The Vacation

Mountain Sunset For Joe Dawson, figuring out where to go and what to do on vacation this year was almost a disaster. Even though he was the Pastor at Watervalley First Presbyterian, probably more than he wanted to admit it, the marijuana helped.

This year, Joe and his wife, Mary Beth, were also celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary. So Joe had promised Mary Beth that the family vacation this year would also be a combination anniversary trip that tucked a little romance into the mix….. a tough chore with their two daughters, age seven and nine in tow.

Joe had been an Eagle Scout who loved the outdoors where he could sleep peacefully under of the stars. Mary Beth loved hotels where she could sleep peacefully under their five star rating. They had been saving up for this trip for several years so Mary Beth had figured on a luxury hotel or condo on the beach, some place with a spa and gourmet food and hot and cold running Perrier.  She was hoping for a beach in the Caribbean and knew it was a risk letting Joe do all the planning. And while she loved his boyish enthusiasm, she often found that she was the only adult in their conversations. Joe had kept the vacation plans a secret until the day before they left. He wanted it to be a big surprise. He certainly succeeded.

They were going Glamping in the North Carolina Mountains.

“So, just what is Glamping?” Mary Beth inquired, trying to smile over her mix of panic and disappointment.

“It’s glamour camping,” he responded enthusiastically.

“Sounds fascinating. What do we sleep in, a glint?”

“Well, technically yes. We sleep in tents. But they’re really nice with a lot of luxury amenities.”

“Like what, personalized bug spray and monogrammed sleeping bags?”

“Glamping is really huge in certain parts of the world.”

“That, dear, is because in certain parts of the world they’re already sleeping in tents.”

Joe could tell that this idea might be a little harder sale than he originally thought. He brought out the glossy brochures with their idyllic sunset shots of a young family dreamily sitting in front of a cozy campfire. The two children are roasting marshmallows and apparently have been given some kind of amphetamine/ Valium cocktail because they are looking happy and giggly and yet serene all at the same time. The mom and dad are looking moony-eyed at each other and it took little imagination to see that pretty soon, the campfire was not the only thing that would have some sparks flying.

“They have all the comforts of a great hotel. Our package even comes with a bedtime turn down option.”

“I want to know if this vacation idea comes with a turn down option?”

“Oh, come on. It’ll be great sweetheart.”

“Where will the girls sleep?”

“The tent is divided into two separate rooms, so they will have their own space.”

“Nice. So the title of this year’s vacation video will be titled ‘Family Fun under the Big Top.’”

“The brochure says the tents are custom made in India.”

“Joe, honey. I don’t care if they were custom made in Indiana by Indians with teepee PhDs. They’re still tents. And what about bears?”

“They told me the bears wouldn’t bother us.”

“How do they know? Have the bears signed a treaty or something?”

In all fairness, Mary Beth should be given a little credit here. There were a lot of things she didn’t mind. She didn’t mind the phone calls in the middle of the night asking for prayer for a sick cat.
She didn’t mind always being the default volunteer for nursery duty every time someone took a notion not to show. She didn’t mind being the one who always organized the Christmas Program, Vacation Bible School, and the Easter Pageant even though she was never paid a dime to do so. She didn’t even mind the fact the every year, one whole week of their two weeks of vacation was always spent visiting Joe’s parents in West Virginia where invariably Joe got pressed into spending the week working like a dog hauling hay, topping tobacco, or painting a barn because his dad was too cheap to pay anybody. She didn’t mind that she would spend that entire week of her vacation shelling butter beans or canning tomatoes. But this week was her week. It was her week to relax, to be pampered, to go to a nice dinner and order a martini, or two.

She did her best to put on a good face but privately she was devastated. It was too late to plan anything else and Joe had already put down a huge deposit. She would just have to make the best of it. But that was going to take some doing.

Meanwhile, Joe knew he had messed up, big time. And things didn’t get better after they arrived. It didn’t help that the North Carolina Mountains were experiencing a record heat wave. Their campsite was reasonably private and fortunately they were close to the bathhouse. Unfortunately however, one of their fellow campers thought he was Pavarotti and liked to take showers at five AM.

The meal situation was also a disaster. The brochure boasted Farm-to-table gourmet dinners that would reconnect diners to the land and the soil and its union to their food. What this really meant was that the dining hall tent had a dirt floor. To make matters worse, the meals were served family style. So Mary Beth had the pleasure of eating at the same table with total strangers, some of who were pretty grizzly looking, and, she was certain, hadn’t bathed since the Bush administration.

