This is a work of fiction.
The car was quiet as I drove out of the city half an hour later. At first, the boys had talked a little, but that had petered out after about fifteen minutes. I guessed they were all too full from breakfast.
Suddenly, Lydia let out a small cry.
“What was that?” she said.
“Your imagination,” Sammy said.
“Yeah,” Freckles said, “you’re going ker-razy! Boo boo boo! Time to call the psych ward.”
“Don’t be mean,” I said. “Lydia, what happened?” She didn’t answer. If it had been something one of the boys had done, I’d have to catch him at it.
The rest of the drive was fine, and I pulled the van into the camp site.
“It’s empty,” Freckles said. “I thought you brought tents.”
“I did, but they need to be set up first.” I pointed to a large, grassy area, and said, “We can pitch them over there.”
“Where’s the bathroom?” Sammy said.
“There’s one about a two-minute walk from here. Come on and I’ll show you.”
When we got back, I opened the back of the van and pulled out the tents. I’d practiced in my yard, so I knew how to set them up, but I wanted to teach the kids how to do it themselves.
“Curly, have you learned this yet at Scouts?”
“Um, no. I, uh, got there after they’d done it.”
“No problem. Lydia’s and mine is smaller, so let’s do that one first. Here are the poles.”
Everything went well with the first tent. Lydia had been watching me set it up, and I could tell by her expressin that she wanted to help.
“Would you like to do it?” She nodded. She picked up a pole and then dropped it.
“Great,” Sammy said. “Our tent’ll be all dirty.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. I picked up the pole, but Lydia backed away, and didn’t join in as we set up the boys’ tent.
Afterwards, Sammy wiped imaginary sweat from his forehead and said, “We do all this hard work while she just sits there. How fair is that?”
“Not very,” Curly said.
“Well Sammy, next time we’re doing something, why don’t you encourage Lydia to join in?”
He shrugged and said, “What’s for lunch? I’m starving.”
“Me too,” Freckles said. “Let’s go to McDonald’s again.” I shook my head.
“We need to make lunch here. I don’t want to drive for half an hour every time we want to eat. That’s not what camping is, anyway. Now, Curly, have you learned how to build a fire?”
“Okay. Well, I’ll do it this time and you can all watch me. Please stay a safe distance away.” I pointed. “See that pile of sticks and logs over there? That’s the firewood I ordered. It should be enough for a few days, and maybe the day after tomorrow, we can go and chop some more.”
“We have to chop wood?” Curly said.
“Yes, and I’m sure you’ll learn that, so you’ll have a headstart on some of the other boys.” All four of them watched as I piled logs and kindling, and then I took out a box of matches.
Freckles shouted, “Lydia, stay away from those!” I put the matches in my pocket before I said anything.
“Freckles, I’m only going to say this once, and I want you to listen good. My name starts with Grandma, and do not ever, ever shout when somebody’s about to strike a match.”
“I meant her,” he said, pointing to Lydia.
“That’s enough. Are you calm now? I’d like to prepare some lunch.” He nodded, and I removed the box of matches from my pocket.
Once the fire was burning brightly, I said, “Now, what should we have for lunch? I’ve got a ton of food in the van.”
“Soup?” Lydia whispered.
“What?” Freckles yelled. “I can’t hear you!”
“Don’t be rude,” I said. “Soup is a great idea, Lydia. I have ready-to-serve cans of lots of different kinds.” I took her to the van and the boys followed. She picked chicken soup with vegetables, and I found some crackers. I turned to the boys. “Would you three like some soup?”
“Can I have a sandwich?” Sammy said.
“Sure, what kind?”
“Peanut butter and jelly.”
“Me too,” Freckles said. I was going to have to work on the please and thank you part, but for now, I smiled and found the bread, peanut butter, and jelly.
“Lydia, can you get out the soup pot, ladle, and spoons, please? Freckles and Sammy, you can make your sandwiches at the picnic table over there. Curly, what are you having?”
“Do you got any burgers?”
“I do, and hotdogs, too.” He smiled. “You can roast some marshmallows too, if you’d like.” He took out the package of wieners, and I got him some buns and the package of marshmallows. I checked on Freckles and Sammy, who were elbow-deep in peanut butter and jelly, and Lydia, Curly, and I went to the fire. I handed Lydia the can-opener, and helped her take the lid out, then she poured the contents into the soup pot. I hung it over the fire, and then showed Curly how to put his hotdog on a stick and hold it over the merry blaze. Strange he hadn’t done that with the Scouts yet, but I decided not to ask him about it.
