers! CLICK Here
The Crowded Camper family was featured in the Heartland RV Quarterly newsletter. To read our answers on RV living and for more photos, CLICK HERE
by Rebecca with no comments yet
“We need a tractor,” said Military Man as soon as we bought our house on .65 of an acre nearly four years ago – the house that is now on the market to sell.
“Maybe a riding lawn mower,” I replied. “Same difference he said. A lawn tractor,” with eyes twinkling at his future cutting patterns from atop his easy chair on that green and yellow dream machine.
A few hours later we returned from the Ag-Pro shop with a shiny new John Deere X300 riding “lawn tractor” with a 42” mower deck and extra blades. “In case I wear these out,” he said, looking as if he just push mowed his grandpa’s back 200 acres in Mississippi.
Envisioning a mad yard scientist wildly shaving our professionally landscaped portion of an acre down to the dirt it grows on, I felt nervous for the flowerbeds close by.
As if spending $3,000 on a mower weren’t enough, we had to have the pull behind utility cart, the bagger (plus the kit that attaches it, because of course neither of those come with the price of the mower), and the lift kit for all of those future oil changes. Make that closer to $4,000 and his dream was complete.
As deployments took over, emergency baby deliveries and life jumped in, the mower served little purpose in maintaining our yard. Instead it held down a prime spot in the garage, a prime spot I always envisioned for a golf cart.
It’s pretty commonplace where we live for the neighbors to all own golf carts, and for the families to load up and drive around after school, waving and chatting with one another. At other times, their children, who apparently don’t own bicycles, drive them to friends houses and make loops in preparation for their teen years of circling Wal-Mart parking lots and trendy night spots.
Feeling envious that I didn’t have my own golf cart (“What for,” Military Man would ask me. And I would say, “I have a bad knee, I need it to check the mail.”) I resented the fact that even my bicycle was broke. Nobody likes to hoof it on foot when the neighborhood scoots on wheels.
Realizing the mailbox was twenty yards from the house, I needed a different argument. Considering none came, I took over the lawn mower. We hired a landscape company anyway, so it needed the miles, and serving as a child chariot made sense to me. Putting a toddler aged Morgan in the back, we would cruise around and wave at people, and she would giggle and clap her chubby little hands.
Halloweens were spent driving the kids from house to house, and on lazy regular days, when their toys were too boring and it was too cold to swim, I drove them down to the neighborhood lakes to watch for fish and gators.
As we get ready to move in a week back into the Crowded Camper, we decided we needed to sell it. “We’re living on base in Arizona so we won’t have anything to mow,” Military Man said. “And when I retire in a few years, we will have a lot of land… so we will need a real tractor.”
And just like that, we went into full yard sale mode this past week, taking things that were once loved and desperately needed to survive, and slapping price tags on them for travel funds. Stickers went on the rusty elliptical on the back porch, the original wooden Nordic Ski machine in the attic, stuffed animals for every day of the year, clothes for miles, artwork, kitchen items, furniture, dog gear, two sets of snow ski’s for a giant, and more. What was so frustrating about preparing for the biggest yard sale of our lives was that we had painters inside our house repainting every nook and cranny for resale. That meant the kids couldn’t stay inside, and we had nowhere to sort except the front yard. At one point, our landscaper came by to pressure wash the outside of the house, and Military Man, the kids, the dogs and I were all enclosed into the garage, surrounded by tables, junk and pricier junk, with nowhere to go.
“I’ll take them for a ride on the mower,” I said. Excited to finally do something other than pass us hangers or throw things in garbage cans, Morgan and Jake tumbled into the utility cart and off we went.
“Don’t forget to hold up the Sale sign,” I told them. Maybe someone in the neighborhood is in the market for a mower like ours. For the next hour we circled every loop and lake front road, watched cars pass, fish jump and children play. We dropped rocks in puddles and followed stray cats. A little more often than usual, people honked and maybe it was my imagination, but I thought some winked at me in passing.
Returning home, Military Man was standing in the corner of the front yard, frantically waving and crying. No, he was laughing. Pulling the mower to a stop I asked him what was so funny, and he asked Morgan, “Have you held that sign that way the whole time?” She replied, “Oh yes, and we got lots of honks, so I know I did a good job.”
