[link to story posted on blog: here ]
“Aw! You wouldn’t last a day!” Jordan sneered at me. His cronies stood crowded behind him laughing along.
I stood facing him in my front door, arms crossed, feet planted firmly, eyebrows raised threateningly. “If you’re so sure,” I taunted, “then you won’t mind me tagging along, will you?”
I desperately tried to hide a smile.
I desperately tried to hide a smile.
Jordan’s face blanched a little, but Kyle didn’t see. “Why not? We’ll see if she can even carry everything she packs. Ha!”
“Fine.” Jordan spat. “But remember, we aren’t babying you, ok? You’re carrying your own stuff, and we won’t be walking you back home when you’re scared. We’re leaving at 9--sharp.”
“Well, thank you!” I breathed. “I wouldn’t want to be such a burden.” My sarcasm barely touched them. Rolling my eyes, I turned back inside to begin packing.
Camping! I’d loved camping ever since I was a child. Papa would convince Mamma to let me go with him on small hunting trips or even sometimes when he got an odd job in the next town over. Mamma would usually give when she saw my excitement, worry-wort though she was. Papa would help me pack as little as I could and load me up so I could carry it. I smiled as I pictured my little four-year-old self with a pack almost as big as herself piled upon her back, trundling and skipping alongside Papa down the trail. I walked to my room and opened the closet with Papa’s camping supplies I managed to sneak away before Mamma burned them all. Everything was placed neatly on the shelf: a tarp, blanket, rope, a few clothespins, and Papa’s long hunting knife. I pulled them down and rolled them up inside the tarp to make my bundle, adding a change of clothes. Leaving the roll on my bed, I returned to the kitchen where I found the small camping pot Papa would carry in the back corner of the bottom cabinet. I had convinced Mamma to let us keep it since it was small and could be useful for sauces. From the basket on the counter, I grabbed an onion, two carrots, two potatoes, and a few small turnips and put them on a large dishcloth. Carefully pinching the stems, I added some parsley, rosemary, and basil to the pile and then filled two small jars with salt and pepper. Then, I filled a flour sack the size of my hand with some barley. As I gathered the food supplies, I could hear Papa’s voice telling me how we would find water and meat for supper.
“We’ll find a nice camp site near a stream and forest, and then we can make a delicious soup. We’ll set these traps up in the forest to catch some small meat like squirrel or rabbit. While our water is heating over the fire, I’ll prepare the meat, and you can start cutting the vegetables. It will all cook together for a bit and then we’ll have a nice warm supper to eat.”
I reminisced as I packed, being careful not to disturb Mamma’s rest. Ever since Papa’s death, she was ailing. It was so sudden that I don’t think she ever recovered from the shock. Were it not for her health, I probably would have done the same; nevertheless, someone had to take care of her. She took to her bed and would stare out the window. I think she was waiting for Papa to return. Now, she hated the mention of camping since he loved it so much. Papa had grown up in a caravan, so he often grew tired of staying in one place. But Mamma was a home-body; she was firm about making a house a home, and “you can only do that if you stay in one place.” He retaliated by taking jobs in other towns so he could travel. He would be back in two weeks at most, usually only one, depending on how long it took to make repairs or build a house.
I left a soup on the stove and told her I would be back in a few days: I had a job in the next town over. As much as it hurt to tell a lie, I didn’t want to hurt Mamma more than I had to. Seeing her vacant face, I resolved to ask our neighbor to look in on her.
With my small pack on my, Papa’s hunting knife on my belt (hidden of course), and my walking stick in my hand, I walked to the meeting place the boys had arranged. I almost laughed out loud when I saw the size of the boys’ packs. Poor Liam was the pack-mule and was loaded down with so much stuff he could barely walk. When they saw my pack, they were stunned.
“How much longer until we start? I want to get there early.” I asked
We were soon on our way, very slowly due to their heavy loads. Before an hour was out, they boys were exhausted, but, seeing my energy, they pushed themselves. At noon we stopped for lunch. I snacked on a few biscuits and an apple and sat down; I was ignored. I simply listened in on their conversations and mentally corrected their stupidity. They were privileged, had never seen hardship, and thought they knew everything. Papa only made enough money to pay for what we needed and very few frivolities. When Papa died and I became the sole provider for the family, we had even less. Any meat we ate came from the snares I set in the forest behind the house. I managed to keep a small garden of vegetables, and rationed the flour and oats I bought occasionally. I had almost stopped growing, so clothes were not a problem; when I did need new clothes, I learned to take in Mamma’s old clothes. I had learned a lot from hardship, lessons that cannot be learnt from books.
It was already three o’clock by the time we reached our camp site. The boys had chosen an area perfect for camping: close to a forest and a bubbling stream, just what Papa always suggested. I knew if I wanted meat for supper I would need to set my traps and snares immediately. I dropped my bundle near the trees where I wanted to sleep and started into the forest.
“I’ll be back soon!” I shouted to whoever would hear me, which was probably only the animals.
After my traps were set, I returned to set up camp. It didn’t look as if it would rain, so I spread my tarp on the ground and put a blanket on top. It was warm, so I would probably be able to just use my cloak as an over-blanket for the night. I went down to the stream, washed the vegetables, and filled my small pot, then, once I returned, began a fire. I figured I should probably check my traps by then.
“If I’m not back in an hour, you can come looking for me.” Once again, I doubted anyone had listened.
I found a rabbit caught in my first snare; he was still alive. Kneeling down, I petted him under the chin until he died. I hated fining them still alive; I hated the thought of killing an innocent animal. Still, I knew it was only the way of life. After gathering the rest of my kill -- one more rabbit and a squirrel -- I skinned and cleaned them. By the time I got back to camp, the boys had begun to think about going after me. Maybe they’re not as bad as I thought . I considered. Of course, I didn’t show it…
My stew turned out delicious, even the boys agreed. In fact, there was none left. The boys had made a large bonfire and, after tasting my stew, had invited me to join them around it for toasted cheese. I offered up the squirrel I had saved, but they refused, looking at it in disgust. Shrugging my shoulders, I cut the squirrel into small chunks and began toasting it with some cheese. Night fell: the sky was clear, and millions of stars sparkled in the sky while the moon shone resiliently, casting a mystical aura on the camp site. I soon retired to my pallet to take in the beauty of the night. Although Mamma did not like camping, she did always enjoy siting outside on a clear night to star gaze. When I was younger, we would lay a blanket on the ground, and she and Papa would point out the constellations and stars. Even after I was sent to bed, Mamma and Papa would stay out gazing. I would occasionally hear Mamma telling Papa about a particular star or constellation. Being the curious child I was, I would sneak out to the window and look out on them. Papa would simply listen to Mama and smile. He once told me it was hearing her tell a story to some children that he first fell in love with her. “First?” I asked him. “Oh yes, small one. I fall in love with your mother every time I see her, every time I hear her voice, every time I think of her. That’s the beauty of true love: you never stop and it never leaves you.” I fell asleep gazing at the stars and dreamt of Papa’s kind of love.
updated by @grace-brown: 01/28/16 10:11:02PM