Our Woodlake trip satisfied Daddy for a couple of months, but then he started to get restless again. “Antsy,” Mommy called it. He bought a book about camping, and in the evenings he pored over it, underlining things and making pencil notes in the margins. He drew pages and pages of diagrams and made a long list on a tablet.
“What on earth are you doing?” Mommy wanted to know.
“You’ll see,” Daddy said, humming happily to himself.
He made several trips to the lumberyard and the hardware store. Then he closed himself in the garage and began sawing and hammering. Nobody was allowed to go in. After working in the garage for three weekends straight, Daddy wheeled his masterpiece out onto the driveway.
“What is it?” Mommy asked.
“It’s a camping trailer,” Daddy announced proudly. “As soon as school’s out, we’re going to Lake Almanor!”
It wasn’t a fancy camping trailer you could sleep in, but rather a plain, brown-painted wooden box with an open top and a wheel on each side, small enough to be towed behind our Plymouth. The tailgate of the trailer dropped down on hinges to form a counter, and behind that Daddy built cubbies to hold kitchen goods: tin plates, cups and cutlery, a cast-iron skillet, a couple of pots, matches for starting a fire. Bisquick, Crisco, pancake syrup, ketchup, mustard, salt and pepper, sugar and coffee. At an Army surplus store he bought a Coleman stove with an attached screw-top metal bottle for kerosene, a couple of Coleman lanterns, four down sleeping bags—mummy bags, he called them—and four air mattresses, the kind you had to inflate with a foot pump that looked like a turtle. Finally, he bought two khaki-colored canvas pup tents.
“Why are they called pup tents?” I wanted to know. “Is that where the doggies sleep?”
“No. They’re called pup tents because they’re much smaller than full-size tents, just like pups are much smaller than full-size dogs. Pup tents are made smaller and lighter so soldiers in the field can carry them on their backs.”
“Don’t soldiers have doggies?”
“You, Trish, ask too many questions.”
A hatchet, a couple of buckets, a card table, two canvas director chairs, a folding shovel, and lots of fishing equipment rounded out our gear.
For a cover, Daddy made one last trip to the surplus store and bought a heavy tarp with grommets around the sides. He tied it down over the load with a long rope that crisscrossed over the top from side to side, held in place by sturdy hooks from the hardware store.
“Day after tomorrow,” Daddy announced, “we leave for Almanor!”
“We’re going camping,” I informed Mike Bradley, puffing out my chest, “but you can’t go. Rusty gets to go this time, and we’re going to sleep in sleeping bags on top of air mattresses inside our new pup tents. They’re real Army tents, not like the ones at Yosemite, and they’re small enough so the soldiers in the field can carry them on their backs.”
“Wow,” said Mike, suitably impressed. “I wish I could go too.”
On the way to Lake Almanor, the rope holding the tarp on the trailer came loose, leaving one corner flapping in the wind. Daddy said “dammit” and pulled off on the shoulder so he could tie it again, more securely this time.
We hadn’t been back on the road five minutes when I had to go to the bathroom.
“Why didn’t you go when we were stopped?” Daddy snapped.
“There wasn’t any bathroom.”
“Haven’t you ever peed on the side of the road?”
“No. I didn’t know we were allowed to do that.”
He pulled off again and told me to get out and go.
“But what if somebody sees me?”
“Nobody’s going to see you. Go ahead and pee. We haven’t got all day, dammit!”
I jumped out on the passenger’s side, yanked down my jeans, peed as fast as I could, pulled my jeans up, and jumped back in the car. “I got some pee on my shoe,” I said.
Our tires squealed as Daddy pulled back onto the pavement.
