2: First Solo Camping

2: First Solo Camping

A Chapter by barleygirl
"

a story about my mom . . .

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Chapter 2: First Solo Camping

As has been his habit for a decade, Oliver arrives at ten o’clock sharp to visit his lovely wife of fifty-four years at Glen Haven every Tuesday morning.

His favorite part is being greeted by the effusive young ladies at the front desk who act like he must be heaven sent for visiting Ginger so faithfully when most residents rarely get a single visitor, ever. It doesn’t hurt that he brings a box of donuts for the staff, which sweetens his arrival.

But after he soaks in so much warmth and admiration, it’s time to trudge back to room 31F and endure his weekly berating. After that, he can expect to be blown off as Ginger disappears into the crowded entertainment room where it’s impossible to share a meaningful conversation with his wife.

“Oh! So sorry to see that you’re leaving early today, Oliver!” Nurse Piper checks her watch . . . not quite noon. Usually, this long-suffering gentleman visits well into the afternoons. She puts her arm around his waist and walks him through the double front doors, sensing he might be reaching his breaking point. “Anything you want to talk about before you go? I’m here for you, ya know.”

“You people have been so good to Ginger all through these ten years. I can always rest assured she’s getting the best of everything here and I really appreciate that.” Oliver watches two small birds fight over an errant morsel while Piper watches a dark shadow haunt his face.

“You haven’t missed one regular visit since I can’t remember when,” Piper is almost sure this man is due for a break from his spirit-crushing dedication.

“I did miss three weeks in a row, a few years back. Our son Jeff donated one of his kidneys to our daughter Sarah. She’s been a diabetic since childhood.”

“What a selfless thing for your son to do!” Piper isn’t surprised the kids turned out to be as noble as their father. “Do you ever feel like a break from your grueling routine, visiting Ginger week after punishing week?”

“Lately I’ve been thinking long and hard about how we used to take the five kids up to Standish-Hickey State Park every August on a weeklong camping trip.”

“Maybe you could take a week off right now. It’s August! Go camping, Oliver. Let’s be honest, Ginger won’t miss you one bit.” Piper peers into his troubled blue eyes and feels him letting go, fingertip by fingertip. Some rupture must’ve happened between him and his wife earlier, so this is probably good timing.

“I’ve never done any solo camping. We were always one big family against the world.” Oliver looks a little afraid . . . and slumped over as if stricken.

“You look like a self-sufficient guy to me! How long have you been on your own now?” Piper smooths his papery skin with floaty fingertips.

“That’s the thing. It’s been ten years . . . can you believe that? And now I’m afraid Ginger’s so near the end. She’s so thin . . . so dim and hazy. I would sorely regret if I was gallivanting up north while she’s here in her death throes without me.”

“I respect you for being so faithful to your wife, Oliver, but you are no good to her if you’re worn down to a puddle of nothing.” As soon as the words leave her lips, Piper hopes she doesn’t sound too pushy. That’s the last thing this gentle soul needs to hear.

“I do feel like a puddle of nothing after I visit my wife anymore.” Oliver turns away from the nurse without any sign of farewell. Trancelike, he takes one gluey step toward the parking lot, doddering as he picks up his other foot.

“That’s why most residents get no visitors here. Visiting is a thankless job and loved ones get to the point where they can’t take it anymore. You’ve stuck to your obligation like nobody I’ve ever seen.” Piper reaches out to Oliver, but he’s already entered a distant tunnel on his way gone.

Without consciously forming a plan Oliver shifts his truck through the gears, gaining speed on the thoroughfare until he knows exactly what his upcoming trip will look like. On the way home he stops to fill his gas tank and get supplies at the store. By the time he carries stuff inside, digs out the ice chest from the lanai out back, and then garden-hoses it fairly clean, he barely has the gumption to load the chest with food and ice.

“Whoa there, old boy!” Oliver mutters to himself as he pulls out his kerchief and wipes his sweaty brow. “You’re not the whirlybird you once were.”

Feeling every wrinkle of his seventy-nine years, he opens a can of soup and heats it in a pan over the stove flame, mumbling, “Sarah would scold me for eating this crap because its high in salt and bad for my heart.”

Taking the pan off the burner at the first sign of a boil, he realizes he can’t bop out of town on the spur of the moment like he used to, tackling all-night road trips without any sleep. Once warm nourishment infuses his belly, it becomes obvious it will take him all evening just to load his truck. He’ll leave first thing in the morning. Standish-Hickey is a four-hour drive north of Novato, barring his old jalopy hitting the skids. Maybe he better pad his time with a rest-stop or two . . . a wink of shut-eye along the way, if needed.

