Pend Oreille turned out to be a very pretty lake. However, the locals said the fishing was terrible after the big storm, so Daddy changed his mind and pushed on north into British Columbia, to a little village on the western shore of Kootenai Lake. When he stopped at the local municipal office to ask about a campground, the official said they didn’t have a campground, but we were welcome to pitch our tents in the picnic area of the town park.
Mommy wasn’t thrilled. “You must be kidding,” she said.
“We don’t have much choice. It’s getting late.”
Daddy found the park, and we began setting up camp. By the time the town official arrived with a load of firewood and newspapers, we were already attracting attention. People stopped to stare as Daddy hammered in the tent stakes and Eleanor and I inflated the air mattresses with the foot pump. Daddy just smiled and waved to the gathering crowd, so Eleanor and I smiled and waved too. I guess Mommy was embarrassed because she kept her eyes lowered as she began setting up her kitchen. Before she got very far, a heavyset woman wrapped in a knitted shawl approached her and offered to bring us a pot of hot sausage stew. The first woman was followed by a second, who offered coffee and fresh-baked bread. Mommy looked over at Daddy for a moment, then smiled graciously and said, “Why, that would be lovely.”
A young man stepped out of the crowd and, with the speed of an expert, made a small tent of crushed newspapers and kindling and lit the campfire. Several others pushed a dozen picnic tables into a big circle around it, all the while laughing and talking and telling their women to fetch this and that. Soon other women arrived with pots of soup, baskets of fresh fruit and bread, and two freshly baked cakes. They brought plates and knives and forks. Big jugs of hard cider appeared, and lemonade too. It turned into quite a party. Rusty scampered to and fro among the tables, begging for handouts, until he was so stuffed he could hardly walk. Afterwards, the men lit their pipes and told jokes and fishing stories while the women cleared away the plates and cut the cakes into generous portions. Only when the last of the firewood burned down to red coals did the people get up to leave, a few at a time. “See ya tomorrow, Yanks,” they said.
The next morning, a couple of the local men took Daddy out onto Kootenai Lake in their boat and showed him the best bait to use. He came back that afternoon with a whole string of beautiful trout and a big smile plastered across his face.
Meanwhile, Eleanor and I joined the kids playing on the swings and teeter-totter and monkey bars in the park playground. I wowed them all because I was the only girl with enough nerve to hang by my knees.
“Show-off,” Eleanor said, but then she ran and got our bag of books out of the car and read stories to everyone.
That second evening, the same crowd assembled for a community fish fry. The women brought potatoes and vegetables for roasting and more hard cider and fresh-baked bread.
When everyone had eaten their fill and the plates were cleared away, an older, whiskered gentleman took his fiddle from its case, tucked it under his chin, and started to play. The crowd clapped in time to the music. Several young women stepped forward and began dancing inside the ring formed by the picnic tables. They kept their arms clamped to their sides and their backs as straight and rigid as a post while their legs and feet moved so fast my eyes could hardly follow them.
“Tis an Irish jig,” one of the ladies told Mommy. “Have ya never seen one?”
Mommy shook her head as she smiled a big smile and kept on clapping.
One of the dancers called to Eleanor and me to join them, so we did. But the dance wasn’t easy. I kept getting my feet tangled up and fell several times on my bottom in the soft dirt. When I got right back up and tried again, the crowd roared and clapped even louder.
So it went, day after day. After four days, though, it was time to leave. Daddy had promised Mommy a stop at the Hudson Bay Company in Vancouver so she could buy one of their world-famous wool blankets with wide red and green stripes across the top. Besides, Daddy didn’t want to miss the height of the Chinook salmon season off the coast of Vancouver Island. We shook hands and exchanged hugs with all our new Canadian friends, packed up our gear, loaded Rusty into the car, and headed down the road while the townspeople waved and cheered ’til we disappeared from sight.
Daddy turned to Mommy: “Well, now, camping isn’t so bad, is it?”
Mommy just smiled.