From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

The Camping Trip

Memory is the diary that we all carry around with us.

Oscar Wilde

I was an Air Force brat. I spent my youth at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, which practically backs up to the base of Pikes Peak. My backyard was a forest. My parents, two brothers and I loved the outdoors because that’s all there was—no malls, just trees and Pikes Peak.

Our home was just a few hours from several national parks and camping spots. We loved backpacking and fishing, and we did it the old-fashioned way. No RVs or fancy trailers for us; all we needed was a tent, a sleeping bag and a hole in the ground.

Our family roadster was a 1968 VW Bus. It was kind of a reddish, orange color. (Okay, it was white with a lot of rust.) Dad had specially modified it for our weekend camping adventures. He would take out the middle bench, leaving the back bench for the three kids to sit on. Then he bolted the big wooden toy box against the wall, the long way, opposite the sliding door. A portable refrigerator was secured behind Mom’s seat.

Somehow, I always managed to get the not-so-prime seat—the one in the middle with no window, wedged between my two brothers—in front of the portable potty in the back. No, a toilet was not a manufacturer’s option on the 1968 VW Van; it was one of Dad’s add-ons. Basically, it was a plastic trash can with a ring on the top to sit on and a Hefty bag! We’d pray hard whenever Dad took a sharp corner.

These were the days before mandatory seat belts, so Dad rigged his own version. He suspended a large board over our laps and then bolted it to the sides of the van. It was like a combination child restraint/craft desk.

I clearly remember the excitement of taking off on those trips. Mom would be smiling and humming, and Dad would be singing (or trying to sing), “If I Were a Rich Man.” And we didn’t care that he wasn’t.

It was wonderful knowing we had three whole days in the outdoors before we had to return to, well, okay, the outdoors. I can remember smiling up at my daddy and saying, “Daddy, this is the best day of my life,” and how he looked back at me with love.

Before each trip, we would get a special toy to play with. One time we got a “Zip and Flip.” It kept us quiet and occupied for moments at a time. If you don’t remember, Zip and Flip was a plastic paddle that was smooth on one side and had a ridged maze on the other. You’d rip out the wand to set the top spinning, toss it up in the air, flip your paddle over, catch it on the other side and work it through the maze.

So there we were, driving down the highway. I was sitting there, Zippin’ and a Flippin.’ I flipped my top, and it zipped out the window! To this day my brothers swear that I rivaled the shower scream in Psycho!

My daddy stopped that van so fast that you would have thought someone tied a spring to the last guardrail. He threw the VW in reverse and backed up on the interstate to the place where he heard me do my Janet Leigh impression. Cars whizzed by and Mom complained, but that didn’t faze my daddy. He jumped out of the van and tore through the jungle of roadside weeds, searching for my toy. My nose was pressed against the glass, watching him as tears streamed down my face.

Twenty minutes later, covered in mud, sweat and burrs, he broke through the weeds—and in his hand was my little red top. He had that same loving look on his face as he said, “Sweetie, let’s keep the windows up next time, okay?”

That simple act of heroism may not seem like a big deal—it certainly wasn’t a big deal to the rest of my family, who found it downright irritating—but it was a huge deal to me. In his special way, he had just told me that he loved me and would always protect me. He let me know I was the most special little girl in the whole world.

It really was one of the best days of my life.

Laura M. Stack

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