Camping was pretty much the only kind of family vacation we ever took when I was growing up. Sometimes we took a long drive to visit a long distance relative, but mostly, we packed a family of five into a small pick-up truck with a shell, filled the truck bed with sleeping bags, mosquito repellant, and powdered milk, and headed to a campground several hours away.
The car ride was long and pretty boring. The slug-bug game was usually a good one to start with, trying to be the first to spot a VW bug. That lasted only until two of us would simultaneously shout “SLUG BUG!!!” and then start fighting over who got the point until dad started shouting at us to stop shouting. Then there was no more Slug Bug game. Only dirty glares between us three, cramped in the back seat plotting vengeance and hating the camping trip already.
It was a very tight squeeze for such a long ride to whichever mountain we were headed to. There was always mayhem if someone felt sick, or if someone farted. One time my little brother sneezed, and he sneezed mightily. He caught it in his hand, but not quite, as green slime oozed between his hands and stringed away from his nose. I remember his black baseball hat and his expression both of shame and 8-year-old curiosity. With one glance I was heaving and gagging against the opposite window. To this day, I don’t think I have ever been so disgusted with someone’s sneeze.
But anyway, the camping trips were just that. Squished and squirming in the back seat, setting up campsite, eating undercooked burgers, sitting in drippy tents, and slapping at biting bugs. We hiked some, I know, and that was pretty good. But I remember having to wash the pots in cold water at some spigot a good march away. I hated that. There was the rocky ground our sleeping bags were placed on, and someone always farted in the tightly sealed tent. Usually my unapologetic sister. That was back when she was 11, but I still don’t think she’s sorry.
My sister and my brother and I are very good friends now, but I don’t think we were always friends growing up. We rarely did things that friends do. We usually told on each other, rather than cover. We fought over food, rather than shared. Lord, we fought over food.
Actually, I think whenever we reunite, there’s always a bicker only siblings would ignite, fueled with child-like ferocity – usually because one of us has cheated at a board game.
Somehow, though, through the bickering and the squirming of our growing-up years, all the forced vacations, and wildlife we never actually caught a glimpse of, we all grew up to love the outdoors, and outings with each other. Hikes, camping, walking – we still do it and we all love it.
Only now, we have more room in our cars and we pack more food.
And soon we’ll take our own squirming kids.