It was 11:30 pm by the time we got to the campground. We were all tired, and all three of my younger siblings were asleep on the back seats. Riding in a car for eight hours will do that to you. But besides the traffic jam and the few more hours it added, the drive wasn’t too bad.
Pasting through trees caped in dark shadows, and over a mist filled, flat mash – ominous enough to make me shy away from the passenger window – we pulled up to the closed gates of Tomoka State Park.
I grabbed the paper plate we’d been using to write down directions and notes, and rolled out of my seat. The sound of crickets filled my ears, and warm Florida air wrapped around me while I punched in the number to the gate code.
Climbing back into the comfort of the air-conditioned van, I pressed my knees against the dashboard, folded my arms, and watched through half-closed eyes as we drove into the quiet camp.
Mom was half talking to herself about what we were looking for and where we were trying to go. I’d occasionally answer or pointing at a sign. Following a few signs, we eventually followed a wrong one, and found ourselves exactly where we started. But after a small laugh of amusement and completing the small loop again, we found the right road.
It was a small, hard-packed dirt road. On either side were small camping plots, some with tents, but most with pop-up campers, just like us.
The whole camp was asleep, the only things brightening the night were our headlight, and the occasional string of colorful lights decorating a campground.
“What number are we looking for?” I asked, scanning the little number plaques in front of each site.
“Number 45,” Mom answered, leaning over the steering wheel.
“5… 6… 7… 8…”
I started counting the numbers to myself. Meanwhile Mom commented on nice camping plots.
“That might be a nice, the one close to the water. That might be nice to stay at if we come back,” she said, looking at number 15.
Mom had been saying that about a lot of places and things, but they would have to wait for another time. Meanwhile, this tips was coming to an end. We booked the site here to have a place to crash for a couple of days while we saw my friend’s wedding, then it’d be time for the long drive home. But after nearly three full weeks in the sunshine state, and more sunscreen and hours in the car than I cared to think about, I was ready to head home to my Georgia mountains before long.
“So are we going to try setting up the camper tonight? Or just open it enough to change and sleep in tomorrow?”
We’d been talking about it on the drive, but hadn’t fully decided. Personally, I was ready to just fall asleep in my seat as soon as we parked, but I raised an eyebrow at Mom, waiting for her call. She looked at the clock on the dashboard. It was getting close to midnight.
“Probably just sleep in the car, ” she said with a sigh.
“K,” I said, and went back to scanning the site numbers.
* * *
“There it is,” I pointed to the site that had the number 45 in front of it, “and it’s right next to the bathroom, nice.”
Mom slowed down and came to a stop right before our plot, analyzing how best to maneuver our fifteen passenger van, plus the pop-up camper, into the tiny camping plot. We’d watched many camp sites go by that wouldn’t have been a problem to back into. But not this one. This one had a narrow drive-in area that was at an awkward angle. Plus, there was a small wooden fence right one the edge of the road opposite our campground. The fence was apparently serving the purpose of blocking off the tiny clearing of grass, and was only in front of our site. It couldn’t have been the worse site for us to try to pull our large van and camper into, but it defiantly wasn’t the best.
Even the camping plots on either side of us looked much more maneuverable, and they were both empty. And so I pointed this out to mom.
“Lets just pull into number 46. We’ll sleep in the van there and figure out how to get into our proper spot in the morning.”
Mom looked like she was considering it, looking from one plot to the other, elbows leaning on the steering wheel. But ultimately she said, “Let me just try and see if I can back into here first.
“Ok,” I shrugged, laid my head back on my seat, and closed my eyes.
In a half awake state, I was vaguely away of Mom trying to maneuver the van and the camp past the trees and into our tiny campground, without running into the fence.
But it wasn’t working, and after some time she had to pulled straight onto the road again.
“Just go park in number 46,” I mumbled, my feet all the way on the dashboard and my seat leaned completely back at this point.
“Alright,” she sighed, and put the van back into drive.
It didn’t take long this time. The was no fence, and the trees were pushed back a bit, giving us a little more, and much-needed, wiggle room.
With the van parked, Mom turned of the ignition, and it was immediately a little less comfortable.
We all settled down, me with my pillow, the boys crashed out somewhere in the back, and Mom had crawled back so my little sister could cuddle with her.
We tried, we really did. But it was too hot, the air was almost suffocating, and we didn’t dare open any window and risk being eaten alive by mosquitoes.
Eventually, Mom slipped away from my sleeping sister and back to the front seat. I’d caught only small glimpse of sleep, and now watched her through heavy eyelids.
“We’ll have to open the camper,” she said decidedly, “there’s no way we’ll be able to sleep in here all night.”
“Just open it here,” I said, “we’re already parked.”
“What if someone has this place booked for the morning?”
“Then they can stuff it til we move out of the way, or just tell them to take number 45.”
Mom wasn’t into the idea. I continued saying we should just open up the camper here and go to sleep. I was well beyond ready to actually be able to sleep, and the sooner the better.
Meanwhile Mom kept saying that at this different angle, she could probably make it into our camping place, number 45.
I finally shrugged and said, “Okay, you do that then,” and closed my eyes. Enjoying to air condition.
My dozing lasted for a little while, until Mom got my attention and told me to get out of the car to help her unhitch the trailer. I dragging myself from the car, accompanied by groans of reluctance, I shuffled to the back of the van.
“I’d almost got it,” Mom explained as I walked up, “but that fence is in the way so I can’t get the van back any further…. But! If we can unhitch the camper, we can roll it into place. Then I can move the van. And we’ve got a bit of a down hill here, so it shouldn’t be hard.