“Grandma!” Freckles called. “I’m thirsty.” I moved the pot off the fire a little, and took Lydia with me back to the van.
“Can you find the juice please?” I said. She nodded and opened the cooler. “What should you and I have to drink?”
“Hot chocolate, maybe.”
“Great idea. Can you see if there’s any in that box?” There was, and soon, there was another pot hanging over the fire, and Curly toasted some marshmallows for everyone.
After lunch, I patted my tummy and said, “That was delicious. Now, who would like to be first to help with dishes?” Nobody answered. “Okay, let’s draw names.” I’d already prepared for this, and soon, we had a roster. Freckles was first, and didn’t look happy about it.
“Do I have to touch her dirty bowl?”
“Don’t be rude, and this time, you can dry them. Next time, yes, you can be the washer.” Freckles looked around.
“How are we going to wash dishes here?”
“Good question. I brought a washtub we can use and we can use a big kettle to warm up some water. For today, I’ve brought a couple big jugs full, but tomorrow, we can go for a bit of a walk and get water from the lake and boil that.” I decided not to mention the short drive that would take us to a place where there were sinks, showers, and other conveniences of modern life just yet.
“Can’t we use the bathroom sinks?” Sammy said.
“No, they’re too small, and besides, people wouldn’t want to wait to wash their hands.” Freckles followed me to the van, with Lydia tagging along behind us. Since I was only asking him to help me do the dishes, I filled the kettle and set up the washtub. “This water is clean, so we don’t need to wait for it to boil,” I said, hanging the kettle above the fire.
Freckles was drying Lydia’s soup bowl when either by accident or on purpose, it slipped out of his hands.
“Sorry,” he said. “I’m not very good at this.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “Everybody drops things. It looks fine, so I’ll rewash it and you can dry it again.” He appeared to be disappointed that I wasn’t letting him give up on his dish-drying career.
“Do we have to do this tonight after dinner?”
“Yes, and every time we eat, but you only have to help me for one in four meals. Curly is helping me at dinner, Lydia at breakfast, and Sammy at lunch, so you don’t have to do this again until dinner tomorrow.” I handed him the bowl and he dried it. “There, we’re done. I’ll put this stuff away and then we can join the others.”
We all sat at the picnic table, and I said, “This afternoon, I thought we could do some map reading. I’ve bought five maps of this area.” I pulled them from my purse. Thank goodness I’d found a vinyl one; it’d gotten a little wet doing dishes. I handed each of them a folded map. “I’ve also got a compass for each of you.” I pulled them out and distributed them. Lydia looked at hers. She pointed.
“North,” she whispered.
“That’s right. Did you learn that at school?” She shook her head. “From your mom?” She nodded. The boys were looking annoyed, probably because Lydia could do something they couldn’t. I explained how it worked, Lydia frowned at me but didn’t say anything, and the boys soon got the hang of it. Next, I asked everybody to open up their maps. Curly and Sammy were pretty good at reading theirs, and I helped Freckles and Lydia.
“Now that we know the area, we can go for walks. Sammy and Curly, you’re old enough to go on your own, but Freckles and Lydia, I’d like you to go with either me or one of your brothers. Does everybody have a watch?” They nodded. “Great. I’d like you back for dinner at 5:30.”
“Do we have to go?” Freckles said. “I want to play my games.”
“Yes, you have to go for a walk today. Games can wait for after dinner, but they’ll be physical ones, not on a screen.”
“Let’s go,” Curly said, and Sammy nodded. Freckles followed his brothers, and soon, Lydia and I were alone.
“Why were you frowning at me when I was explaining about the compass?”
“You didn’t explain about the earth’s magnetic field.”
“Sorry, I don’t really understand how that works.”
“It’s okay. Do you want me to tell you?”
“Would you like to choose a trail from the map and explain it to me while we’re walking?” She nodded. She selected a long, meandering one, and soon, we were stepping over tree roots, dodging overhanging branches, and Lydia told me how a compass really worked.
Part 4 will be posted on Sunday, August 9.