On Friday May 10, I crammed my Sentra impossibly full with camping gear and headed for Mineral Wells State Park with Allyson, my nephew Sam, and my sister Amy, whose car was also jam packed.
|Allyson in her little cubby|
We'd planned to leave by four, but I had to meet Ethan up at the school with his freshly cleaned band uniform, and then we had to drive 30 minutes in the wrong direction to pick up Sam. So it was around six when we started the hour-and-a-quarter drive. About halfway there, it started raining lightly, with a bit of lightning off in the distance. Just ahead, we could see blue sky, but it seemed the rain cloud was following us.
Every few minutes I silently reminded God, "You know how much I've been looking forward to this weekend. Please, if you could let this rain blow over I'd be so thankful." And a bit later, "God, if you calmed the wind and the waves for your disciples, I know that you can dry up this rain.... Even so, not my will, but yours. I know there may be a purpose in the rain."
It kept raining, and we kept driving. By the time we reached the turnoff for the state park, it was barely sprinkling, so I headed on in. Would you believe that just when we reached the entrance gate, the rain stopped? My heart was light.... Until we'd driven around those narrow roads inside the park for 30 minutes. We'd tried to follow the instructions from the old man at the gate, and we had a map, but it just didn't match up with what we were seeing in the gathering twilight.
At last we found the correct road and claimed a site close to the bathroom. It was now after eight, and I felt very anxious about getting our tents up before dark. Amy's tent had never been used, so we decided to put that one up first in case it was tricky. Because we were such a great team, it was pretty easy except for one thing: I'd assumed everything we needed would be with the camping gear that Bill had neatly boxed in crates, but it turns out there was no hammer for the stakes. Amy improvised with one of Bill's old shoes. It was backbreaking work, but she persevered. Meanwhile, I stood around and took pictures.
|Amy and Sam|
The real work started when we got out our bigger tent. By now it was quite dark, so I lit the Coleman lantern. It took several tries, but my beginner's luck must have helped it ignite; the next evening none of us could get it lit for quite some time. So Sam had to follow me and Amy around the tent, holding the lantern high as it gradually took shape. When it came time to pound in the stakes, Amy found that the ground was just too hard for a shoe hammer. So Sam and Allyson sweetly asked the people in the camper next door if they could borrow a hammer. I felt like the lazy, unprepared grasshopper in the fable about the industrious ant.
Sam's father, Chris, arrived after nine, just in time to help me figure out the rain fly and then build a roaring fire. He would have arrived sooner, but the park's computer system was down, so they couldn't record our site number, and none of us had cell phone service. So Chris had been driving those same narrow roads in the pitch black. He said he was terrified, but I think he was exaggerating. Anyway, we finally collapsed into camp chairs and gazed up at the brilliant stars.
The next morning, I made a batch of pancakes, whole wheat of course. As I watched the bubbles swell and pop in the cooking batter, I mentally patted myself on the back for remembering the electric griddle. That was about the time I realized I'd forgotten to bring a spatula. I improvised with a pair of plastic forks, which worked pretty well until they started to melt. That was nothing compared to Chris's task of flipping fried eggs with plastic forks. Hopefully we didn't ingest too many carcinogens.
After I'd washed the dishes in water I'd heated on the camp stove, I headed back to town to pick up Ethan from his band practice and then drove back out to my sister's house to get my nieces, Hillary and Savannah, and Hillary's boyfriend Calvin. My Sentra was just about as stuffed as it had been the night before, but this time it was clear full of people.
We got back to the camp around four, in time for an early dinner of grilled burgers and Ranch Style beans.
|Chris and His Beautiful Daughters|
|Chris Cooking Beans|
|Left: Calvin, Ethan, Amy|
Right: Hillary, Chris, Savannah
|Allyson couldn't be bothered to eat. Too busy climbing trees.|
|Aunt Amy and Allyson|
Amy had bought Allyson a little pink Barbie fishing rod. She also had a Barbie tackle kit, so she got to fish in style. Amy taught her how to cast and how to reel the line back in (sort of). She loved it! She could have fished all night even though she never caught anything. Amy was the only one who did catch a fish, just a little one. But just as we were packing up, a stranger drove up in a boat and gave us a whole cooler of fish he couldn't use. Wow! God had provided dinner... just not for us.
Back at the campsite, several of the kids hacked away at those fish, but none of us knew how to clean a fish, and our knives were all wrong. We didn't have enough ice left to save them, so the kids carried them far away from the campsite and dumped them. By morning, the only thing left was some fins.
Around ten, Ethan's friend arrived, just in time for our second dinner of steak and fried potatoes. He had driven out in Bill's old truck, which he'd been dreaming of owning ever since he was about 13. We all sat around the fire talking and laughing while making S'mores and recalling scenes from our favorite funny movies: Dumb and Dumber and Bruce Almighty. Sometime after midnight, Ethan and Clayton retired to Bill's--I mean Clayton's truck, where they slept sitting up. Meanwhile, Savannah and Allyson settled down on a double air mattress in the girls' tent.
Chris, Amy, and I sat around the fire much longer. Just when I thought I couldn't keep my eyes open another moment, Chris suggested that we pray. So we stood in a circle holding hands and prayed in God's church, with the stars winking down on us. For me, this was the best part of the weekend. We prayed fervently for all of our kids and for ourselves, that God would help us lead them. We could have prayed all night, but we quit at 1:45 a.m.
I was the last one up, stumbling around in the dark trying to find the extension cord so I could plug in my electric blanket. Man was I tired, but no way was I climbing onto my cold air mattress without it. Everyone laughed at me, but they weren't laughing come morning. I was the only one who didn't get cold. Poor Calvin got stuck with our ancient green-striped mattress, and he ended up on the ground halfway through the night, curled up in the fetal position under a very light blanket. (We left that mattress in the Dumpster.)
I was the first up, having been awakened by singing birds--God's alarm clock, Chris called them. I did my Bible study under the blue sky, with lush green trees all around and the water just visible across the road. My heart swelled and throbbed with joy as I wrote in my gratitude journal about being outdoors with the sound of the breeze in the trees, surrounded by my kids, nieces, and nephew on Mother's Day.
|Allyson with beloved Allum, the only stuffed animal who came along|
|By morning, Allyson had slid right off the mattress but slept peacefully on.|
|Me and my sweetie|
After a breakfast of leftover pancakes and scrambled eggs that Savannah cooked on the camp stove, we spent the next two hours packing everything up, which was about as hard as setting it all up. It was a good thing we had Clayton's truck because our cars were stuffed with people. I was so tired that I let Hillary drive us home. Her driving was impeccable--way better than mine, probably--so I allowed myself a short nap.
Even though I'm just now catching up on my sleep, it was worth it. I hope we do it every year.