Looking back, I went from chauffer of the child chariot to neighborhood gossip. The sign, with all of the lawn mower information on one side, was also an old poster on the other. Morgan and I made it when Military Man was deployed; I was pregnant with Jake, and when he was supposed to return I would have had about four weeks left until my due date. Remembering a song the girls on my soccer team used to sing, I thought instead of us painting “Welcome Home,” I went with those lyrics for some fun. In giant letters, the sign read –
WHERE MY BABY DADDY?
Considering Jake arrived earlier than Military Man, I never held it on the flightline, but a friend delivered it to the NICU where Jake was. It turned out to be ironically funny and then we forgot about it. Until it emerged from behind a box pile in the garage while we were sorting for the yard sale last week, and I was surprised that Morgan even remembered it.
“I don’t like that poster,” she said. “Why,” I asked her as I sang the lyrics in my head. (Who that is? That ain’t my baby daddy. T-Bird that ain’t my baby daddy!)
“Because daddy wasn’t home and it made me sad,” she said, bringing me back to her reality. Darn, she was only two then, but she remembered how long he was gone.
So we flipped it over and made it a For Sale sign on the mower, eventually destined for a glorious spot in the trash. I was not surprised that instead of holding it for the world to read about the mower, she flipped out the part asking for a baby daddy so she didn’t have to see it.
“I just drove for three miles like that,” I said horrified to Military Man. “Yeah, you did!” he almost snorted. “Who that is,” he sang as he walked off toward the garage again, avoiding the latest pressure washing spray from the landscaper.
“T-Bird you ain’t getting no more babies!” I shouted back, but he didn’t hear me over the mower and the pressure washer. I never win.
The morning of the yard sale, I did win. I made Military Man get up at 3am to help me drag tables out into the driveway. Because the inside of the house was still drying, and the garage was packed from floor to ceiling, we ran out of sorting space. No stranger to early birds, I wanted it all out and ready to go by 6am.
Table after table stumbled down the drive, spread across the yard, and took up spaces everywhere. Clothes were strung across the entire frontage fence, we staked American flags in the yard, posted sale signs with flags throughout town, and by 5am it started to rain.
Table after table stumbled back into the garage and by 5:30 the rain stopped. By 6am, most of them were put back out, damper then they were at 3am, and by 6:15 it started raining a second time.
Throwing tarps over the clothes, tossing electronics on the floor of the garage, and saying F-it to the tables farthest away, we just let it go, and in the darkness they came.
Like the great Nothing that ate the lands from the Never Ending Story, people began scooping up stuff, faster than I could finally hit brew on the coffee pot inside.
“What’s the price on your clothes,” some faceless person shouted. “$1 dollar for kids clothes, $2 dollars for all adult clothes,” I shouted back. Later, after I finally drank my coffee and reduced the fog in my brain, I realized I intended to pull out a few items and price them separately from the clothing.
“You sold your good North Face jackets for $2 dollars!” Military Man asked me in disbelief. “I guess I did,” I replied. “With all the rain, I forgot to move them.”
“I sold an opened bag of potting soil, half gone, that sat in our garage for three years, for the same price,” he told me.
I had worked so hard on preparing our items for the sale, washing all 100 plus spare towels, 15 extra sets of bed linens, ironing the lace curtains, making beautiful, easy to navigate tables and stacks, finding creative ways to display everything, that when the rain came twice, and we played the table shuffle, they went from looking like a Nordstrom display to the backside parking lot of the pawn shop trash heap. Pricing clothes just dropped off my to-do list. (“Brain injury!”)
Interestingly enough, the weather didn’t stop a lot of random men from dropping by. “Oh look, your baby daddies are arriving,” mocked Military Man. “I’ll be inside making more coffee,” I replied. At least they bought the boat, the elliptical, and a few other things, like work boots and a complete VHS collection on how to become a private pilot. “If you can find a VCR, you’ll really enjoy tape 14,” Military Man told him, arms loaded high with outdated flying techniques.
At the end of the madness, we had a company called Hope Thrifts pick up most of our leftover items for local charities to sell for their own profit. Our clutter was finally gone, not the mower, the paint was dry inside the house, we made $700 of RV travel money, and we were one massive step closer to moving into the camper, and selling our home.
“Maybe you should let me take a picture of you holding the poster to go with the house advertisement,” Military Man commented the other night. “It seemed like a pretty good tactic.”
“Maybe you can sleep in the garage,” I replied.
