On Campobello with Teen-Aged Heathens
Garrison Keillor, in his 1989 book We Are Still Married, tells a story of driving down the Pacific Coast with his extended family. His then-step-daughter, a girl of a certain teen age, he calls Marilyn Monroe, for her star turn: she doesn’t, obviously, belong with these people; they can’t possibly understand her; she’d rather be anywhere but there, on that family vacation, with them.
I thought of this frequently during this summer’s camping trip to Herring Cove Provincial Park on Campobello, our fifteenth annual. Long before we packed up to go, my youngest heathen, now 14, announced that she hated camping. She hated hiking. She hated the outdoors. She hated nature. She hated trees. (How can anyone hate trees?) In short, she didn’t want to go–her attendance at this yearly ritual was purely on sufferance, and we all would suffer.
But it’s been fifteen years. We first went to Campobello the summer before she was born. She’s practically grown up half-native to that island in the Bay of Fundy. Quite frankly–and her older brother seems to understand this–this trip is for me. It’s a couple of days or a week when we get to go up and huddle in a tent under the world’s largest tarp and be together. We hike. We go down to the beach. We find sea glass. We scramble out to Head Harbor Light at low tide. We walk through the Roosevelt cottage (“stupid historical house”). We visit with people we’ve come to know over the past fifteen years, people who count coming to the park as a tradition, just as I do. I enjoy this. Everyplace we go, everything we do–now it’s part of a sort of pentimento: I see the kids in layers, their younger selves below the older selves, against the backdrop of the island.
To avoid the worst of the suffering, we took along this year a boy who has been Rosalie’s friend since pre-kindergarten, for whom all of the island was brand new. Jeff likes trees. And is a born comedian with his own tent and his own passport. For the most part, he kept Rosalie occupied and laughing, which meant our suffering was not quite as bad as it might have been. He made friends with our friend Darryl the Park Ranger Guy, with whom he shared a passion for George Jones and “The Dukes of Hazzard.” He didn’t seem to mind his tent being situated on an incline, so he could sleep, he said, with his head elevated: it was good for him, he announced. Jeff even had waterproof clothes–his “honkey-tonk suit,” the waterproof qualities of which he demonstrated with any number of liquids. Rosalie introduced him to the joys of Nutella, and he spent five days inventing new taste sensations–Nutella cherries appeared to be the winner, though Nutella s’mores came in a close second.
On our last night before coming home, the park personnel threw “Halloween at the Campground,” with costumes, site decoration, and trick-or-treating. My sister and I stayed safely in our campsite up in the woods at the end of the park loop, while Darryl took the three heathens on the Gator to be judges. Every once in a while they’d zip past and yell at us —Look! We have the costume winners!–but mostly we were left in peace. However, we got about half a cord of complimentary dry firewood for the site because of their volunteer efforts (Jeff was all gung-ho, and he managed to drag the other two along with his enthusiasm), so Susie and I had the best campfire ever. Then the boys went off with Darryl to watch “The Dukes of Hazzard” and Rosalie came back to read about Genghis Khan by flashlight–because there were still lines to be drawn, and she drew one at “The Dukes of Hazzard,” no matter how hard Jeff tried to convince her of the show’s cultural importance.
Jeff couldn’t get Rosalie to like George Jones, either. Nor Tom T. Hall, no matter how much he sang to us all. But he did get into the picture I take every year of the heathens on the front porch of the Roosevelt House.
Ironically (and apropos of absolutely nothing), the year after publication of We Are Still Married,Garrison Keillor and his second wife divorced.