I raised a skeptical eyebrow, “If you say so…”
“It will work,” she insisted. So I sighed, and started helping her unhitch it.
We worked for a while trying to get the camper off the ball hitch on the van, I’d even thrown on a longer pair of pants on the keep some of the mosquitoes off. But no matter how we tried to push and pull it, we just couldn’t get it off.
Stepping back, I looked at mom. My eyes were half closed and my hands deep in my pockets, twitching my arms as mosquitoes tried to land on me.
She huffed and put her hands on her hips, “Well…” she said.
“I don’t think it’s going to work.”
“We just need to get it off of the hitch….”
“We should have stayed in number 46,” I said dryly.
Mom frowned, “Well, I guess I can try to get the van to back in more.”
“Okay,” I said, happy to get back to my comfy, cool seat in the van.
* * *
This time I actually did mange to sleep some. But it was close to 1am when Mom woke me again.
“I messed up bad,” she told me, sounding a bit frazzled.
I rubbed my eyes and pulled myself, again, from the comfort of the car, “What is it now?”
She started to explain as I followed her around the front off the car, or really, as we stepped around the fence, because the nose of the van was completely pressed against it.
“This is bad, I have it completely jack-knifed in the trees…” Mom said. And she was sure right. With the camper at on almost right-angle wedged in the trees, and the van trapped by the fence, no amount of wiggling was going to get us out of this pickle.
“Wow,” I said, hand in my pockets, “you really did get it stuck.”
“What are we going to do?” Mom said, dragging her fingers through the top of her hair, “people can’t wake up and see us like this!”
I chuckled, “Yeah, we’re a hot mess most of the time, but this is a bit much, even by our standers.”
But Mom wasn’t listening to my dry comments, she was still racking her head on how to get us out of here, set up the camper, and fall asleep on oh-so-wonder-beds.
I didn’t want be too smart-alecky, but I couldn’t help but say, in a little bit of a I-told-you-so tone, “I told you we should have stayed in site 46.”
Mom said, “Yes, we should have just stayed there. Then we would have been asleep by now and not stuck like this!”
After a few minutes of head scratching, and tired blinking on my part, Mom decided our best bet was to again try to unhitch the camper and roll it the rest of the way into the site. Meanwhile I was swatting at mosquitoes, and had to fetch one of my light, long sleeve shirts before we got started.
Even at night, Florida air was think and heavy. We had sweat on our faces as we tried all the methods we could think off; lifting it up, wiggling the position of the van, jumping on the bumper on the van while Mom tried to lift it up. Sometimes Mom would bemoan, lost for what we might do if we couldn’t get the camper off. And I, like the wonderful and supportive daughter I am, just said, “We should have stayed in 46
* * *
I paused on the bumper, wiping my forehead. In the silence the air was filled with crickets and the buzz of mosquitoes, then Mom broke it by saying, “I think we almost have it, jump again.”
I did as I was told, using my weight to rock the back of the van up and down…. up and down…. wiggle wiggle, POP!
And the camper was of the hitch.
“Woo!” I gave a little whoop of victory and hopped off the van.
“See! I told you it would work!”
“It would have been easier if we had stayed in number 46,” I said, but I was smiling.
Mom was already working on the next part of the plan, and she said as I came to stand next to her, “Now we just need to push it down there,” she pointed to the posts about ten feet away.
“Are you sure we can push it there? Couldn’t we just set up the camper here and run extension cords to it?”
“No, we can do this,” she insisted.
But she wasn’t to be swayed, and so I had no choice but to squat with her and get a good grip on the camper.
“On three,” Mom said, “One… Two… Three!” with a great heave we lifted the front of the trailer up and pushed in back a foot.
“Hey, that wasn’t so bad!” I said, straightening my back.
“I told you so,” Mom said, a look of triumph on her face, and after another push she added, “and see, if we had stayed in number 46, we couldn’t have proven to ourselves when push comes to shove, we can get ourselves out of a pickle without a man.”
I laughed, “Yeah, it just takes us a little longer, like til one in the morning! But at least we got this mother daughter bounding time.”
We joked as we slowly pushed the camper back into it’s place. I still ribbed her a bit about staying in 46, but she was just happy to have gotten unstuck.
When at last we it down to the places we needed it, Mom turned back and looked at the van.
“Oh my God I can’t believe we did it!” she laughed to herself, “I wish one of us had had the presence of mind to take a picture.”
“Why?” I asked, leaning on the van and catching my breath.
“To show them how bad it was! That was so completely stuck! They wouldn’t believe we actually got it out of there!”
“Or maybe it’s good we don’t have a picture, we can just forget this night ever happened,” I said as we started to set the camper up.
“But then we couldn’t tell people how we got out of that mess!” Mom said, who was obviously proud of herself.
“Ha, it probably would make a good story,” I said, “maybe I’ll write it up sometime.”
* * *
Setting up the camper was the smoothest part of the night. I was sticky and sweaty, and still constantly swatting at mosquitoes, but there was light, and a nice bed at the end of the tunnel.
Mom and I worked was quickly as we could, and within half an hour, it was done. At 2 o-clock int the morning the camper was plugged in, air-condition turned on, the mattresses filled up, and Mom went to wake the kids up and shuffle them to the camper.
I lay on my mattress. Victory was sweet, but not as sweet as the fact that I could finally go to sleep.
I heard the little door open and close as Mom came in with the last kid. “I can’t believe we did it,” she said, helping my little sister onto the bed.
“I know…” I said. I threw my fist lazily in the air and said, “go us!” Then rolled over and soon fell into a much deserved sleep.