Crickets. Rain.

I remember my family’s penultimate vacation together.  We drove our station wagon to South Dakota.  I must have been 13, and about to enter eighth grade.

Our car, with five passengers and all of our camping equipment, was cramped, uncomfortable, and beyond the help of air conditioning.  It was near the end of summer, August most likely, and the South Dakota air was hot and dry.  We stopped at each tourist trap along I90: Wall Drug, the Corn Palace, every Wild West or Frontier themed “village”, all of it.  And everywhere we went, there were locusts. So many that the ground seemed alive with their clicking and leaping.  The slow ones crushed under our feet, a sound and feeling not entirely unpleasant.

One night, near the end of our trip, were camped in the Black Hills.  A torrential rain started up in the middle of the night and began to flood our campsite.  My sister woke up first, crying that her sleeping bag was wet.  This woke the rest of us up and we discovered a fairly large leak in the tent’s floor.  I remember my Dad’s futile attempts to staunch the leak- of course the leak was placed uphill- and my Mom’s voice criticizing him and arguing to simply move to the car.

Finally he conceded and we sprinted to the car, leaving our sleeping bags to grow ever wetter.  The raindrops fell fast and were the size of meatballs, and all of us were soaked before reaching the car.

No one could sleep in our cramped Ford Taurus.  Our clothes clung to our bodies and made us cold, while the windows fogged and the air grew muggy from our breath.  My younger brother screamed and kicked over his inability to get “flat,” impossible in his current position in the middle of the back seat.  My Mom berated my Dad for his failure to foresee the leak being an issue.  (In his defense:  Before we departed on our vacation, he had checked and rechecked the tent for leaks.  I had helped him.  There were no leaks then, and so he could hardly be held truly accountable.)  My Dad fought back weakly and without trying to win (he is a man who eschews confrontation- and I remember that in this fight his voice was not loud, but was sad and carried a note of defeat from the outset).  My sister cried over their fighting (a role that she would play for the remainder of our parents’ breakdown and eventual divorce).  I sat and listened to the rain hammer on our roof, my eyes were closed and I wished for sleep.  That sleep came at some point, but I do not remember when.  I also do not remember my Dad’s leaving the car and returning to the wet tent, but that was where he woke up the next morning.

We hung out our sleeping bags and did the best we could to dry them and the tent, but it didn’t do much good.  Our camping trip was more or less over.  We spent the next night in a hotel and drove through the following night.  My parents didn’t fight any more during the trip, but something had changed.  The foundation of our family had washed away like the ground of our campsite, and there was nothing we could do to staunch the leak.

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