The twelfth and final story of my Twelve Days of Stories is actually the beginning of a story.
It is a draft of the first chapter of the book I have been writing. I hope that one day these words will take shape in print form that you can hold in your hands.
Thank you so much for reading along with me this holiday season and allowing me to share my stories with you.
A Story about A Pop Up Camper
Some people thought we were crazy when we announced that we had decided to spend Taido’s summer study sabbatical in tents instead of renting somewhere to stay in Vancouver, British Columbia.
We love camping, so we were sure that three months in the woods would be a dream come true for our family. Of course, we anticipated that there might be some challenges, but we felt we were up for the opportunity to rise to the occasion of whatever would come.
During the early planning days of our big summer trip, a couple from our church called and told us we could borrow their pop up camper.
Taido and I were both blown away by their generosity and we quickly adjusted to the idea of being inside a camper instead of a tent.
When we picked up the camper, we took it to our school parking lot to practice setting it up. The kids were so excited when they saw how it unfolded.
We had some friends come and see the pop up and we all sat inside and imagined what our life was going to be like out on the open road. Taido made everyone take off their shoes to get in, a tradition we kept up all summer. The kids climbed all over the camper, staking out their beds for the summer.
It was just like the little Fisher Price camper I had played with as a child. The flat structure opened up into this cozy little room with wings. The sides slid out to make two beds, and in the middle was a third bed that could also be converted to a table and benches. A small refrigerator and stove top made up the kitchen.
The camper was full of all sorts of cubbies and hidey holes that we promptly filled with games, puzzles, books, playing cards, bug spray and sunscreen.
A large awning rolled out on one side of the camper over the door, under which our camp chairs would be sitting all summer long. We had no idea on that sunny day in Arkansas how much time we would spend in our chairs under that awning, hiding from the rain. A flat two burner stove attached to the outside of the camper underneath the awning that was hooked up to the propane tank on the back of the camper. The pop up had hardly ever been used, and the biggest bed was practically king sized. After thirty years of tent camping, I thought that camper was the lap of luxury.
I remembered a few times that I went camping with loads of other families as a child. My family was always in tents and I was envious of the fact that some of the other families had campers. Generally, the kids were all shooed outside so I never got to go into people’s campers. I just imagined that when I went back to my tent at night, the other kids had magical wonderlands of comfort on the other sides of those camper doors. Back at our campsite, we sat around the fire while my dad played his guitar and sang to us. I did not realize then that the real magic was around the campfire. In addition to Bob Dylan lyrics, Daddy filled my head with the idea that if you were inside a camper, you weren’t really camping. In fact, the most authentic way to camp was without anything but a sleeping bag, because it is best to leave no barrier at all between you and the starry sky. My dad still believes this with all his heart, and though he’s in his sixties, he sleeps many nights out in the open. I used to get so mad at him because he would set up our tent, but leave the rain fly lying on the ground on the side, until it actually started raining. I could not figure out why we did not put the rain fly on, just in case. It seemed like a decent precautionary measure to me, because HELLO, who wants to get up in the middle of the night and put on a rain fly, in the rain and the dark? But he thought he was doing me a favor. Who would want a rain fly covering up the top of the tent blocking the view of the stars? I’ll tell you who. Me.
So you can understand why at first I felt a little bit like we were cheating by staying in a camper for the summer. However, it was not long at all before I let myself off the hook for having a tiny bit more shelter from the rain and a place in which I could actually stand all the way up. I would never again say that it is not really camping to stay in a camper, and I certainly did not feel in anyway like we missed out on being outside under the stars. (Anyway, in the Pacific Northwest, the night sky is usually cloudy.)
In addition to the camper, our “rig” included a 15 passenger van that we bought for a song when our church retired it from youth ministry with over 100,000 miles on it. We removed the two back benches of the van, and that area served as a sort of storage unit. It was filled with several plastic tubs stacked on top of each other that held food, kitchen items, camping equipment, a few toys and really important things like an ice ax. (Don’t even ask.) The task of sorting through the back of the van to find a specific item for dinner was a special form of torture. Though I got better at looking through the tubs and created a loose organization to the madness, I never quite mastered the art of the back-of-the-van storage and as soon as I had a system down, someone else would rearrange everything. Also, the back of the van would not open from the inside, so if I accidentally let the door close behind me while inside of the van, I would have to crawl over the seats to the front in order to get back out. One of those times of crawling through the van with a handful of onions from a tub and popping out of the front, I glared at my husband and he said to me, “We’re living the dream, honey!” This catch phrase came to describe all less than ideal parts of being on the road for three months. If I couldn’t find something in the tubs, if the rain was incessant, if the kids were fighting, we would look at each other and one of us, usually Taido, would say it again. “This is IT! We’re living the dream, honey!” Sometimes it would make me laugh and other times I would just roll my eyes and throw my hands up in the air.
But when we rolled out of North Little Rock, Arkansas on the last Friday in May, I did not yet know I would soon be complaining about how hard it was to find the toilet paper in the van underneath the trekking poles and climbing ropes. We were all geared up for a summer full of adventure, a dream come true, barreling down the road in our jam packed rig, a van and a pop up camper.