That’s how he and Ginger did it with five kids, rustling everyone up at four in the morning so they could hit the road at the crack of dawn. He got the driving out of the way before the heat of the day was upon them. Back then, of course, he never got sleepy while driving, but he always had to take a nap after unloading all that gear and setting up camp. There his family would be, all standing in their swimsuits, toe-tapping impatient when he awoke from his nap.

The kids would be dying to hike down to the river, morning, noon, and twilight. They fired up their pleading not very long after things were cleaned up from breakfast. They knew, sure as blue jays squawk, Ginger would tell them to wait until after lunch because she wasn’t hauling grub for everyone down that cliff-hanging trail, along with inner tubes, towels and her big umbrella for shade.

Privately, Oliver had wished Ginger would take the kids down to the river right after breakfast so he could enjoy some peace and quiet around camp for a few hours before he was ready for a swim. But for her that meant wrangling five toddlers beside a wild river with foamy rapids, water snakes and toe biters . . . well, on second thought, maybe Oliver didn’t give Ginger enough help on their long-ago camping trips. Back then, he thought he was good, handling the macho tasks like putting up the tents, building the fires and trotting across the highway for their next block of ice.

Oliver washes his bowl, spoon, and pan, then wanders to the bookshelf behind his recliner. Grabbing a photo album labeled “Hickey”, he plops down and wobbles back into his favorite pile of jangling hinges.

“Oh look! Back when it was only Dean and Sarah!” With Ginger at Glen Haven ten years now, Oliver still speaks out as if she’s in the next room.

He hates to pick favorites among his five children, but the elder two are undeniably the shining stars of the family. Dean, a concert pianist as well as a top-level government executive! Sarah, an energetic force for ecology long before there were many strong voices standing up to say the things she has to say. Plus, with Sarah often on the brink of life or death, this keeps her in an extra-special cocoon of wonderment for everyone in the family.

Before Oliver gets to the part of the photo album where all his five kids are born, he’s fast asleep in his recliner, snoring like an air compressor. The scrapbook slides slowly down his long skinny legs and onto the floor without spilling any wavy yellowed snapshots.

Interspersed with naps and nostalgia, he slowly manages to get his truck loaded that evening, tying a tarp securely over his load. After a shower, he hits the rack and awakens readily, supercharged by his anticipation. He hasn’t felt this free since first sailing the Pacific during the war.

At the front door, hand on the knob, Oliver has a hard time shaking the sensation that he should call someone. Tell someone where he’s going. But who?

If he dared to tell any of his grown kids, they’d surely try to prevent him from going off on his lone jaunt, warning of everything from tire blowouts to bear attacks. Sarah is such a worry-wart, she’d probably drive half the day up to check on him and half the day back home again. That would make him feel bad, with her having health issues to contend with, herself. Naw, he won’t worry anyone.

Finally, he pulls the door shut, triple-checks that it’s securely locked, and lets his hand drop from the knob.

After a mere merry-go-round spin or two, a hundred offramps later, Oliver is already chugging up the first long steep grade into Redwood Country. This is where the terrain turns decidedly mountainous and forested.

At the halfway point of his drive, he feels alert and has no desire to pull over, but his favorite lookout is located on top of this long grade. This is the first place to view the vast forests of northern California, stretched out over endless mountain ranges. He pulls over because he knows it would be a good idea to get out and stretch his legs. As he gulps the pristine mountain air, his daughter Sarah’s voice harkens a reminder for him to look after himself and he heeds it.

After a long gradual grade back down into the wine-growing lowlands, the highway narrows to two-lane so traffic slows a bit as it winds through touristy towns with vineyard kitsch. Seeing a rustic eatery claiming to be the local outlet for his favorite redwood-region winery, Oliver stops at ‘Moonery’ for lunch. He’s always wanted to stop here over the years, but cruising along with a car full of hootin’ and hollerin’ kids, he couldn’t afford fine dining.

He treasures his long tradition with Ginger, camping with five kids every summer, but it’s also nice to be footloose and fancy free for a change.

After his rich splurge at Moonery, tooling along the sizzling blacktop under a hot August sun, Oliver wonders if he can make it to the park without dozing off. Since the only relief from this oppressive heat is when the wind blows into his moving vehicle, he decides to kill this final stretch even if it means stomping his feet, flapping his arms, and slapping his face like a road-trip goon.

Oliver arrives at Standish-Hickey State Park and sets up his minimal camping gear in Hickey-53 the day before Lila arrives with her grandson Ben.

It’s a damn lucky thing, too. He never could’ve imagined being on track to meet the most spry, gorgeous silver-haired woman he’d ever seen in his life, so he is going to need twenty-four hours to make this old carcass presentable.

Oliver begins his Hickey stay by napping down the first three hours like he might be headed for a full-fledged bear hibernation stint. Waking up with sleeping bag hair, he hobbles over to the nearest restroom which features a couple of shower stalls, usually with a long queue. But it’s early afternoon and the place is empty.