Not thirty minutes later we heard a loud pop, and the trailer began thump-thump-thumping down the highway. Daddy said “dammit” two more times as he braked and veered onto the shoulder. By now it was over ninety degrees. He had to unhitch the trailer and take a bunch of stuff out of the trunk in order to reach the car jack stored at the bottom. Then he jacked the trailer up and took off the flat tire, pulled out the inner tube, and got out his repair kit to patch the hole. Sweat ran down his face and dripped from his chin right onto the glue he was using to fix the tube. “Dammit,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mommy and Eleanor and I sat on the ground in the shade next to the car. I had hold of Rusty’s leash, but he wasn’t interested in sitting. He sniffed around here and there and then, stretching as far as his leash would reach, he peed right on the trailer tire lying on the ground. “Goddamn that dog,” Daddy muttered.
We pulled into the campground at Lake Almanor late in the afternoon and got our first taste of what camping was all about. Daddy hiked down to the lake to fill two buckets with water, strung up the rope from the trailer as a clothesline, and then showed Eleanor and me how to use the turtle foot pump to blow up the air mattresses. We had to take
turns because it was hard work. Then he put up the pup tents and used the folding shovel to dig a shallow trench around each tent and continuing off into the trees. “In case it rains,” he said, “the water will drain away and not seep into our tents and soak everything.”
Our last chore was to spread our sleeping bags on top of the air mattresses inside the tents and gather a pile of kindling. “In order for an outfit to run smoothly and efficiently,” Daddy reminded us, “everyone has to do their part.”
While he was telling us this, Rusty went over and peed on the side of one of the tents. Daddy yelled at him and tried to catch him to give him a spanking, but Rusty ran under the car and wouldn’t come out. “Goddammit,” Daddy muttered under his breath. “Goddammit to hell.”
By now we were all starving. Daddy set up the Coleman stove on its stand and worked the little metal pump with his thumb so the kerosene would go to the burners. Mommy opened two cans of pork and beans, and while the beans heated, she spread a piece of bright yellow oilcloth on the redwood table provided at the campsite and got out the bread and butter.
“You girls set the table for your mother while I find some larger logs for our campfire. In order for an outfit to run smoothly and—“
“Yeah, yeah, Daddy, we know.”
After dinner we were all so tired that as soon as the dishes were washed and put away, we crawled into our sleeping bags for the night. Rusty was tied on a rope outside, but it didn’t take him long to wriggle under the mosquito-net door of our tent and snuggle down between Eleanor and me. It was, after all, a pup tent.
The next day we went fishing. Daddy showed us how to stick the hook through the worm’s body several times, starting with the head. Eleanor and I hated that part, but Daddy said it didn’t make any difference because the fish were going to eat them anyway.
I caught my first trout that afternoon, and Eleanor caught two. Daddy caught a whole bunch. The colors running down their sides reminded me of shiny rainbows, all pale, shimmery red and green and blue. Daddy kept them alive in the water on a string threaded through their gills and mouths, kind of like Rusty on his leash.
Late that afternoon, he cut off the fishes’ heads right behind the gills—yuck!—slit open their bellies—yuck, yuck!—cleaned out their guts—yuck, yuck, yuck!—scraped off their scales with a little scraper, and turned them over to Mommy. Her job was to dip them in beaten egg, roll them in Bisquick seasoned with salt and pepper, and fry them in the frying pan. When they were all brown and crispy, she squirted on a little lemon juice and set them on the table. Daddy showed us how to use a knife and fork to carefully lift the fish meat off the string of bones that went down the fish’s middle, but I guess I wasn’t doing such a good job because Mommy came around and finished it for me. “If you swallow fish bones, she said, glaring at Daddy, “they could perforate your stomach.”
The pink trout meat was delicious, and I ate every bite.
Later, as we sat around the campfire, Mommy said she and Daddy had a surprise for us.
“Tell us, tell us, tell us,” I yelled. “Tell us the surprise!”
“Well,” Mommy said, “you girls are going to have a new baby brother or sister in a few months. I have a tiny baby in my tummy, and it’ll be ready to be born this fall, probably before Christmas.”
“Just one?” I wanted to know.
“I think so,” she said. Sometimes people do have twins, but I’m pretty sure I just have one baby in my tummy.”
“How will it get born? Do you have to squeeze it out like Mittens squeezes out her kittens under the boxes in the garage?”