House now on the market, we have seven days before we leave our home for good to full time in the camper again. We aren’t starting our trip to Tucson until late February, but we are having the carpets replaced in the entire house, and we scheduled the movers to come early so it could be done. Besides, with every day that gets us closer to Crowded Camper living, we get more excited to just get on with it. As if our desire to move into the camper weren’t enough, back in May of 2014, I submitted a video of our Jake epically crashing his big wheel in the Fam camp at Albuquerque, to America’s Funniest Home videos. Vin di Bona Productions called a few days ago and said the clip was going to air on ABC this past Sunday night. We watched it, we laughed, and we felt a relief that our camper days are coming soon. We just miss them and it was a sign from the world that we are going in the right direction.
“Will you get me a golf cart in Arizona,” I asked Military Man. “What for,” he replied. “I won’t have a mower,” I answered.
As of last night, he was searching for a trailer to keep it, and checking the regulations on pulling the RV, that would then be pulling a trailer behind it. Just so it can sit in our new garage, to mow nothing, so I don’t have to go out looking for my baby daddy again.
by Rebecca with 3 comments
I am having problems loading photos onto the blog, so if you’d like to see Christmas pictures of this story, you can always check out the Crowded Camper on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/crowdedcamper
Looking at the fat, happy quails in my parent’s barn, I wondered if they were a hybrid breed of quail and chicken. If the quails that the Lord sent to the Israelites twice in Exodus looked like these, I wouldn’t complain either, I thought. It’s true that if my parent’s keep animals, they will never starve. Looking at the plump game birds, I recalled a semester away at college when I phoned home to see how everyone was doing.
“Well, Zoe (the black Labrador of the family) ate something that made her sick (likely the garbage hound hollowed out a wildebeest and picked her teeth with the bones), so I’ve taken her off dog food and I’m feeding her, on the hour, some chicken and rice, but I’m only using stellini pasta, you know, the little tiny dot-looking pasta, I think it’s called acini di pepe pasta, and instead of big pieces of chicken, I’ve seasoned and broiled it, then shredded it with my fork because it’s so tender,” said my mom.
As she continued her delicious description of the dog’s designer dinner, I found myself slobbering on the other end of the line, looking at nothing but ketchup packets in my refrigerator. What I would have given to be Zoe that day… “And then I poured the broth on top of the food to make it easier to digest and better tasting,” she continued.
“I think dad’s feeding them chicken and stars,” I told Military Man, as we watched the beefy quail apparently pick up their pants to hustle around their barn protected coop.”
Obviously quails don’t wear pants, but these were so hefty, they gave cankles a new meaning to a bird. Their loud whistling had nothing to do with us invading their space, and everything to do with them realizing the wait-staff was back at their buffet table and they were shouting “more, MORE you Minions!” as their little plumes blobbeled and pointed right at us.
“I hope I get a lasso for Christmas,” said Morgan a few hours later. “I want to lasso a quail, and then watch it fly around and around my head.”
“Oh, well she’s going to love what Santa brought her,” said my sister, with total pride that she clearly was about to contribute to a rise in the prescription of anxiety medication for the feathered flock outside.
With Christmas vacation here, we were looking forward to a week spent with my parents, grandparents and sister, indulging in extra deserts, catching a movie or two, finishing last minute shopping, and generally soaking up the extra time off of responsibilities by doing nothing. It also meant a good Christmas bird hunt one day, and a ladies high tea on another. It’s hard to go to high tea in Roswell, Georgia, because only a couple places offer it, and you have to make a reservation months in advance over Christmas. This year we were on the ball, and got one. Morgan is just now getting into playing with dolls, and wanted to take her American Girl doll, Kit, to our team party later in the week but I forgot to pack her. So instead, my mom and I eagerly pulled out my own Samantha Parkington. When I was 10, I received her for Christmas, complete with an authentic Indian head penny and a miniature locket that held miniature photos of her fake parents. This was before American Girl sold their ownership to Mattel, and everything you got for your doll was impeccable, miniature and functioned, not just as expensive and pretend pennies with pretend supplies. The tiny paint set had real paint inside it, the school books had real stories, and the tiny, chicklet sized pencils worked. Even the quill and ink set functioned. My Samantha doll was 25 years old, and outside of my soccer cleats, was the only thing I truly took exceptional care of. And now I couldn’t wait to show Morgan her picnic lunch pail, which came with a hand-embroidered hanky, a teeny tiny cucumber sandwich, gingerbread man cookie and a deviled egg. The most amazing little egg you’ve ever seen, Samantha pretended to eat it over picnic tea parties for most of my childhood, and damn it! I dropped it! Somewhere into the “fainting couch” in the living room, I couldn’t find the little bastard. No bigger than the size of Thumbelina’s pinky fingernail, I nearly had a meltdown on day one of my vacation, because my tiny fancy egg was gone.
