Mother Did Not Like to Camp
Mother did not like to camp. That didn’t stop my Father from planning camping trips. We set out one summer for a two week tour of New England. Dad had borrowed one of those pop-up tent trailers from a buddy at “the field” –his work place at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. He had a bunch of chums with whom he worked on airplanes all day. I don’t remember meeting them except once or twice because no alcohol was allowed in the house and they liked beer and probably smoked. Also not allowed. And anyway, we did not have spontaneous gatherings of any kind. Nobody could just drop by after school or when driving through the neighborhood. Mother once blocked the door when my college friends from Cleveland came on a surprise visit. People had to be prepared for and preapproved. So Dad planned long hunting trips in Pennsylvania with the guys if he wanted to have a manly time free to imbibe and tell smutty jokes. Why I agreed to this vacation trip I don’t know. I was an adult and had been all around the world by then. But somehow I went along with an unpredictable mother, a tiresomely adolescent brother, and a timid father who hated to drive in places he didn’t know. And we were pulling a too heavy trailer with a Dodge Dart. My first memory of the trip is of Mother crying while making sandwiches by the side of a road. Things got both better and worse from that moment on, which is what life is like with a bi-polar parent I suppose. She was going through “the change”on top of everything else. We had a great time in Stowe, Vermont. But it was unseasonably cold and we had an uncomfortable night squeezed together in the little pop-up. Dad went out to pump the Coleman stove and get some coffee started. Mother was stirring, ready to face another day of trying to pull herself together in that 8 x 8 space when she noticed her fingers. They were all dark blue. Really, they were. We gathered around her outside the tent where we could see better. There was no mistaking it. At first we all thought it was just the cold air of the night. But, of course, it wasn’t. Mother had suddenly manifested Reynaud’s disease, something we learned by name later. For years after she wore oven mitts to get food out of the freezer and had two sympathectomies. This procedure gave her a face split down the middle in the summer; one side only was red and sweaty when she became over heated.
The blue fingers were not a good sign. Nevertheless, we continued our trip. We ate lots of lobster in Maine and lots of beans and pie at Durgin Park in Boston. Most of our travels focused on food. But Boston driving was a challenge for Dad, even then when traffic was relatively “light”. The little Dodge was weak, the trailer awkward, and Dad petrified. He seemed not to know how to change lanes and he hated driving over about 45 miles per hour ever. To make things a bit more challenging, we had not booked a place to stay. Hotels were too expensive; motels were full. More frightening driving trying to find a place to bed down. We ended up late in the night at a gas station in Cambridge. In those days men did a lot of important strutting and speaking arcane words about motors while station attendants pumped gas and checked under the hood. So Dad was doing his strut and checking the trailer hitch; he was glad to be off the road for a few minutes. Mother, however, had her family to house for the night. She went into the building and began chatting with people, explaining our desperate circumstance. It was near midnight by then. Mother returned to the car elated. A woman had offered her nearby empty house. We could stay there, she said. Just follow me, she said. The car was full of gas by now so Dad and Mother got back in the car and we drove behind the woman’s car up a darkly wooded hill. The woman took Dad with her round the back of the house. She didn’t have her key with her, she said. But they could get in by the kitchen door. We didn’t know til later that as they circumnavigated the old mansion, the woman showed Dad various spots where the daughter who died in the house had played and claimed to see her even then on a swing that hung from a tree they passed. You see her don’t you? She asked Dad. Dad was terrified of the woman by the time he got in the house. But he couldn’t tell us because after all she was standing right there and this was our last ditch place to sleep. There was no furniture in the house. It really was apparently long unoccupied. We gathered our sleeping bags and tooth brushes from the trailer and began to settle in an echoey upstairs room; then two young men arrived and began talking with the woman who was still downstairs. The woman couldn’t have telephoned them. How did they know she was in this house? Why were they arriving at midnight? Dad and Mother and Judo and I looked at each other; something passed between us called fear. I said, stage whisper, let’s get out of here. We stealthily repacked our bags, streaked down the stairs and raced out the front door to the Dodge. Running, we were and thought, for our lives. Dad drove fast this time. We were always convinced we had escaped murderers. By 2 a.m. we had driven very far from Boston and found a roadside motel with a vacancy. Yes, it was a lot like the Bates Motel, but things were looking better again. So we put our money down, grabbed a key, and went to bed.