Because I am always working over Labor Day weekend, my Paul and I try to take our own “Labor Day” over a later weekend in September. Last Friday we went up to New Hampshire for three days of hiking and eating and relaxing, and completely devoid of internet. I’ll tell you more about it soon, but since we were sort-of-though-not-exactly camping, I think a camping memory is appropriate for this evening.
A pastor of a small (at the time) Baptist church in New England isn’t likely to make big bucks, and my dad certainly didn’t, but all the same, my parents made sure we always took a family vacation, and that we always went somewhere. Sometimes we visited the grandparents in Rhode Island. Sometimes we visited the grandparents in New Jersey. The rest of the time, we went to many other interesting places, and those times, in order to afford it better, we always went camping.
The summer that I turned 13, we drove all the way up from New England to Prince Edward Island so we could visit Green Gables–something every 13-year-old girl should do, I feel.
We camped the whole way. I think we were in Bay of Fundy when the following incident happened:
I was not a fan of camping at the best of times, because I always got tangled up in my sleeping bag, said sleeping bag would constantly slip and slide off the inflatable rafts that we used as air mattresses, and I was a notoriously light sleeper who would probably wake up (if I had ever managed to go to sleep in the first place) if a firefly sneezed. Also, for some reason it seemed like every time we camped, the people in the site next to us were intent on smoking and playing their guitars and loudly singing into the wee hours of the morning. As you may know, if you’ve ever slept in a tent, they are not sound proof.
This particular night I think I had actually managed to doze off and then, darn it, I woke up and had to go to the bathroom. Mom, Dad and TheBro were all snoring lightly and, because I always woke up so easily and had such a hard time falling back to sleep, I didn’t want to wake up any of them, so I lay in my sleeping bag until it became unbearable, and then I tried to unzip myself from my cocoon.
For some reason I always found it necessary to sleep with my sleeping bag zipped all the way up to the top–something to do with a sense of security, probably, although it certainly didn’t help with the getting tangled up thing. First of all I had to try to twist and turn myself around in flannel lining, and the bag swished and swoshed and squeaked lightly against the plastic of the air mattress. I twisted and turned very slowly, as if that would somehow have made everything quieter, instead of just more painstaking.
Once I got myself right way round, I inched the zipper of the sleeping bag down just far enough so I could slither out. But that, friends, was only the beginning of the zippers. The only entrance and exit to our tent was covered by both a fabric screen and a solid fabric cover. Both of these were also zipped. There was more painstaking unzipping and more slithering, and then, being a conscientious adolescent, I zipped the two flaps back shut again.
Outside the tent, everything was much better. I wouldn’t have dreamed of simply “going” in the woods, even though I surely could have done, so I trotted up the lighted campground road to the bathroom. I was in and out of there quite quickly, and then I was back to facing the zippers. This time around the door zippers seemed even noisier than before, so I unzipped them even more slowly.
Then suddenly, to my dismay, I heard voices.
The voices were coming from inside the tent. It was my parents. I must have woken them. I felt bad enough about that, but it also occurred to me that they might imagine an intruder was trying to get into the tent. I hoped they would notice that I was not in my sleeping bag. Inexplicably, it didn’t also occur to me that I could just say something to them through the tent wall letting them know I was the intruder. Instead, I just waited for a bit, hoping maybe they’d fall back asleep or something.
As soon as I began my one-tooth-at-a-time unzipping project again, though, the voices resumed. I noticed Mom’s whispers were sounding increasingly panicked. Finally I just grabbed the bull by the horns, unzipped the opening about halfway, and scuttled in.
“HEY!” said Dad, lunging forward and grabbing my arm.
“Daddy!” I said, “It’s only me!”
I seem to recall that after everybody calmed down, we had this impromptu and entirely unrelated conversation about my discontent with my given name. I don’t remember what I wished to have been called instead of Jenn, but I think at the end I decided it would just be too complicated to try to get all my friends and teachers and everybody to call me something different. This was practical of me, and also, in hindsight, a good choice, because if I had decided to call myself something different then, this wouldn’t be a Jenn story.