“You can buy another one on eBay for $150,” encouraged my sister. “But it’s not MINE,” I said with a nostril flare and lip quiver. Feeling like the future tea was ruined over Samantha’s deviled egg, I left Morgan to play with the rest of Samantha’s vintage party accessories while I told the entire family to be on the look out for the missing food, and I readied my gear for a real life bird hunt.
The fat birds my parents keep in their barn exist only to help train their English setters; Ryder and Hank, and are never “hunted” for the dinner table. Both impressive field and show champions, when Ryder and “Spanky” aren’t hogging couches, slobbering on your legs in passing, and stalking the latest espresso being made in the kitchen, they get to practice their field skills on the fatties in the barn, that regardless of how many times dad puts them down in the fields, they will eventually go back to the pen where they’ve been raised. These birds are part of an elaborate hide and seek with the reward being more food and a warm place to live away from bobcats, foxes and other predators. After a few rounds, they quit returning to the barn and squirt through the fence, onto the neighbors property, who has gotten so excited about the recent unexplainable migration of quail in Cherokee county, that he too, has begun feeding his extraordinary covey of highly healthy birds.
Leaving the kids at my grandparents, along with Samantha doll and her things (minus an egg), Military Man, my parents, their dogs and I went hunting. A dreary and chilly Monday, Ryder and Hank worked the fields while Military Man and I brought down 17 birds – a mix of quail, chukkar and one pheasant. Feeling excited that my shooting practices over the summer likely improved my hunting, I stuffed my pheasant into the game bag attached to my vest, and bent down to pick up the empty shell for luck. Just as I bent down, the beak on the dead bird literally harpooned through the back of my vest, through my pants and stabbed me in the butt cheek. My mom standing close by, I shouted, “Ow! It stabbed me!” and she was asking what stabbed me, and I said “the pheasant!” “Didn’t you shoot it,” she asked, assuming I stuffed a living bird into my vest to let it perform a Celtic Riverdance on my backside leaving a puncture for good measure. “Yes!” I screeched back. Cackling, as she always did when anyone got hurt, my mom made the final comment, “That pheasant just said, “I’ll show you, you bitch!”
Holding my butt with one hand and the Benelli with my other, I shuffled off in the pattern we were working the field. “I’m going to need a tetanus shot,” I told Military Man over the overgrown row between us. “Yeah, you don’t want the bird flu,” he joked. “Or the swine flue,” I replied. “You can’t get swine flu from birds,” he was stating, baffled I even made the comment.
“On point!” my dad shouted, distracting us from the discussion of how pheasants are usually recognized as symbols of luck, but in this case, it was a symbol of billing my insurance provider…
Ryder and Hank, a working dog team, are trained so that if one dog finds a covey of quails, the other, upon noticing the lead dog on point, will provide a backing point, the second they notice the first. An impressive display, my parents enjoy watching their dogs work, find birds, and back each other much more than they enjoy shooting these days. Military Man and I enjoy all of it, and I especially enjoy eating whatever it is we shoot. We have a very strict policy that we never shoot something we don’t intend to eat later, because it would be such a sad waste of a life, regardless of the size or nature.
Over the course of four hours, we worked about a seven-acre field, jumped multiple coveys, flushed a variety of birds (these quail were much smaller than dad’s, and fried, would provide about two chicken nuggets worth) and watched the dogs do what they loved to do. The English setters, being that these two also routinely enter the show ring, had long beautiful “feathering” across their bellies, legs and tails, that when in competition looked stunning, but when in the field, filled with cockleburs. Even with a chest protector on, the burs matted their hair and eventually required nearly five hours of grooming that afternoon to get it all out.
Leaving the cleaned bird meat to soak overnight in the fridge in a salt-water bath, Military Man and I picked up Morgan and Jake from my grandparent’s house where they were staying while we went hunting.
Within 12 hours of arriving to north Georgia, Jake sprouted a horrible fever and obviously was sicker than the normal crud. Taking him to the only urgent care open in the sticks, they sent him home with Tamiflu and orders to visit the hospital should he not improve in a few days. I debated showing my bird puncture to the doctor, but decided against it based on a previous experience and reaction.