Mommy laughed. “No, Trish, not quite like that. I’ll go to the hospital to have our baby.”
“Is our baby a boy or a girl?”
“I want a baby brother,” Eleanor said.
“Oh, yes, I want a baby brother too,” I chimed in. “I want a baby brother with blond hair and big blue eyes and fat red cheeks like an apple.”
“I want a boy too,” said Daddy, “and I don’t care what color his hair and eyes and cheeks are just so long as it’s a boy. I wouldn’t even care if it’s two boys! But one of them will have to be named Arthur, after me.”
“We’ll see, we’ll see,” Mommy said, patting her tummy and smiling a nice happy smile.
That night, as I snuggled down in my mummy bag, I dreamed about the new baby, only in my dream there was a whole litter of babies and they had to stay under the boxes in the garage at night because Daddy wouldn’t let them come in the house because they had fleas.”
The rest of my first grade year passed quickly, and at the end of it I got straight S’s on my report card, meaning I did okay in all my subjects. Mrs. O’Connor wrote in her notes that “Patricia is a very good student, but she lacks self-control, particularly with regard to talking in class when it is not appropriate.” Cyntha got the same note on her report card. When Mommy showed the comment to Daddy, he just smiled. He knew all about my nonstop talking, but all he said was “Hey, kid, talking isn’t a bad thing. It shows your brain is working. You just have to learn when it’s okay to talk and when you’ve gotta zip your lip.”
“Yes, Daddy,” I said, not arguing but not at all sure I could ever learn to zip my lip. I just couldn’t seem to help it. I always had a head full of words, and saying them was much more compelling than listening to someone else drone on and on. I hoped Daddy wouldn’t suggest the same sticky gray tape that had worked so well to cure my thumb-sucking.
With summer vacation looming, Daddy’s feet began to itch, as usual. Because Mommy and I had missed the first Canada trip, he decided we should go again, all of us this time, even Rusty. He packed up our camping trailer, tied the tarp down securely, and before dawn one morning in early June, we left Berkeley and headed north toward Oregon.
Late that first afternoon, after driving more than 400 miles, Daddy stopped for the night at a campground along a river near Bend. We all pitched in and did our jobs to set up camp, including trenching the tents and gathering a big stack of firewood. Mommy heated a can of Dinty Moore beef stew—another staple in her camping pantry—and sliced some fresh apples. We were all too tired for a campfire that first night, though, so right after dinner we changed into our pajamas and snuggled into our mummy bags. Even Rusty’s snoring couldn’t keep Eleanor and me awake. It had been a long, long day.
The next morning, it was pancakes and fried Spam for breakfast. As soon as the plates were washed and dried and stacked in their cubby, I followed Daddy down to the riverbank. He was anxious to try out his new fishing pole. He’d also bought himself some khaki-green rubber overalls and galoshes all stitched into one. He pulled them on over his shoes and snapped the brass buckles on the straps that went up over his shoulders.
“What funny-looking pants,” I giggled.
“Oh, they’re not pants,” he said. “They’re waders. They’re to keep me dry when I wade out in the river to cast my fly rod.”
“Why are you trying to catch flies?”
“I’m not trying to catch flies, Trish. I’m gonna use flies to catch trout—big ones. I hope. But these are special flies, not like the ones we swat at home. Here, I’ll show you.”
Arranged by color in the little compartments of the tray inside his tackle box, these flies were made of feathers and shiny silver and gold thingies and tiny glass beads just like the ones in the purse that Aunt Eva had made for Grammy when Grammy was a teenager in Pasadena. Daddy chose a fly with black feathers, a gold thingie and red bead, and attached it to the end of his line where the worm was supposed to go. Then, with his finger and thumb, he pinched two tiny lead balls onto his line a couple of feet up from the fly.
“What’re those?” I asked. “BB’s?” They looked just like the little balls used in the BB guns the two brothers across the street on Spaulding Avenue had gotten last Christmas. Mommy had complained to their father that BB guns weren’t safe in a neighborhood with so many children, but he hadn’t taken them away; instead, he’d told his sons to shoot only at birds or targets in their backyard. “Don’t you ever go in that backyard,” Mommy had warned Eleanor and me. “You might get shot in the eye with a BB and be blind for the rest of your life.” She didn’t know I’d already been in that backyard and had no intention of ever, ever going back there again.