Thankfully he remembered, before leaving town, that these camp showers are not free. He procured several rolls of quarters at the bank, along with a wad of cash to pay the exorbitant camping fees being charged nowadays. Something like thirty a night, with a shower and a bundle of wood every evening.

His two-dollar shower lasts four minutes and features a puny stream, but at least heat is pumping the whole time. At a restroom sink, he lathers his badger-hair shaving brush, aiming to remove any gray shadow that might’ve crept under since this morning’s shave. It’s not that Oliver would ever expect to encounter a comely wench . . . it’s just his habit to be well-groomed even while camping. He shakes a few wrinkles from his clean pink oxford shirt before putting it on.

Back at camp he does a hacked-up job trying to start a fire, burning all of this morning’s news along with handfuls of dry leaves. The ensuing smoke-out is so fierce, he moves his camp chair away from the stove, over to the fence where he plops down and gazes upon the Eel River as the late afternoon sun sinks toward a forested ridge. After a while, he hobbles to his truck and sits down on the tailgate while reaching into one of his boxes . . . pours himself a hot heavy scotch. Tomorrow he must remember to get some crushed ice from the Peg House.

Hobbling back to the ledge, he plops down into his camp chair, “remember before we had kids? How we’d take a twilight stroll down to the old swimmin’ hole? Oh lookie, we’ve got a fat crescent moon, too! It’ll probably be full before I leave next week. Remember how Ginger used to plan our camping trips to coincide with the full moon every August? Oh, who am I yammering to?”

After four hours of sweltering behind the wheel, a scrawny shower and a scotch, Oliver tumbles into his tent on the verge of a coma. A man with legendary insomnia, he sleeps so soundly all night long, he wakes up in a wet sleeping bag for the first time since childhood. Despite being alone among a long line of solitary campsites, he crawls from his tent sheepishly, as if shamed by the laughing squawking blue jays.

Somehow it takes him all morning to get a fire started, percolate some coffee, snag a quick shower and shave, as well as rinsing out his sleeping bag in a laundry-sized sink, complete with a hand-rolling wringer. Back at camp he drapes the soggy bag over another clothesline he has just strung between trees.

After his flurry of activity, he’s tempted to take a nap before lunch.

But his sleeping bag is wet.

Oliver spaces out, standing there not deciding on anything for a few . . . and then he hears a car pull in about five campsites away. There’s a dog barking. He spies a cloud of dust through the bushes between campsites. A few patches of sky blue, low to the ground . . . it must be a car. Oh look! A young boy and his dog standing atop the picnic table.

After a minute or two, he spots a silver crown of bouncing curls, the bodily form hidden behind a tall stove made of stones. The gray poof bobs as a mystery woman speaks upward, addressing the boy on top of the table. She uses her hands and arms for emphasis. It must be a woman since she’s only a few inches taller than the smoke stack of her camp stove.

Oliver feels energized by the vague idea that he might have some potential company soon. For the rest of the day, he’s glued to this neighboring campsite like it’s the only television show that comes in, being out here in the wilderness where TV reception is sketchy.



© 2021 barleygirl


Author's Note

barleygirl
Thank you for sharing . . .

My Review

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Featured Review

The detail in this is again, phenomenal. I love that we're getting to know more and it's so subtle and pulls you into the story. I can see your poetry in this and it fits it so well, the way you use that talent and insert it here. It has such heavy nostalgia and makes me miss the mountains dearly. You describe everything so crisp and clean and the dialogue is genius and so realistic and enjoyable again.

Posted 2 Weeks Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

2 Weeks Ago

Coming from an excellent novelist yourself, I really appreciate what you've pointed out & lifted up!.. read more
Colacat

2 Weeks Ago

Thank you so much! Haha, I'm very flattered. And the idea of Oliver having different writing than yo.. read more



Reviews

I really tmjoy your chapter development. You make the reader feel like they are friends, I will read the next chapter soon.

Posted 5 Days Ago


Oliver's dedication to Ginger even though she has dementia and may be belligerent is admirable. The nurses love him because he is not only good to Ginger, but brings donuts....what could be better? Ten years is a long time to watch a loved one wasting away. Five children in his brood....wow! I just know Oliver will meet the lady at the other campsite and she will be lovely. Was/is Oliver your dad? You come from such a large family, Margie! I am enjoying this book of yours. Lydi**

Posted 2 Weeks Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

2 Weeks Ago

All names have been changed. Lila is my mom & her name is Virginia & she died 3 years ago at the age.. read more
The detail in this is again, phenomenal. I love that we're getting to know more and it's so subtle and pulls you into the story. I can see your poetry in this and it fits it so well, the way you use that talent and insert it here. It has such heavy nostalgia and makes me miss the mountains dearly. You describe everything so crisp and clean and the dialogue is genius and so realistic and enjoyable again.