For Mary Beth, the final straw came Tuesday afternoon. It started with lunch. Apparently the Manson Gang was out on parole and having a reunion because the guy across the table from Mary Beth looked like he just walked off the set of “Deliverance” and was in serious need of a breath mint. Then she had to explain to her nine year old daughter, Sandra Kay, why she couldn’t take a ride on the motorcycle with the nice man with the beard who looked like Santa Claus.

Next the mosquitoes showed up. Not the normal pesky kind but giant vampire mosquitoes that apparently were spawned from some nuclear waste dump site and mutated into something worthy of a Japanese movie. They were the size of Rocky the Squirrel and had to be fought off with a cattle prod. Insect repellant wasn’t killing these things. It kept them from biting but they still buzzed nearby and trash talked you a little.

Joe had enrolled the girls in an arts and crafts class that essentially taught them how to make mud pies, thinking that this would allow he and Mary Beth some quality time alone. She was beginning to wonder if Joe had a working brain. Words could not express her frustration. She had decided that the next communication she would have with him would be written on a post card from Jamaica. She was so mad that at this point, it would take a solution worthy of a Nobel Prize to set things right.

So that’s when she took off into the woods. She was going to have some quality alone time, by golly, maybe until next spring. She had no idea where the trail led to and didn’t care. She just needed to get away and clear her head. After two hours of some pretty brisk walking, she finally sat down on a stump beside the trail.

Now it just so happened that she was on the fringe of the Smokey Mountain National Park and about two miles away the Forestry Department was doing a controlled burn of an old growth area. But the wind shifted unexpectedly and sent the fire in an unplanned direction. And in the path of that unplanned direction was about two acres of marijuana that no one knew about. They did now. Curiously, the wind sent the smoke and fumes right toward Mary Beth.

Meanwhile, being the good Christian woman that she was, Mary Beth had said one or two very aggravated prayers to God to somehow give her a sense of peace about the whole Glamping fiasco. He answered sooner than she thought.

The first thing she noticed was a kind of funny smell in the air, like burning rope. Then she couldn’t believe how incredibly hungry she was. She devoured the complimentary bag of honey-roasted peanuts she had picked up from the tent and considered looking around to see if a hickory or walnut tree might be nearby. Even their bark might be kind of tasty. Soon she was in a pleasant euphoria, having discovered a new love affair with all of creation. She developed a two to three hour interest in individual blades of grass and began to talk to them in a voice like Mr. Rodgers.

“Are you green? That’s nice. That’s the color of the teeth of the man I ate lunch with. He was nice, too. Do you like living in the forest? Do each of you have names? Would you like me to give you one?”

Joe found her a couple of hours later. It helped that she was standing on the stump and singing “Let it Go” from the movie “Frozen” at the top of her lungs. She had been dubbing her own lyrics to the song and closed with a rousing “The dirt never bothered me anyway!” In her exhilarated state she hit the final G with a strident A. It wasn’t exactly her best performance.

“Mary Beth, honey! Are you okay?”

From her high perch she looked down at him with glowing adoration. Then she reached up to the heavens and gave the sky a big hug. She hopped down and put her arms around Joe’s neck and declared emphatically, “Chill out, baby! It’s all good!”

When they got back to the campsite, Joe’s parents were waiting. All along Joe had planned for his folks to come spend three days with the girls while he and Mary Beth stayed in a Grand King Suite at the Biltmore Hotel. Daily spa packages and wine and roses dinners had all been arranged… everything except for the hot and cold running Perrier.

When they finally got back to Watervalley late Saturday night, Joe and Mary Beth each carried one of the sleeping girls up to their bed. While Joe unloaded everything from the car, Mary Beth put in play a little surprise plan of her own. She cut the thermostat down to sixty and started a small fire in the fireplace. She opened a bottle of wine and she and Joe cuddled up on the couch.

She told him how much she loved him, what a wonderful father he was, and how proud she was of him for the life he had chosen to follow. She also told him that despite the bumps, it had been a wonderful vacation and a perfect anniversary. For the longest time, they sat close and watched the fire. For them, it was a moment in heaven.

“So,” Joe finally asked. “Do you think you ever might want to go Glamping again?”

The way her adoring smile immediately deglossed from Mary Beth’s face gave him his answer.

He snickered and gave her a huge hug. Ten years of marriage had given them a lot of memories and like all couples, over the years they had developed a small secret language; private words and catch phrases that held much richer meanings that only the two of them understood. The Glamping trip had added another such phrase to their confidential lexicon. She snuggled her head next to his shoulder and they melted together, blissfully reflecting on the past week.

As they stared into the fire, Joe whispered to her in a low, sweet voice, “Chill out, baby. It’s all good!”

I’m j. high, and for now in Watervalley, that’s pretty much the high point.

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