“No, Trish, they’re not BB’s. They’re called weights. They help pull the fly down below the surface of the water where the fish will see it.
“Now I’ll show you how to cast,” Daddy said, wading out till the water reached his knees. He flipped the fly rod back and forth over his shoulder half a dozen times with his right thumb still on the reel, and finally lifted his thumb and let it go. Not the whole rod, just the line part with the fly on the end. The fly landed on the water three feet away. Daddy reeled the fly back in and tried again. Four feet this time. The third time, as he flipped the rod back and forth over his shoulder, the fly on the end got tangled in the line and ended up in a knot. “Not as easy as it looks,” Daddy said to no one in particular as he waded back to shore and got a pair of tweezers from his tackle box to help get the knot out. On his next cast, the fly went about three feet again, but at least it didn’t end up in a knot. “Damn, he said as he reeled it back in.”
I watched while Daddy tried several additional casts, muttering to himself and getting more frustrated with each failed effort. I could tell he was getting mad and figured it was time to go somewhere else. Rusty and I meandered farther up the path along the river’s edge, looking for something to do. I threw a stick in the water. “Fetch, Rusty! Fetch!” I guess he didn’t understand because he just cocked his head and looked at me as the stick floated away. I threw another stick. Same result. When I picked up a good-sized pebble and threw it as far as I could out into the river, Rusty found this new game more intriguing. He jumped in the water, paddled out a ways, and swam around and around in circles, trying to find the pebble.
“What a silly dog you are, Rusty,” I said.
Twenty minutes later, we headed back down the bank. The water now came up to Daddy’s waist. I watched as he whipped the fly rod back and forth over his shoulder and then lifted his thumb and let it go. This time the fly zinged nearly all the way across the river and landed on the shaded water under some overhanging bushes. Daddy gave me a wave and a triumphant smile.
At the very same instant, the fly rod bobbled and began to bend. “Here we go!” Daddy shouted as he jerked the tip of the rod back up—to set the hook in the fish’s mouth, he told me later—and began reeling the line in, a couple of turns at a time. Every few moments, the fish got a new burst of energy and swam hard down the river, taking the fly and yards and yards of Daddy’s line along with it. Each time, he reeled the line back in, a few turns at a time, gradually gaining the upper hand and bringing the fish in closer and closer. At one point, the huge rainbow hurtled itself right up out of the water, splashed back down, and again swam hard downstream. “Did you see that? Did you see that?” Daddy hollered. “What a beauty!”
When the trout was exhausted, Daddy pulled it in close and scooped it into the short-handled net he unclipped from his belt. Then he waded to shore where Rusty was barking and running in circles and I was jumping up and down and clapping my hands. “You did it! You did it!” I yelled.
“Yes, I sure did,” he said, grinning from ear to ear. “I’ll bet this baby weighs eight pounds!”
“Can I try?”
“You’re not big enough yet, but someday I promise I’ll teach you.”
“Yes, I promise.”
Late that afternoon, Daddy cleaned the big rainbow, scraped off its scales, took out all the bones, and cut the fish into chunks. Mommy rolled them in Bisquick seasoned with salt and pepper and fried them in Crisco until they were crisp and brown. With a squirt of lemon, and Minute Rice on the side, we all shared the feast. As Daddy piled more wood on the fire, Mommy made our favorite dessert: hot chocolate with marshmallows.
“Wanna hear a story?” Daddy asked.
“Yes, yes, tell us a story.”
“Well, once upon a time there was an army colonel who came home from the war to his pretty wife and two young daughters and their worthless cocker spaniel who was more trouble than a pack of rabid monkeys—”
“No, no, not that one. I don’t like that story.” I loved Rusty with my whole heart and I hated it when Daddy called him worthless.
