Copyright 2006 by Gina L. Asermely
We really did not want to leave the city.
Why would we? We had a large cement yard, a spiky swingset and banana seat bikes. We made mud pies with the hose and dirt from the base of an unlikely tree. Our pies varied in consistency- I preferred jiggly ones with more water, my older sister Laura liked them crusty and dry. Mine reminded me of my mother’s large yellow bowl before a batch of brownies, but not as sweet. Sure, we couldn’t ride our bikes on the sidewalk, but once we learned how to safely cross the street we could go to Sam’s Market for penny candy and a carton of Camels for grandpoppa.
Then why was it that for one long week every summer we headed south for the endless trip to Burlingame State Park, Charlestown, Rhode Island? It took an entire week to pack our enormous yellow Buick LeSabre. Food for the five of us, sleeping bags (with new blow-up mattresses for underneath), a hibachi, the big yellow Coleman tent, and the plastic canopy for over the picnic table. And these were only the big supplies. All would be masterfully jammed into the yellow cartop storage unit which came to be known as the Big Mac. It was a sight on 95 South we were sure.
“At least we can find the car in a big crowded lot,” my mother offered, clearly burdened by the yearly ordeal.
Now that I think of it, my mother took on what were perhaps the worst drudgeries of our camping trips. She would wash and roll sleeping bags into tight burritos (“They all have to fit”), fill boxes with suntan lotion, silverware, napkins, flashlights… all the while making sure we packed enough underwear for six overnights.
It seems to me now that the rest of us, my father included, never realized how these necessities got there. Need a flashlight for the walk to the toilet? Look in the box just outside the tent. Need ketchup for your hot dog? Look in the box on the picnic table. Need rubbing alcohol for your mosquito bites? Check the box next to mom’s sleeping bag. Sure, dad grilled the hamburgers (a slow process, only two could fit at a time) but it was my mother who was always there with the buns and potato salad.
For her, a vacation it wasn’t. On my dad’s insistence, we roughed it, but we knew there was no other way. My sisters and I would eye the magnificent campers on the neighboring sites with envy.
“That’s not camping!! You might as well just stay home,” he would say as he glowered at the offenders.
But I knew my mother would not have minded a sink and an occasional episode of “All My Children.” She never said it, but instead reverted into survival mode during our trips- a position in which she demonstrated amazing competence and grace. Her skills no doubt had been honed as she grew up in an Irish family of eight, where, she has told us, “If you didn’t get it fast, you didn’t eat.” Nonetheless, if we were to rough it here, she would be sure we were as comfortable as possible, and if that meant grueling preparation then so be it.
Once the Big Mac and the bike racks were filled and mounted on the car, the three of us packed into the back, seatbeltless. Being the middle child, I always ended up on the hump, which seemed to make sense to everyone except me. Then, after my father double checked the locks on the house (“Your grandmother will be all alone, and people will know we are away”), made sure absolutely nothing was plugged in (“That’s how fires start”), and fiddled with the stove knobs (“Do you want an explosion?”), our long sojourn began.
My sisters and I always began the trip pleasantly, but my father’s empty threats to “pull this car over right now” eventually grew tiresome. So we ceased our poking and bickering and settled into the remainder of the long ride. As time makes the fact more apparent that these moments will never occur again, I want to reach back to them, seize one, and hurl the three of us back into that same crowded space.
Without the luxury of a window seat I often tried looking out the rear window, tolerating my sisters’ sticky legs and straining my neck to watch our bike wheels spin in the wind.
“I can’t see back there!”
Grudgingly I sat down on my hump, wondering how he could see at all through the Huffies hitched onto the back of our car. Somehow I believed he could. He could do anything. My grandmother used to say, “Your father has gold in his fingers.” Things were never broken for long in our second floor apartment. Barely were assembly-required toys out of the wrapping paper before they were looking better than they did on the box. Typewriters, appliances, cars- none stood a chance against my father. It was this confidence we clung to, along with our sleeping bags, as the occasional hurricane threatened to topple our canvas home.
There it was, Exit 2. Click-click-click, right hand signal, right on cue:
“We’re here because we’re here Because we’re here because we’re here We’re here because we’re here Because we’re here because we’re……
…silence…. then Dad, with the big baritone finish:
An uproarious laughter, every single time.
So, why would we want to leave the city?
It has been two decades since our last trip to Burlingame, and only now do I recognize the answer to this question which our own song provided. It wasn’t the here, it was the we’re. And little did I realize that time would shed so much fondness on our trips to Burlingame, where we were.
Author Name: Gina L. Asermely
Residence: North Haven, CT (originally Pawtucket, RI)
Occupation: High School English Teacher
Education: B.A. in English, Providence College, RI (1994)
M.A.T. Secondary Education, Rhode Island College, Providence, RI (2000)
Pet: Louie the Labrador Retriever
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