“You scraped your back on a hog tusk,” the doctor asked me back in Texas. “Yes, it was dead, and I tripped when I was cleaning it, and it’s tusk got me, see, do I need a tetanus?” I asked. “I was shooed from the clinic and lectured on how offensive it is to hunt, and refused treatment. That was in a state where hunting comes with birth. Where we were now, with Jake, was far from the bird field and in the high-society district. They might actually start a blog encouraging all pheasants to stab their hunters in the butts to quit the awful sport. “Just go buy chicken breasts at the grocery, you meanie! Or just eat sunshine! It’s healthier!”
Needless to say, I left my butt in the Lord’s healing hands, and watched Jake get worse over the course of the week. I fried the birds we hunted for lunch one day with mashed potatoes, and as Morgan shouted she “ate the bones,” Jake just pushed food around his plate miserably. By Christmas morning, he and Morgan stumbled from their beds, much later than the 4am I willed them to get up. Santa indeed made a trip, and left a big fat mess all over the floor. He stomped through the reindeer food and played with Jake’s brand-new “hot wheel thing that is a hoop d hoop that lets them go vroom in loops around and around.” (As described by Jake)
“HE LEFT ME SINGING FROZEN DOLLS!” squealed Morgan, who for weeks maintained she “wanted a singing Elsa doll that lights up when she sings and has a beautiful dress that sparkles too.” Santa left her a motion activated, 16” Elsa that belts “Let it go,” and a motion activated, “16” Anna, that sings “For the first time in forever.” Both dolls, highly annoying, never stop singing tunes from the movie Frozen. They don’t have an On-Off switch, and if a cloud passes by two miles away, they feel the need to start shouting. Santa was going to wrap them and put them under the tree, but when they kept singing from within the box, he unwrapped them, stuffed them in tube socks, buried them inside tissue paper, and then again in a black lawn bag. It shut up Elsa, but Anna just kept singing. So eventually they got stuffed in the depths of a closet at the North Pole, and thankfully, no children heard them until Christmas morning when they were delivered.
About the time Jake opened his wrecky-buddy, a rude, farting dump truck that runs over cats and shouts about needing another break, he turned a gray color and crawled in my lap, completely done with Christmas. He didn’t open another present, and his fever spiked through the roof. (“Don’t throw away that wrapping paper without checking for the egg!” I said to Military Man, who was opening his gifts on the fainting couch where it disappeared.)
So excited for Christmas, Jake missed it because we took him back to one of Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital’s urgent care centers, where they determined his flu was not improving and an x-ray showed pneumonia in its earliest stage. With a massive pile of medications prescribed, Jake fell asleep at lunchtime, and slept until the next day.
I woke him up around the time for Christmas dinner, and he looked at me and asked if he could just go back to bed. So I gave him some water, mentioned my deviled egg in the hope that he found it in some mysterious 3-year-old’s cranny in the house and he said nothing. He just rolled over and didn’t wake up again until our last day of vacation.
Meanwhile, Morgan opened a complete cowgirl outfit for her future riding lessons in Arizona, and a magnificent 30-foot long lasso, complete with plastic bull-head to stake into a bale of hay for practice. Heading out into the drizzle, she lassoed tree stumps, car tires, my sister, and even the dogs until her “Pappy” finally caved and let her lasso a quail.
Trying to help her, and the bird, he put the lasso around it’s little body and she held the other end. Eyes wider than Ralphie’s when he opened the Red Ryder BB Gun, her eagerness to watch a quail fly circles around her head was obvious. Pappy threw the bird in the air, and with the exuberance of a cold dead turkey it froze stiff, arced at the peak of the rope, and fell with a thud to the ground. Bird popping from the rope like a champagne cork, it bounced once, miraculously came back to life, yanked up those fat pants and took off running across the yard. Morgan, not missing a beat, yanked up her own brand new riding pants, a little too big at the waist, and took off in hot pursuit of her bird. Reaching my parents camper, the bird bobbed and weaved around the tires clearly wishing it had pushed away from the food trough a few meals sooner, and Morgan hollered, “Get back here quail!” Lasso dragging behind her, boots splashing in puddles, the quail evaded her for the rest of the visit and Pappy never let her lasso another one. It’s also apparent that the belly of their camper is the go-to spot for runaway quail.