Posted 2 Weeks Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

2 Weeks Ago

Coming from an excellent novelist yourself, I really appreciate what you've pointed out & lifted up!.. read more
Colacat

2 Weeks Ago

Thank you so much! Haha, I'm very flattered. And the idea of Oliver having different writing than yo.. read more
This chapter is basically a continuation of chapter one, a rollout where we meet all of the main characters. This time Oliver is introduced, although we got a glimpse of him previously when Lila's family noted him looking at her. Oliver is a man in his late 70's whose wife is a resident of a nursing home. She also may be suffering from dementia, as their encounters tend to be curt and unpleasant. Their children are grown and have their own lives, meaning Oliver is pretty much on his own. On the suggestion of a facility nurse, he decides to visit the campground they used to patronize, which turns out to be the one Lila and her family are visiting. He notices her, which means they are aware of one another. It's not hard to see where this is leading. Oliver's character is well developed and sympathetic; we find ourselves pulling for him.

Posted 3 Weeks Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

2 Weeks Ago

Thank you for stopping by to check out my latest opus. I'm very much thrilling over the process of w.. read more
the way you incorporate your poetry voice with your story voice is wonderful you pull the emotion into the movement of the storyline so flawlessly like a well-crafted poem. I don't know how you do it... but it is a gift!

Posted 4 Weeks Ago


2 of 2 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

2 Weeks Ago

The highest compliment is that you've noticed I try to use my poetic voice as much as writing prose .. read more
A very entertaining chapter dear Margie. You are giving the people personalities and life. I will return tomorrow and I will read more. I must work tonight. Hello from Michigan and thank you for sharing the amazing story.
Coyote

Posted 1 Month Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

1 Month Ago

I wuz just thinking about you reading this, knowing the lay of the land here in California, you prob.. read more
Coyote Poetry

2 Weeks Ago

I am glad you are writing dear Margie and I like the photos too. A very good story being written.
you captivate the
reader with the
simple beauty
and vivid detailing
in this story

we are right there
with Oliver feeling
his exhaustion
in his golden years
and yet his anxious
excititment as he
ventures out on his
solo quest alone

from his wife ginger
nursing home dedication
all those years we feel
this man thoughts the
way you present them
you re an extraordinary
writer. ..were all rooting
for Oliver and Lila to
meet ..well I am anyway
lol..

Posted 1 Month Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

1 Month Ago

WOW! I haven't felt this well understood in a long time! You've really caught on to where I was tryi.. read more
  Fran Marie

1 Month Ago

you re s o welcome
Margie! You are so talented and full of energetic spirit along a sharp mind. I was absorbed in the details which I still remember the ones from the first chapter. You bring us the people so alive, so down to Earth and so adventurous. I felt so many emotions reading about him, wife for 10 years in the nursing home, his loyalty and patience with her, his pride of his children, his cherished memories of adventures past and now building up to the meeting with Lila. Amazing how you keep the story so fresh and powerful.

Posted 1 Month Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

1 Month Ago

I just blasted off for the moon . . . see ya later! *winK! winK!* A review like this makes me fly fo.. read more
Sami Khalil

1 Month Ago

Hehehe! You are welcome. Houston, we have no problem with Margie...
I loved the way you presented Oliver here! A gentleman absolute, placing others' needs before his own. I felt he loved the outdoors and had really been wanting to get out for some time but desisted for the sake of his wife. The other thing clear to me was his longing for company. As always, loved the wonderfully descriptive campsite scenes and the air of anticipation! Something awesome is about to happen!

Posted 1 Month Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

barleygirl

1 Month Ago

One of the main reasons everyone who reads this story love it is becuz Oliver is such a lovable guy .. read more
I love the character of Oliver and how you give us an excellent background of him in his aging years visiting his cranky wife in a nursing home, before the nurse convinces him to take a break and go camping. Then the adventure begins with Oliver getting ready for his solo camping trip. When he arrives to his dismay he find a curly, silver - haired woman who catches his attention . Really captured my attention; great writing and interesting story. Love it.
ps what size type are you using for your chapters?
Hugs, B

Posted 1 Month Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Betty Hermelee

1 Month Ago

Got it, thanks Marge! did you read my review?
barleygirl

1 Month Ago

Thanks for the uplifting summary of what stood out for you. Lots of people fall in love with Oliver,.. read more
Betty Hermelee

1 Month Ago

I probably will too!

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Added on February 13, 2021
Last Updated on April 10, 2021


Author

barleygirl
barleygirl

Central Coast, CA



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Just loving life & sharing my blessings. more..

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