69. Tripping Out

69. Tripping Out

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters

Tripping Out

In the long run the pessimist may be proved right, but the optimist has a better time on the trip.

~Daniel L. Reardon

On a hot August morning, after waking me up way too early, my dad handed me a red T-shirt with orange lettering on it. “McCheesey?” I grumbled.

“McChesney.” It was his mother’s maiden name.

“Looks like McCheesey. These are McDonald’s colors. It looks like we’re selling cheeseburgers.”

Mom chuckled. Dad scowled. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the trip.

The reason for the shirts (we each had one) was to identify which branch of the family tree we fell off at a reunion. In rural Wisconsin. I wasn’t even trying to pretend that I wasn’t miserable.

From the moment we arrived, parking our car between a compost heap and a tree stump, my worst fears were confirmed: I was at a picnic. I don’t “do” nature. I appreciate bike rides and walks, but only on pavement. Put dirt in the picture or, God forbid, bumblebees, and I’m out. I’ve camped twice in my entire life—once in the pouring rain (bye-bye sneakers) and once at a Christian camp, where I didn’t last three days. Dragging me to a family reunion in the woods was just plain cruel.

“Why didn’t they host the reunion up there?” I whined.

“Up there” was a modern lodge on the top of a hill. It had bay windows, through which I could clearly see banquet tables, indoor plumbing, and a snack machine.

“Because this was cheaper,” my dad replied curtly.

“This” was a creaky cabin with picnic tables crawling with daddy long-legs.

To be fair, I wouldn’t have been much happier in the lodge. Thermostats or not, I don’t like family reunions. I think they’re dumb. I know everybody complains about them. I know nobody looks forward to old people jabbering on about insurance or new moms insisting that their big, barfing baby is adorable. But my distaste for family reunions runs deeper than simple annoyance. I am opposed to them on principle.

It’s the same way I feel about networking. Anybody I actually care about is someone I met naturally and is a friend of mine on Facebook. These people in the woods were folks I never e-mailed and barely knew the names of. Spending an entire day with them just seemed silly.

“Put on your shirt,” my dad said. He’d finished unloading the car and apparently had time to nag me again.

“It’s goofy.”

“We all look goofy. Put it on.”

I mumbled something and wandered into the cabin without my McCheesey shirt.

Inside, I came face to face with my next gripe of the trip: the menu. Countless Tupperware containers filled with unidentifiable casseroles and the occasional Jell-O mold littered the dining area. But for all the food, none of it looked edible. Not to me. I was a picky eater. Growing up, my parents and I had an arrangement: any time the adults ate weird food (i.e., something other than a hamburger), I got McDonald’s on the way home. That day, we were too far from civilization to observe the pact. There would be no French fries.

“Have a Sloppy Joe,” my dad suggested.

“I don’t like Sloppy Joes.”

“It’s meat and ketchup. It’s basically a hamburger.”

“That is NOT a hamburger.”

“Then have a SALAD.”

He knew I hated salad. Out of spite, I put a small dollop of Sloppy Joe on my plate, the kind that said, “See, I TRIED it.” Then when he turned his back, I filled the rest of my plate with potato chips.

Throughout lunch, I was passed around to a variety of family members who I had either met once, met several times, or never heard of at all, and they all asked me if I remembered them. An uncle talked vaguely about the time he spent in Egypt working for the government. An aunt asked about college. A cousin filled us in all too thoroughly on his recent stomach stapling procedure. And that’s when I decided it was time to use the bathroom.

I really did have to use the bathroom, but I also really needed an excuse to escape. My plan was to pee, then hide. I could read behind a tree until it was time to leave. I could listen to my MP3 player. If anybody asked, I could tell them I’d been in the bathroom the whole time. I could blame it on the Sloppy Joes. No one would doubt me.

Little did I know the bathrooms would not be my salvation so much as the last straw. The bathrooms, if you can even call them that, were squat, square boxes of concrete that looked like aboveground bomb shelters. They were comparable to rest stop bathrooms, the kind you find along interstates, but these were cleaned far less frequently and didn’t have running water. They were damp, dark, cobwebbed cubes with toilets. And, for some reason, there were no doors or sinks.

That sealed it. I stomped back to the cabin, sunburned and full-bladdered, and begged my dad to drive me to the nearest city. I needed a toilet. I needed McDonald’s. I was getting mosquito bites and totally creeped out being this close to a green lake. We’d made our cameo. We’d eaten some food. Couldn’t we leave?

But instead of caving under the weight of his little girl’s misery, my dad exploded.

“I ask you to do ONE THING for my family. Can’t you deal with it for ONE DAY?”

I recoiled.

“I don’t want to be here either, but I never ask you to do ANYTHING. I was hoping you could put up with it for ME.”

I was speechless. I’d never been yelled at like that before, certainly not for my behavior. I was a good kid. I did my homework. I said thank you for everything and never hit my cousins. I was freakin’ charming.

The rest of the trip, even our stop in the Wisconsin Dells the day after, was soured by the argument. Sure, the backwoods of Wisconsin are not the most ideal vacation destination, but the whole outing was a bust—all because I refused to let it be anything better than that. I made the day lame by refusing to swim in the lake. I made it boring by not even tasting the potato salad. I made it regrettable by remaining bitter.

Somebody on the family trip always makes things difficult. That trip, I realized the pain in the butt was me.

~Jess Knox

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