On our final day of vacation, as Jake emerged looking like a real boy again, Morgan, my sister, mom, grandma and I went to our high-tea, dressed in jewels and hats, with Samantha Parkington wearing a brand new tea outfit and Morgan in a matching one (minus her f-ing deviled egg that I had been debating replacing for $150 dang dollars on e, f-ing bay.)
For two hours we poured tea from our own pots, and with pinkies out, we each poured and drank pot after pot of tea, and filled our sophisticated bellies with cucumber sandwiches, quiche, chicken salad croissants, miniature mystery delectables, fruit cups, muffins, cakes, pies, and trays of hors d’ourves. (Or as my mom called them when we were younger, “whore’s, D, Oar-Vee’s.”)
Morgan, so consumed with her own magical pot, had it refilled four times with sweet tea that “tasted cold, and sweet and just like candy!”
The only item on the table other than the whores D Oar-Vee’s, was a bottle of Sambucol. “I just read online that it’s a natural remedy for flu and cold symptoms, and as long as you drink it four times a day as soon as you start feeling ill, you won’t get worse,” I told the ladies. (Outside of the many holiday happenings in the house, it was a common occurrence for everyone to wake up “with a scratch in the throat,” or “feeling like you might be coming down with something,” and my mom would spray another whole bottle of Lysol on your face and in your space. It was the only defense she had against the flu spreading and everyone was paranoid they were getting it.)
Grabbing spoons we all poured it out and sucked it down between sips of hot tea until the bottle was gone, and we decided we needed to buy more after we left the current engagement.
“With the amount of tea we drank, we should have all worn diapers,” said my mom, who decided her bean-sized bladder wouldn’t make it the 45-minute drive home without multiple stops. “Oh I know,” said my grandma. And we laughed that our stop at the pharmacy across the street would be for every bottle of Sambucol they had in the store and a bag of adult diapers…
“Cheers!” shouted Morgan as she finished off her third fancy cup of Earl Gray. Hat having been removed from her head two pots ago, her excitement about the tea party was looking a little full and uncomfortable, as even she dined on grilled cheese sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly bites, cakes, fruit, pastries and quiche in addition to the massive amount of liquids. Samantha was the only one still smiling from her little chair in the corner.
Climbing into the car after we were finished, Morgan froze and frowned with the expression that all mothers dread. “Get the door Brandy!” I shouted to my sister. “She’s gonna barf!” and Morgan, falling across the seats of my mom’s Yukon, door flying open, spewed every bit of that sweet candy sweet tea across the parking lot of Mittie’s Tea Room. Delicate ladies looked even more delicate, hands went to faces, and my sister, just as sympathetic of a puker as Military Man is, felt the need to start dismantling Morgan’s booster seat and throw it in pieces around the vehicle. To what purpose, I don’t know.
Piling in the car, all of us full, miserable and needing to pee again, we headed home to the end of the Christmas vacation. Morgan proudly told the men-folk how she drank and barfed up all her tea, we each drank another bottle of Sambucol and a Christmas miracle occurred as the sun went down.
“I found it!” shouted Brandy. And running from the game room, she held forth Samantha’s deviled egg. “It was under the pool table, on the rug!” A good mile from where I lost it on the fainting couch.
Tucking it back into the picnic pail, and closing the lid on the box it came in 25 years ago, Military Man, the kids and I drove back to Valdosta at the end of our vacation and essentially our time living in Georgia.
As we get the house ready to put on the market Monday, I can honestly say I can’t wait to get back to Crowded Camper living and to make use of the camper-friendly gifts we received this year. For starters, we won’t have to use soup ladles with the cereal, because we got some new silverware! (Hallelujah!) And if that wasn’t enough to make the world right, I feel downright optimistic that this might actually be the year we live in the camper and I don’t set anything on fire. Thanks to the new electric skillet, I can apparently “take our food to a far away plug and fry the crap out of it, without having to alert the fire department.”
by Rebecca with 1 comment
as a stocking stuffer, or just something entertaining to read over the holidays
Consider my book, “The Crowded Camper goes to Little Rock,” which is on sale at Amazon! The second book, “The Crowded Camper goes to Albuquerque” is due out in the Spring of 2015. Make sure to read this one first, because it’s the first half of the adventure! If you order through AmazonSmile, you’ll be able to choose a charity of your choice to donate a portion of the proceeds. Just search the database and see if the one you like is available. ‘That Others May Live Foundation’ is a choice, and my personal favorite – as they help Air Force search and rescue personnel and their families during difficult times. It’s close to my heart!
by Rebecca with no comments yet