An insistent noise intruded into heavy sleep, waking me just enough to know that I had to silence it, but not enough to allow me to understand what it was or where I was. I stumbled through the dark toward the incessant pounding, wanting only to find it and make it stop. It came from a door, which I opened without thinking, and the blindness of night was replaced by the kind brought on by a bright light shining into my eyes. It was an officer of the law mumbling something about a slow-moving storm and opening the shelter. He vanished before I woke up enough to form a sentence.
I staggered to the other end of the camper where my parents slumbered, distance allowing them to sleep through the door-beating, light-shining police-officer, and informed them that a slow-moving storm system was heading our way and that the police officer was opening up the shelter so that we wouldn’t perish if a tornado dropped from the sky in our proximity. After a short silence, my dad said, “Well, since we’re awake, we just as well pack up and head down the road.” It was three in the morning.
Awake would not have been my word of choice. It had been a long day on the road. We – my parents, all five grandchildren, and I – had set off early that morning in Mom and Dad’s white twelve passenger van with their twenty-two foot foldout camper trailing behind. We had stopped in the late afternoon to tour the grounds of a historic home before loading our stiff and road-weary bodies back up to drive more miles when what we really wanted to stretch, have dinner, and go to bed.
A mild sense of panic accompanies the setting sun when it catches me still on the road with camp yet unmade made. Finding a home for the night had not been easy. We drove first to a wooded campground, the sort my parents prefer. Set apart from roads and towns, with trees separating one campsite from another, it was what our worn bodies wanted. It was perfect, except for the long series of potential neighbors who moved us along with their cold and creepy stares.
Town provided a small parking lot masquerading as a campground, the type of place my parents typically drive past without even a glance. We took it, made camp, fed the kids, and fell into bed. Then came the noise.
Packing was no simple affair. Sleepy children had to be woken and transferred to the van, sleeping areas folded in, outdoor equipment collected and shoved into the center of the camper, all by night. Just before we left the campground, the police officer appeared again. He asked where we were headed and at my dad’s answer, looked at us in disbelief. Toward the storm?
It was a long way off and our distance allowed ample time to watch its lightning illuminate the vast Kansas sky. All the children who should have been sleeping sat in silence, engrossed by the light. Mom was asleep. I wanted to be.
“Why,” people occasionally ask, “do your parents have a twelve passenger van?” This is why. Not so we can flee sad little campgrounds under cover of darkness, but because we like to be together. Some of that togetherness occurs on the road, sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes when we’d rather be at the campsite or the hotel or whatever home is that day, and sometimes when we just need to get from here to there.
That’s why we were in Kansas. My cousin was getting married in San Antonio, and we needed to get from here to there. We made it a family adventure. Sort of. Part of us were on this road-trip, taking the scenic route to San Antonio. The rest were in flung about the globe and in a week, we would converge in San Antonio. My husband would fly in from Iowa, my brother from Macedonia and his wife from Missouri, both via New York City. And then would all go to the wedding and spend some quality van and camper time. Simple as that.
It’s never simple, but it’s worth it and people who drive twelve passenger vans trailing a twenty-two foot camper are willing to work with that. They are the heads of one of those families, the kind that’s all in for road adventure, and whether it’s the two of them, the eleven of us, or some number in between, it’s what works.