“Well, then, you tell a story,” Daddy replied.
“Okay, I will. Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Cynthia who was prissy and snotty and spoiled and had a whole closet full of princess dresses that she wore to school every day, and she had her fingernails painted pale pink and wore a gold ring with a real amethyst birthstone in it. But she was so prissy at school that one day the teacher took her to the cloak room and spanked her bottom and made her cry, and after that nobody wanted to play with her anymore and—”
“And you made friends with her and now you two are best friends forever,” Eleanor sniffed. “You’ve told that story a million times, and we all know the ending.”
Daddy came to my aid. “That’s enough, you two. I like that story, but it’s time to hop in the sack because we have a long drive tomorrow, all the way to Lake Pend Oreille.”
“Where’s Lake Pend Oreille?” I asked.
“In Idaho,” Daddy said. “Now get to bed.”
“Don’t forget to brush your teeth,” Mommy added.
The next morning we broke camp early, had a quick breakfast, and pulled onto the highway before eight. Daddy glanced up at the overcast sky but said nothing. He drove north until we came to the Oregon-Washington border and then headed northeast through Washington toward Idaho.
Around two in the afternoon, the wind began to blow, gently at first but then hard enough to send sand and debris swirling across the black two-lane pavement. With each mile, the sky grew darker until finally Daddy had to turn on the headlights. By now the wind was blowing so hard that our homemade camping trailer bounced and lurched, causing the back part of the car to sway from side to side.
Sheets of lightning lit up the sky, followed by volleys of rolling thunder that shook the car even more. Each time the lightning flashed, we could see panicked jackrabbits darting back and forth across the highway in front of us. Thump. Thump, thump. I couldn’t keep from counting: one, two, three, four…. I pulled my jacket over my head and covered my ears with both hands, trying to shut out the sound of the rabbits being squashed under our tires. But I could still feel it. Thump. Thump. Eight, nine, ten….
Our headlights blinked off and then back on. Then off again and back on. Rusty was so scared that he crawled down on the floor by our feet and lay there, shaking and whimpering. Eleanor and I huddled under our jackets.
“Damn,” Daddy said. “This is gonna be one helluva storm”
Then it began to rain, just a few fat drops at first, but within minutes the rain came slashing down in sheets, blown nearly horizontal by the wind. The windshield wipers clicked furiously back and forth on their highest speed, but still Daddy could barely see the road. He hunched forward in his seat and slowed to a crawl, gripping the steering wheel tightly with both hands.
“I think we’d better stop in Spokane,” he said to Mommy.
She didn’t say a thing. The dashboard lights revealed the tension in her face: eyes wide and mouth pulled taut over her clenched teeth.
By the time we reached the outskirts of Spokane, visibility was near zero. At the first gas station, Daddy pulled in to fill the tank and ask where we might find something to eat and a room for the night.
“You jes’ made it, fella,” the attendant said as he came out of the office, his yellow rain slicker whipping about his legs. “I’m shuttin’ down and headin’ home. This storm ain’t fit for nobody to be out in.”
“How ’bout food? Anything still open? And we need a room too.”
The attendant held onto his hood with one hand and pointed with the other. “If you go on down thataway to the light and hang a left fer a couple a blocks, Betsy’s Café should be open. An’ if yer lookin’ to spend the night, The Horseshoe auto court a mile or so after that might still have somethin’.”
“Thanks,” Daddy said as he paid for the gas. “You’re a good man.”
Betsy’s was indeed still open, but we were its only customers. Betsy herself brought the menus. “I’m outa meatloaf and turkey,” she said, “but I can make you a hamburger.”
“How ’bout bacon and eggs?” Daddy asked.
“Yeah, I can do that, I reckon.”
After we ate, Daddy found The Horseshoe, pulled up alongside the office, and went in to ask about a double-double. The pink neon “Vacancy” sign in the window blinked off and on, its image reflecting back from our wet windshield and from the many puddles that pocked the crumbling pavement. Below the pink one, a smaller, hand-painted sign said, “No Pets Allowed.”
