Gallivanting through the campground with my prized Christmas ice skates slung around my neck seemed perfectly reasonable. We were allowed to bring only one treasure each. Us in our sandy wet sneakers, bedding down in grassy sleeping bags, savouring fire-charred wieners and daylily friendships that bloom in morning light only to wither by sundown. Dad strumming us to the stars his idol, Hank Snow, reached not long before him, my twin older brothers’ breaking voices harmonizing along. Mom, my little sister and me trudging down to the shower house together, my sister spouting about the row of cubicles: “Hey! This is fun! We can talk to each other while we shower!” The bewildered quiet from her stall that first day when I shouted, who cares, just shutup, wouldja? Letting her baby babble course over me along with the warm water after that, somehow, made everything seem better.
Still, our parents claim that some kids hadn’t a crust of bread between them fast lost ground. We stopped complaining of missing our friends and Sunday pot roast. I watched my brothers over plates of beans, the aroma of grilling steak tormenting us, their spoons shoveling like prisoners in a movie. They swam in the lake and reread faded comic books and even helped us stage plays or talent shows in the sheltered picnic platform by the lake. Mostly, they were still like their Beatles albums and record player. I studied the lake often, equally dreading and dreaming of the surface icing over.
Newcomers revived us, some joining our father to play guitar around the campfire while we all sang loud and playful, our Mom carefree on summer vacation like other mothers laughing boisterously about the challenges of running “make-do households.” Me befriending girls with bikes who made me believe myself when I said I, too, loved camping so much, I could camp forever and never go home. My brothers teaming up with new pals to play volleyball or lounging on the dock to drool over bikinied girls and shiny boats.
Seeing those same friendly faces alter when they took another look at us and our campsite, erected since June with school soon starting. The awkwardness suspending all of us, even those free to return home to a life they no longer wished to share. A collective breath-holding where I feared them clamming up, taking away all the hope they’d given us, right along with them back to their houses with soft beds, lemon-scented polish and frilly white curtains.
Hearing the voice of a solitary angel stave off all the murmurs in the stiff, uncertain air. My little sisters face steady against flickering firelight, her doll safely in hand while she piped up, showing the way, uniting us all in laughter one night by announcing with a genuine pride no one dared argue: this is our real house.