Camping Downstream with Truffles and My New Shoes
This true story is dedicated to my parents. (I love you, Mom and Dad. If you ever want to take the grandkids camping, be sure to count me out!)
When I was ten years old, my parents decided that my younger brother and I were old enough to sleep in our own tent. Normally, we slept in a house in the suburbs, in separate bedrooms, but my parents needed a change of scenery and convinced us that we did, too. Wouldn’t a couple of days in the fresh air, without any TV or Nintendo games, be fun? Wouldn’t Truffles, my chocolate-colored peek-a-poo puppy, love to share a sleeping bag with me? My parents were full of enthusiastic lies. We packed two tents into the trunk of my mom’s silver 1986 Volkswagen Jetta and drove out to a campground in the Ozarks.
The kids’ tent was easy to assemble. We threaded the long plastic rods through the holes, and soon we had a blue dome that was just wide enough to contain our two flannel-lined sleeping bags. My brother and I tested our tent’s zippers repeatedly, fighting over who got to zip and unzip the door and window flaps. While I made sure our tent was clear of all spiders, snakes, and rabid bobcats, my brother seized control of the fancy flashlight. The most memorable feature of that flashlight was the small, separate, flashing yellow “emergency” light above the long fluorescent bar, which my brother activated whenever he got bored. Thus, the emergency light flashed nonstop.
My parents’ tent was an ancient, army-green, canvas monstrosity with at least a thousand stakes and cords, and ten-thousand metal poles. Dad was an engineer, thank goodness, because a mere mortal could never have assembled that tent without a YouTube instructional video, which, sadly, didn’t exist in 1987. My parents inflated an air mattress for their luxury suite and didn’t even pretend to feel bad that my brother and I had to sleep in a tiny blow-away tent on the ground.
We didn’t fish or swim or paddle-boat, or roast weenies or marshmallows, or tell ghost stories, or do anything that was more fun than playing Nintendo games at home. Mom cooked dinner on the old gas camp-stove that my brother and I weren’t allowed to touch, while I kept a close eye on Truffles, my curious city dog who longed to befriend a wild possum or skunk.
After dinner we changed into our pajamas and zipped ourselves into our sleeping bags, Truffles next to me. My parents settled into their superior tent eight feet away and yelled at us to turn off the flashlight and stop giggling. Truffles sniffed around our sleeping bags, searching for badgers and rabbit turds, refusing to sleep. My brand-new, white Reebok sneakers were in the corner of the tent, emitting an irresistible, exotic sweatshop smell. Truffles squatted over my shoelaces to mark them with his love.
I let out a horrific shriek.
“What happened?” came my mom’s voice from the big tent.
“Truffles peed on my shoes!”
“Oh, gall! Well…uh…just…be quiet and go to sleep.”
I whimpered. “It smells like pee in here!”
“Didn’t you take him out before you went to bed?” Dad grumbled.
“The pee’s getting on my sleeping bag!” my brother cried.
“Shh! Wipe it up,” Mom hissed.
“Both of you, be quiet and go to sleep!”
It was at this point that Truffles started howling.
I could feel my parents’ disgust seeping through the waterproof canvas and nylon walls between us. Scrambling to clip on Truffles’ leash, I wrested the fancy flashlight away from my brother, stuffed my feet into the warm, squishy-wet Reeboks, and unzipped the door. With my flashing yellow light and yappy puppy to ward off any psychopaths in hockey masks, I wandered around the dark campground in my nightgown, encouraging Truffles to pee on every single tree.
My brother was asleep when we returned. Truffles and I snuggled in my sleeping bag, and everything was calm…until another dog started howling.
Truffles sprang out of my arms, woofing ecstatically. I’m over here! In the little blue tent, he barked.
I’m tied up outside the camper by the pond! the other dog responded.
Catch any toads? Truffles asked.
No, but I chased a raccoon up a tree!
Back and forth they yipped while my brother snored.
“Maria,” Dad growled, “you’ve gotta stop his barking!”
“I’m trying,” I whined. At least the other dog’s owner was trying.
The barking died down and finally stopped. Truffles and I fell into a fitful sleep as my Reeboks slowly dried.
We packed up and headed home the next morning, a day early. My Reeboks never smelled new again, and Truffles never set foot inside another tent. I’ve never taken my own children or pets on a camping trip, but it’s on my bucket list—right below removing my eyeballs with a rusty spoon.