Daddy came out a moment later with a key and pulled the car down to the far end of the auto court. As soon as he unlocked the door to the room, Mommy scooped Rusty up from the floorboards, wrapped her coat around him, and whisked him inside. Daddy didn’t object.
Our room was drab and grubby. The grime of a thousand hands ringed each doorknob and light switch. Yellowed Venetian blinds at the window hung slightly whopper-jawed, covered in thick dust. Nothing happened when Daddy tried the switch of the cactus-shaped wooden lamp on the nightstand between the beds. Jaunty cowboys on wild-looking broncos bucked their way across stained, faded, threadbare bedspreads. Wrinkling her nose, Mommy used her thumb and forefinger to lift them off and drop them in a heap on the floor in the corner.
“It’s only one night,” Daddy said.
“While I feed Rusty, you girls hop in the shower as quickly as you can,” Mommy said, “because I need one, too.” We hurried and she hurried, but by the time Daddy’s turn came, the water was ice cold.
As soon as everything was quiet in the room, Rusty hopped up between Eleanor and me and worked his way forward until his head rested on my pillow. I wrapped my arms around him and burrowed my face in his fur.
All night long, the rain pounded a steady beat on the asphalt shingles of the roof.
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.
After stopping a night or two at several smaller lakes, we headed for downtown Vancouver. Again, Mommy was embarrassed as Daddy pulled in to the loading zone right in front of the Hudson Bay Company. Passersby on the street kept their faces pointed forward but swiveled their eyes to stare, bemused, at our mud-spattered Plymouth and little brown trailer, its lumpy khaki tarp tied down with a rope. While ladies passing in and out of the store were dressed in suits, hats, white gloves, and high-heeled shoes, we looked like ragamuffins, Mommy said, like the poor refugees from Oklahoma who made their way across the plains to California during the Dust Bowl of the 1920s. But this was her only chance. She swallowed her pride and went inside and bought that special wool blanket that would warm their bed for thirty-five years. The rest of us waited quietly in the loading zone, all except Rusty, who wagged his tail and barked at the window whenever anyone came close.
From the Hudson Bay Company, Daddy drove straight to the waterfront and joined a long line of vehicles waiting for the one o’clock ferry to Nanaimo. After he paid our fare at the ticket booth, we walked over and ordered fish and chips at a little open-air restaurant overlooking the water.
“Isn’t this just beautiful?” Daddy said, thumping his chest as though he personally controlled the weather. It was beautiful, sunny and clear, puffy white clouds scudding along in the breeze while brightly colored boats crisscrossed back and forth across the channel, sails billowing. Daddy pulled the guidebook out of his pocket and read aloud how, all summer long, millions of migrating salmon used the Discovery Passage separating mainland British Columbia from Vancouver Island. Accompanying the article was a picture of a Chinook salmon that weighed fifty pounds, almost as big as me.
“Are you gonna catch one like that?” I asked Daddy.
“I sure hope so.”
The ferry came chugging toward us—several times the size of our house on Spaulding Avenue—sounding a shrill whistle as it eased into its berth, bumping gently against the black tires fastened there to cushion the impact. One by one, the cars ahead of us crept aboard and disappeared into the bowels of the ferry. When our turn came, we inched slowly forward and drove below. Daddy locked the car, and we climbed the steps to the observation level, where we could stand along the rail and watch the scenery during the forty-five-minute trip to Vancouver Island. It truly was beautiful.
From Nanaimo, Daddy drove north to a campground at the mouth of Campbell River, a place the guidebook dubbed “The Salmon Capital of the World,” where fishermen came from all over to rent boats and try their luck in the channel.
Seasoned campers by now, it didn’t take us long to unload the trailer and get set up. As Mommy poked around in the groceries, looking for inspiration, she looked over at Daddy and said with a wry smile, “I liked it better at Kootenai. Much better cooks.” He just grinned.
