When I was a kid, the maybe half dozen or so “family vacations” we took, ever, like through all 18 years of my not an adult status, were either to Grandma’s house in Oklahoma (x2 or so), Grandma’s house in Pennsylvania (x2 or so), or Dot and Al’s (my father’s brother) house in Tampa (x2 or so).
No Grandpa’s; both were long gone by the time I came along. There were lots of cousins that gathered in OK (Mom’s side), the one cousin I remember on Dad’s side, Dickie who went off to Viet Nam, and I was so blown away to discover years later that he had two older sisters.
Of them my recollection is zero, zip, nada.
Those trips weren’t tons of fun. Dot and Al drank, like Dad, and Mom sat there not drinking with all the drinkers, and we kids who weren’t trapped with each other at home were there, so it was like spend the day watching Dad and his brother and Dot, who was nice, but an old lush, get drunk, and Mom kind of impatiently wishing it was over so we could go back home.
Certainly those are the trips that are most memorable, those to Tampa, mostly because they involved the long drive across Florida, east coast to west, and back in those days there was nothing there, just two lanes going opposite directions, one to the Gulf and one to the Atlantic. By then both my brothers were gone, Doug at school, Edo either at school or already thrown out, so just Mom and Dad and me and my two sisters.
Mom and Dad up front, the sisters in the back seat, me lying down on my back way back looking out the back window of the Barracuda, wandering through the imaginal realm, dreaming about running away to the woodsy swamplands of central Florida. A house on stilts would do, a person could fish off her front porch, eat polk salad.
The mosquitos would have been pure hell. Not to mention the no see ‘ums, those motherf**kers will drive a person straight batsh*t nuts. I didn’t figure that out until years later when I actually started doing some camping in Florida, as a grown up.
One firmly entrenched in reality.
And years later, I’m tempted to test the hypothesis that those Florida mosquitos have evolved to be fast and wily and darned near impossible to swat, these up north things, big as they are, are just slow and dumb and easy pickins. And while the ticks might be a bit of a concern, thus far I’ve managed not to let any of those embed, there aren’t any of those invisible little all jaws things like at the beach in Florida. No chiggers in the northlands, either.
Chiggers are for Okies. They’re another kind of special Oklahoma hell, kind of like tornadoes. The west was awesom, too dry for too many bugs. But I digress.
Running away to the woods was always a childhood fantasy. As I type the period at the end of that sentence, a big grin crosses my face, because running away to the woods, or at least to the great outdoors, is exactly what I’m doing. Right now, as I type, I’m in a tent in Vermont in the rain, a big tent, it has a little butane stove I heated my coffee water on this morning.
There are half a dozen things I forgot to bring along this trip, but that won’t be an issue, because when I run away, I’ll have everything with me, always. There are two more items (at least) I need to get, a small folding table for the laptop, it’s on my lap right now but this is not great, a table is good, and a cot of some kind to get me up off the ground. Getting up off the ground in the night is a bitch. But the tent is big, it rained big last night, the tent is dry.
And really very comfortable.
Putting it up the first time took a little while, taking it back down a breeze, next time it will go up quickly. It’s a fine space.
The woods are lovely, no longer dark, the sun is coming up, and soon the rain will stop. No motor sounds here, maybe some kids playing now and then, grown ups being loud, but they stop early. Lots of nice trails around, the quiet sets in quickly.
A van to go with the big tent, some storage space, versatility. Big tent, small tent, how long the stay, how cold, how hot, how wet or dry. The learning curve is not steep, it’s very quick, what is needed, what is not, what not to waste, what to give freely of, what to hold dear.
It’s taken almost fifty years, but finally, I’m realizing my childhood dream, that one I so loved to create while riding to Tampa in the back of the Barracuda. I’m running away to the woods.