Ten years ago, my friend Becky invited us to join her family on their Cape Cod camping vacation. I didn’t know then how profoundly this would change our lives. I didn’t know the sense of freedom this would bring. I didn’t know how this would strengthen my relationship with my children. I just went because it sounded like a fun thing to do. I enjoyed the company of her family.
Becky and I became friends the year before when I moved to the Lower Hudson Valley from Long Island. She had met my oldest son, Michael the winter before, when he had gone on a retreat with the youth group. Although I was a youth group leader in my Church, I stayed home with my young children that weekend, the other leader: Glen and his wife chaperone the retreat.
I had been stressed with the decision of relocating. I knew it would be best for us. My concern was moving Michael who was fifteen at the time and had his friends and close bonds that he would be leaving behind.
He returned from the retreat with a story. Upon their arrival the minister ask everyone to greet the group that was sitting behind them and this would be the church group they would share the weekend with. Michael spent the weekend bonding with the youth group of the church we would be joining upon our move. I am continually amazed by how we are taken care of.
Some weeks later, Michael and I planned a trip up to look at houses. We went up early on a Sunday morning with enough time to attend service. This morning after mass, before I found a home for us to live in, I met Becky and Michael’s new friends. I immediately took a liking to Becky, this cheerful little woman with an infectious laugh. Before I left church that morning, I was recruited to be a youth group leader upon relocating to their town. God works in mysterious ways.
Early that Saturday morning in the summer of 2000, we set out on our journey across the river, through Connecticut, and Massachusetts down onto the cape to a lovely camp ground, Nickerson State Park in Brewster, with their camper, tent, car, van, four adults and five children. We would only be staying with them one night which would have been far to short a stay to be worth the trip, had it not been the introduction to where I would return with my children, year after year.
The following Christmas, the Santa Claus theme was camping. Everything but a camper was under the tree. Though our funds were limited, each summer we would go camping. I took the children and the camping equipment in the divorce settlement. Our first trip was two weeks traveling across the country, just me a the three little kids. Michael being older then, had the responsibility of work. Our first stop was Tennessee and we sure looked like the beginners unable to put up a tent, another single mom and her son were happy to assist us.
The following morning, an elder man and his wife and another couple asked if we wouldn’t mind sharing our site with them and their huge camper. I said “Sure, no problem and these grandma’s and grandpa’s joined us, teaching me the basics, like lighting a campfire. The next day we were packed up and off to spend the afternoon and evening enjoying the music of Memphis. At an outdoor cafe, the musicians even dedicated a song to my little ‘freshie’.
We stayed in hotels the next two nights as planned, Little Rock, then one on the panhandle of Texas before heading to our final destination in northern New Mexico were we camped out four nights. Our campsite was on the side of a small cliff beneath was a lake where we swam and fished without any bites. But at night when we slept, I knew there were fish as I laid listening to them jump in the water all night. We took day trips from their, into Colorado. It was amazing to see how red-brown mountains turned to a green mountainous landscape. I stopped on the way back on the side of the road to absorb the first double rainbow I’d ever seen. On another day trip we went to Taos an artist community with adobe buildings, even McDonald’s was adobe.
I must have stepped on something, at our campsite or in the water, although I couldn’t see anything in my foot it began to swell, becoming worse and worse by the next morning our day to leave. I couldn’t stand on my foot swollen to the ankle, it was enormous. So there I was sitting on the back of the minivan as the kids, 7, 8, and 9, packed up the whole site and with my left foot I drove to Kansas City where I knew a friend that would help me. Matthew pumped the gas as needed. Sarah would go into the stations to pay. It was amazing how we managed. When we stopped at hotels the kids would go in ask for the manager who would come out with a wheelchair for my convenience.
Settled in the hotel for the night, I called my friend Doug for assistance, telling him I need to get to a laundromat and a doctor. He told me I had already driven some distance past him and he’d gladly help me in the morning if I wanted to drive back. I didn’t see any alternative considering my condition. Doug and I, were good friends, although we never met in person. We had been friends on Classmates, I had gone all throughout school with his younger brother. Having spoken with Doug online for over a year, reading each others stories, he had become my mentor and my dear friend.
We met for the first time early the following afternoon. He got up from his seat at the outdoor cafe, in Lawrence Kansas, picked me up in his muscular arms and carried me down the street like a baby, my children flocking around us. I must have been a pathetic sight. But here I was, the damsel in distress and he was my gallant knight. After lunch, he took us to a laundromat, fitting for this college town, with a bar, pool table, and video machines. The kids had a great time. After laundry was surgery and then I recuperated for the next few days in a motel in Lawrence in 108′. I couldn’t wait to be back on my way.
I know this doesn’t sound like much of a vacation, but it was an experience that shaped our family. Not only was I there for them, my children were there for me. Together we can face adversity, count on one another, and even without daddy and Michael, we were still a family.
Beginning with that summer we returned to the Cape and would most summers thereafter. We would also camp at Assateaque, Maryland with the wild ponies, Delaware, and Florida. Camping became a big part of our lives. Even with limited means we were able to travel away from, telephones, televisions, and computers, till the invention of the cell phone and the laptop we were alone with nature, with each other, we were family.