Eleanor and I wasted no time in checking out the campground. We took Rusty, too. If you had a dog on a leash, kids would come right up to you and make friends. We found two girls jumping rope, but because there were only two of them, they’d tied one end of the tope to the bumper of their car so one could turn the rope while the other one jumped. The bumper wasn’t high enough, though, and the rope kept hitting the jumper in the head.
As soon as they saw us, they came running over to pet Rusty, and pretty soon we had two new friends, eight-year-old twin sisters whose family had come all the way from Missouri for the salmon fishing at Campbell River. The next day, the four of us explored every nook and cranny of the campground, but we only saw a couple of teenage boys. Ugh! Besides jumping rope, we played hide and seek and went swimming at the beach that was part of the campground. But we spent the most time at the twins’ campsite because their mother had brought at least a ton of cookies and candy from Missouri.
All week long, Daddy’s routine didn’t vary. He got up at dawn, made himself a thermos of coffee, launched his rental boat, and joined dozens of other eager fishermen in what looked like a circus parade. They’d putt-putt-putt slowly out into the channel, form a line three boats across, and patiently troll around in a huge, ragged circle. If one of them hooked a fish, he’d yell, and the rest would reel in their lines and watch and cheer as the lucky fisherman fought his salmon. When there wasn’t any action, the men drank their coffee and talked back and forth, telling tall tales of the monster salmon they’d caught in those very waters a month ago—or a year ago—or never. About nine, they’d all return to shore. The successful would clean and fillet their fish and pack them in ice. Around four in the afternoon, the men would launch their boats again, head out into the channel, and troll ’round and ’round until after sunset.
Daddy caught several salmon, but nothing approaching fifty pounds, or even thirty. Mommy didn’t fry the salmon the way she did trout. Instead, she topped the fat fillets with lemon slices, sprinkled them with salt and pepper and paprika, then wrapped them in aluminum foil and let them cook on the grate of the barbecue pit at our campsite. I’d never tasted salmon before and had to admit it was pretty good. Not as good as trout, though.
Daddy took one day off from his fishing schedule to drive us to Victoria, where we had high tea at the Empress Hotel, an experience the guidebook said we shouldn’t miss. He had to do some fast talking to get us in, though, because we weren’t “properly dressed.” I think Daddy slipped the clerk at the door some money or something because he finally allowed us in. “But only because it’s a weekday,” the man assured us as he stuffed several one-dollar bills into his pants pocket.
Soon it was time to pack up and head south. Before we left Campbell River, Daddy spread his map out on the table. “Hey, Lil,” he said, “how’d you like to see Crater Lake on the way home? It’s a little out of our way, but I think we could make it.”
There wasn’t much point in answering. Once Daddy got a bee in his bonnet about seeing something new, no one could change his mind. Mommy just shrugged her shoulders. “Sure,” she said. “Why not?”
Daddy began packing so we could get an early start.
The next day was a very long one, more than 400 miles. We camped in Roseburg and again got up very early for the drive to Crater Lake. What I remember most is feeling carsick on the way because of the sharp curves in the road. It was worth it, though, to see the lake, a gorgeous sapphire-blue circle with one island in the middle—well, not exactly in the middle. The guidebook said the lake was the crater of a huge volcano and Wizard Island was a volcano within a volcano. The guidebook also said visitors could take a boat out to hike on the island or hike all day around the entire rim of the lake. We could tell Daddy was disappointed.
“We’ll just have to come back,” he said. “Maybe I can get a couple of days off before school starts.”
Instead, he bought a big bag of peanuts so we could feed the chipmunks. They were so tame they’d come right up and eat out of our hands. Rusty had to stay in the car because he would have gone wild chasing the chipmunks, as much fun as cars and cats and chickens.
The trip home was the longest day of driving I can ever remember. In the afternoon and again in the evening, Eleanor and I took turns sleeping in the backseat while Mommy held Rusty on her lap in the front. Mommy even drove partway so Daddy could rest, but when Mommy drove, Rusty had to stay in back with us. He never, ever sat on Daddy’s lap.
It was past midnight when we finally pulled up in front of 2104 Spaulding Avenue. Not a single neighbor was awake to welcome us home.