When my sister and I were kids, our family went camping several times a year. We had it all – the Coleman cook stove and lantern, a big red cooler, and a brown canvas tent. My mom packed up the food box and the cooler and my dad packed all the gear into our bright red 1973 Chevy Impala (That car hung so low with all that gear that my parents had to creep over rocks in the road lest they tear out the oil pan.) and we four and our cocker spaniel Casey piled in and we were off.
Mostly, I remember those camping trips fondly. Better than that, really. The days were hot and sticky and the nights were cool and even stickier once the mosquitoes came out and my mom doused us all in bug spray. We hiked, which I enjoyed, and I read books for long hours in the shade of a Ponderosa Pine. (Have you ever smelled a forest of Ponderosa Pines? Divine.)
We had to get away from the people who were harshing our mellow, so the minute my younger sister Erin and I were old enough to carry one, our dad went out and got a frame pack for each of us. He’d bring the bathroom scale to the kitchen and stand Erin on it, then add the pack and start loading her up with a sleeping bag, clothes, and food. When he reached the pre-determined weight limit that he’d devised with a complex formula, three pencils, a slide rule, and several bits of wire and string (a physicist is a physicist, whether he’s dealing with whatever it is that physicists deal with or a family camping trip), he stopped packing. Next I stood on the scale while he filled my pack, then my mom, and finally my dad carried everything that was left.
I have no idea how much weight any of us carried, but I do know that none of us could get our packs on alone. Each of my parents would help one of us girls get a pack on our back, then Dad would lift Mom’s for her. Finally, Dad would lean his pack against a tree and squat with his back to it and slip his arms into the shoulder straps. Then Mom would stand in front of him and grab both of his elbows while he grabbed both of hers and and there would be a giant grunt in stereo and with any luck, Dad would find himself upright on his hind legs. Finally, Mom and both of us girls would get behind Dad and push the pack up so Dad could buckle the waist strap.
We all stood there, swaying a bit under the weight, but as long as no one went down we were good to go. Off we went like a family of middle-class, suburban turtles, staggering a little as we breached the parking barricades and approached the trail head. We walked, Dad and me in front, Erin and Mom behind and Casey going double the distance by bouncing back and forth, back and forth, and slowly, without noticing it was happening, we got used to those packs. We eventually walked, not exactly normal, but at least normal-er. We didn’t feel unbalanced or awkward anymore, just heavy.
We would walk for an hour or so, chatting some but mostly walking in silence, passing the canteens around and enjoying the sun. Eventually, Mom would holler to Dad that Erin needed a rest and Dad and I would start the hunt for a big patch of shade. As soon as we found a spot, I unbuckled my pack’s waist strap and Dad lifted the pack off of my shoulders. When the weight was gone, I could feel my body rising, rising off the ground, as if I was floating and when I looked at my feet I was surprised to see that they were still in contact with planet earth.
That floating-away feeling? That’s how I feel today – light and free and untethered.
We visited my grandma’s new home this afternoon and it is everything we were hoping to find for her. It houses a maximum of ten residents, all of them women. There is home cooked food, a backyard, a quiet neighborhood, and most of all, friendly, kind, and dedicated staff. All of the things that we need, they can accommodate. Erin will continue to provide all of our grandma’s personal care. We can be with her any time, day or night, which is not a big issue now but if she becomes ill and, eventually, when her death is near, we’ll take turns spending the night with her. She can keep her own schedule, have a glass of wine in the evening, and above all, she will be safe.
We have breathed a collective sigh of relief. We should have her moved into her new digs by early next week and we couldn’t be happier.
Between my grandma’s new home and Carter finishing the school year successfully, I could hardly be happier, but there’s one more bit of information that I know you’ll want to hear:
Carter has not seen any of the little guys for three days.
This week didn’t seem to have a thing going for it, but it’s all turned around nicely. Welcome to summer!