What I did on my Summer vacation.
This year on vacation me and my family went camping all over the place. We hit a deer but it was dead already. We saw a bunch of neat things. We saw Devils Tower that was in the movie about aliens and space. And we saw Mountain Rushmore with the president heads made out of rock. Yosemite Sam park had geysers that smelled like someone always farted. My sister and me both got hit in the face we teased her and said she looked like a monster. My parents were mad a lot but they did not get hurt. It was fun but most of the time it was boring and hot.
I remember thinking how brilliant that essay was. It was succinct and yet touched on the important high points while engaging the reader in personal and family dramas. But now I remembered more clearly. There were... things... Situations I left out.
It had been decided, with no kid input, that our vacation that year would be a two week road trip to see the great American West and all of its treasures. It's hard to think of an adult, especially a parent, holding on to adolescent dreams but I think my stepfather chose this trip because he always wanted to be a cowboy. I came to this conclusion because nearly every book he owned had a picture of a cowboy on it.
It was an odd assumption since I didn’t assume my mother wanted to be the woman on the cover of her books which always included a shirtless, or nearly shirtless, muscle man. I also didn’t assume my stepfather wanted to be like the book he had hidden in the master bathroom. That book sported a line drawing of a woman lying on a bed wearing nothing but fish net stocking and pointed high heels. Her legs were splayed wide open and a scribble of lines below her stomach was pointed toward the man standing at the door wearing a suit and holding a pipe. I didn’t assume he wanted to be either the man in the suit or the naked lady but in my defense he did have a lot more cowboy books.
For the trip he bought a camper. By driving, my stepfather explained, we would see things up close like the early settlers did. Of course I knew he had a fear of flying so driving was really the only way we would get there. The family car was a Lincoln Mercury Marquis and after a case of beer and a welding touch it was retrofitted with a trailer hitch. Now our lemon yellow car could pull a grass green Apache brand pop up camper. Together the car and camper were forty feet of bright colorful vacation madness.
When folded up for travel the camper was about the height of a three mattresses on wheels. A hand crank was used to slowly unfold it raising the roof accordion style to a height of about seven feet. Double beds would slide out at either end and would be suspended about four feet above the ground by two thin aluminum poles. This set up induced in me the fear that it would over balance in the middle of the night rolling us out into a campground in nothing but our white, three to a pack, briefs from JCPenneys. Which at the time was the white trash sleeping attire of choice.
For days before we left on the trip my mother and I would spend hours packing and unpacking making sure things fit in both the open and closed position of the camper. For some reason this activity gave me some sort of deep satisfaction. There was just something fun about choosing what would go in the camper and making sure it all fit in the hidden storage spaces and closets. Then watching the camper get cranked back down to it's compressed position a tight and tidy box. Everything nice neat and orderly. It was my favorite part of the vacation and we hadn't even left home yet.
When The first morning of the trip finally made it we were hauled out of bed at four a.m. since, for some reason, four a.m. was the ultimate time to begin a vacation. My eight year old brother Bubba and my six year old sister Becky and I were piled into the back seat with our pillows, books and toys. The annoying seat belts were tucked into the seat cushions safely out of the way and optimizing our comfort and we were off.
The first day was scheduled as a travel day so no real points of interest were scheduled. We started out napping, reading our books, playing games listening to the radio. Spirits where high and there was still a sense of adventure in the air. For a few hours the family was held in some sort alien and otherworldly harmony. We were the picture perfect family like you would see on TV or in a magazine advertisement. We would remember that earliest part of our vacation for years to come and whisper about it at holidays. Because for a few hours we all got along.
It was about fifteen hours after we started when dusk found us in rural Iowa or Nebraska. We haven’t even finished our first day when we were about to have our first adventure.
We had the windows down to enjoy the cooling summer evening and probably to air out the car after a hot day of sweaty kids in the back seat. I was sitting next to the window and held my hand flat to catch the wind like an airplane wing. The landscape had changed from acres of corn and beans thick woods on either side of the road. Oncoming traffic was sparse and not everyone had their their headlights on yet.
It wasn’t completely dark yet but my stepdad decided it was close enough to nightfall to open his first can of beer of the evening. The rule being he could only drive his family and pull the camper while drinking if it was already dark outside. The lack of sunlight somehow made drunk driving safer.
From the opposite window my little brother yells "hey look at that truck! it's so cool"
The truck in question was directly in front of us and had oversized wheels which put it up off the ground far enough that a little step had been added under the drivers side door to give access.
"What's so cool about it?" our stepfather asked "you can't load anything into the back. You can't tow anything with it". This was supposed to sound like practicality but it was more likely annoyance at not being able to pass the monster truck. He felt it had been going too slow for the past hour.
I had observed over the years that anyone going slower than we were was called a “slow assed, bastard” was told through the closed window that he was “driving like an old lady”. Anyone driving faster than we were was referred to as a “Crazy bastard” and we were going to “Let HIM get the ticket”. Unless of course the speeding vehicle had a gun rack in which case it was just some “good ole boys having a good time”. Only we were going the perfect speed at any given moment.
As it turns out there really is a practical benefit to being so high up off the ground in that part of the country. The driver of the truck showed us exactly how practical when he successfully straddled a long dead and bloated deer carcass that was laying in the middle of our side of the highway.
A Lincoln Mercury Marquis has at best twelve inches of clearance between its underside and the asphalt. A Lincoln Mercury Marquis packed with five people and towing a camper has about eight to ten inches of clearance. An adult deer carcass bloated from at least a day in a hundred degrees extends up from the ground roughly two feet. A height that changes significantly when it's run over by the previously mentioned Lincoln Mercury Marquis.
There is no good way to describe how foul the smell of summer warmed venison smeared under fifteen feet of flesh searing American steel is. It escapes me how to convey the effect fermented intestines coating a tow bar and chains has on the senses. Since the smell seemed to be everywhere outside it seemed prudent to roll up the windows and turn on the air conditioner. But conditioned air has to come from somewhere. Instead of clean breathable air we were blasted with the undiluted smell that was accompanied by a cloud of short fine brown hairs. In a matter of seconds we went from happily bored to fighting nausea with coating of deer hair sticking to our sweat damp skin.
The closest car wash was probably only five miles away but time can be deceiving when you're trying to fight vomiting . Being in the front seat and directly in front of the air vents our mother blocked most of the deer hair with her face. She was so nauseated and frustrated that she started to cry, leaving twin white stripes in the trails left by her tears.
Gagging, we evacuated the car while my stepfather, with his shirt pulled up over his nose like a gas mask, tried to power wash the chunks of rotted and seared tissue off the bottom of the car and camper. Ironically, later in life, he would take a job with the state of Missouri and his tasks would include moving deer carcasses off the highway and burying them on the side of the road so others could avoid this exact fate.
Bubba and I found a water hose meant for filling up radiators and rinsed off our faces but we were going to play too tough to actually get sick. Mom and Becky went to the bathroom at the adjoining gas station to clean up a little and when they returned Bubba and I started talking about maybe finding a place that serves deer meat hamburgers. This made Becky gag and made us smile.
It was only a short ride after that to our first campground. I don't remember everything being set up that first night but I remember the smell had lessened a little but had definitely not gone away. It was too hot to keep the windows closed but the smell was too strong to leave them open. It was a miserable night. We were sick, sore from lack of movement, sun burned and all sense of hope and adventure had fled us and it was only the first day.