Your sixteenth birthday is supposed to be sweet. Mine was anything but.
My parents always added our vacations to national holidays to extend the overall duration of the trip while using the fewest possible actual vacation days from work. Since my birthday falls on the Fourth of July, I was hardly ever home for my birthday. We were usually on vacation.
And similar to the vacation-day-scrimping, we also often stayed at camp grounds to save on the overall price of the trip. It certainly is true that we occasionally went on pricey trips, so perhaps the attempt to save money at a campground was justified. On the year in question, I believe we were visiting Colonial Williamsburg, so the admission fees alone were quite an expenditure. Even if it wasn’t Colonial Williamsburg, it was definitely somewhere in Virginia where everyone wore colonial dress, so you know that it couldn’t have been cheap.
Our family was growing, however, literally. While Mom and Dad hadn’t accrued any extra children, my brother at 9 and my sister and I at nearly 14 and 16 were approaching adult-size. Our little tent just wasn’t big enough anymore. So Mom and Dad invested in a new one, one with a large opening on the back as well as the front to better ventilate the nylon enclosure. Like most tents, the front opening had a small flap that extended two to three inches up from the ground, not lying flat against it. This flap is supposed to keep mud, dust, leaves, and other debris from finding its way into the tent.
We arrived late at our campsite. We always arrived late at our campsites. I’m not sure that my father could put a tent together in the daylight; it just wouldn’t seem right. However, Mom and Dad weren’t accustomed to this tent. Of course, they had set it up a few times in our backyard at home to make sure we had all the pieces, ascertain that they could really follow the directions, and air it out before use. But it wasn’t at all straightforward a few hundred miles south of our own plot of grass.
Soon it was drizzling. Thankfully, Daddy had gotten the tent together, and we all moved inside. That’s when we discovered that my brother’s new sleeping bag took up half of the new tent. There he lay in the middle of everything, sweeping my parents up toward the entrance of the tent and my sister and I down toward the “window.” I use “up” and “down” because our campsite was on a slope, and not only a slope, but the naturally drainage path for the rain’s runoff. As the drizzle turned to a downpour, water ran under our tent, giving the floor a strange gooshy feeling. From time to time, the water was high enough to slop over the little flap at the entrance and sop into my parents’ sleeping bags.
My sister and I, however, had other problems on the other end of the tent. The zipper around the window flap was shaped in a C rather than a customary U. The result was that water seeped in from the top of the C and dripped onto my head while I supposedly slept. I don’t remember sleeping. When the rain from above would wane, I would lay back down on something hard. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have sworn the rock under my sleeping bag was moving.
Eventually, after what seemed like a week, the night was over, and it was time to wake up. Let’s skip what it was like trying to hang three sleeping bags up to dry and how long it takes two teenaged girls to shower, dry and curl their hair, and apply makeup in a cinder block bathroom with very little hot water, one outlet, and an oddly-tinted, dim yellow light. The day in Williamsburg was great fun. We had a wonderful time being surrounded by costumed guides, walking in and out of historic homes, and eating colonial style food. Finally night fell, and we went to see the fireworks at a local park. It was standing room only, and after a day of walking and a night of not sleeping, we were all getting a bit tired and whiny. It was hard for my nine-year-old brother to see, and my sister was thirsty but also had to pee. Half of my view was permanently blocked by a large tree—oak, I think—and the other half was obstructed most of the time by the couple making out in front of me. As long as they only held hands, I could see. Unfortunately, they seemed to be sharing a single piece of gum in very short turns, so I mostly heard the explosions but saw little of the intended show.
That night it rained again. The next day’s weather was not substantially better, and so, around 5:30 PM, Mom and Dad began breaking camp. Sure enough, under my spot of the tent was a turtle with a clutch of eggs. Hey! That rock really was moving!
We packed up the car, and all of we kids kept demanding, “Where are we going? Where are we going?” Each of us envisioned another campsite. Imagine our surprise when we pulled into the parking lot of a national chain (Motel 6, I think). For my sister’s birthday, July 6th, my parents decided we should all wake up in a motel.