Stranded, a Story.

This is a longer story than usual, but one I wanted to write down for the records…

A couple years ago my family got to experience the strange and horrible feeling of being being stranded in a strange place with nowhere to go. 

We had an old 15 passenger van which was, admittedly, near the end of its life. We thought we had figured out the ONE magical part that needed to be fixed in order to keep the van running. Alas.. we were wrong. After spending a month in Maine with my inlaws, we were traveling back to Tennessee with a trailer towing behind us, holding all our bikes and camping gear and canoes. We had our dog with us as well. 

Somewhere in Massachusetts, on the turnpike, our van gave it’s last breath and died. We were very close to a rest area and were able to coast into the rest area parking lot. I spent the next eight hours trying to keep 9 children happy (this was before Noah came along). Andy worked on the van doing everything he knew to try. Evening was coming and we realized the van wasn’t going to get fixed. We needed to go somewhere. Unfortunately, transportation was a real issue. A tow truck would not transport a family of eleven. Taxis would not transport a family of eleven, we would have to split our group up. At that point in time, our oldest child was only fourteen. There was no way we were going to send a taxi load of our children off by themselves when we didn’t even really know where we were. I got on my phone and looked at the map, found the next town on the turnpike and then started looking up hotels. I found a motel that was offering cheap rooms. Since we had our dog with us, we had already decided that my husband would get a tow truck and go with the van and our dog and just sleep in the van, and our oldest son elected to stay with him. So, it was me and eight children who needed a room. I called the motel and explained the situation and asked if it was possible for me to get one room for me and my children since I was the only adult and I didn’t want to put my little kids in a room by themselves. The lady on the phone said, yes, of course. I got the address of the motel. Now we just had to figure out how to get there.

Andy came over just then and said he thought he had a ride for us. Apparently two police officers had pulled in to the rest area. They were driving a prison transport van which was empty. My husband approached them and explained our situation and asked if they could help us with a ride. They were surprised at the request, but talked it over and said, yes, they could do this for us. So, we grabbed a couple bags of clothes and diapers and I put the baby in my carrier and got into the back of a prison transport van with my children. Lots of nervous laughter. I exchanged a panicked look with my husband. All we had to keep us connected now were our phones. I had no idea where I was and he wasn’t sure what town the tow truck was going to take our van. We trusted that somehow we would reconnect the next day. 

By the time we got to the motel it was dark. My kids were tired and traumatized and I was being brisk and efficient, trying to exude an air of confidence as I ushered all my kids into the foyer to check in. In the foyer there was a large statue of Buddha with incense burning. My kids had lots of questions about that and I was stressed, trying to keep them quiet, hoping they wouldn’t inadvertently ask an offensive question. I spoke to the lady at the desk and told her I was the woman who had just called her. 

She looked at my group and said, 

Two rooms. You have to get two rooms. 

I gave up arguing and said, Fine, do you have two rooms that are right next to each other? 

Yes, of course. 

I pulled out my bank card and gave it to her. She ran it and then came back to me. 

Your card has been denied. 

WHAT??

I knew that I had a large chunk of money in my bank. I pulled up my banking app, just to verify. Yep. There is definitely money in this account. I asked her to run it again. 

Your card has been denied. 

Ok. Regroup. I walked over to the side and called my husband. I quickly explained what was going on. Ok. He said, here, right down my card number, have them use my card. 

I did so and gave the new card number to the lady who was starting to look suspicious. 

This card has been denied. 

WHAT!!!!!!!!

The lady then said, there is an atm machine across the street in the little strip mall. Go take out cash. 

I counted up the cash I was traveling with. I was ten dollars short of being able to pay for the rooms in cash. I gathered up the kids who were now in a full-blown panic. Keep it together. Keep it together. Lord help. 

I was carrying  the baby and we put the next youngest in the little umbrella stroller we had brought. My oldest picked up the next youngest child and then the other older daughters helped the other boys walk, as they were all falling asleep on their feet. By now it was close to eleven pm. We crossed a little road and approached the bank. I tried the atm machine. My card was denied. Apparently something had triggered a security lock-down on my card. (Personally, I think it was the motel, it was a rather shady establishment.)It was the weekend and late at night so I couldn’t contact my bank. I pulled all the kids in a huddle and had them sit down on the sidewalk in front of the bank. The bank was well-lit, I was pretty sure there would be security cameras around as there was a 24hr atm machine. It seemed like the safest place to stay for the moment.

 I called my husband again. Explaining in an even voice the situation,  but I know that the fear I was feeling was coming through loud and clear to him. He said he was still waiting on the tow truck to come. I told him exactly where I was and he said he would just have the tow truck bring the van to where I was. We would sleep in the van in the parking lot. At least we would be all together. I sighed a big breath of relief. It was very scary to be doing all this without him. 

I sat down with the kids and tried to quiet them and reassure them. One of my little boys started crying. I held him and rocked him, continuing my silent prayer that hadn’t stopped since our van first broke down. 

Just then a fancy little car pulled up in front of the bank. A well-dressed, middle-aged man hopped out of his car and walked towards the atm machine. I tried to look like it was very normal for a woman to be sitting on the sidewalk with eight children in the middle of the night. He glanced my way and kind of winced and then kept walking. He used the atm machine and then walked over to us. Here, he said, and thrust four dollars into my hands, and then quickly got in his car and drove off. 

Now, I must admit, I wasn’t feeling very thankful for this bit of charity. 

Four dollars. Really?? How is this supposed to help??? 

The kids were very curious as to why a stranger had given us some money. I tried to explain that he obviously thought we needed help and so he tried to help.

How is four dollars supposed to help us mom? Umm. I’m not sure. I guess it’s the thought that counts?

Then my phone rang. It was my mother-in-law. We had been on the phone off and on with them, keeping them updated to our situation. I explained how my bank card was not working at all and she told me she would like me to try her credit card. She gave me the number and I said I would let her know if it worked. I called my husband and gave him a quick update and then me and my older daughters gathered up the sleeping children again and we made our way back to the motel. 

I patiently explained to the suspicious lady at the desk that my mother-in-law had offered to pay for the rooms and I had her credit card number. This time it worked and the lady begrudgingly showed us to our two rooms. The two rooms were not next to each other. They were several rooms apart. I smiled politely, thanked her, and waited till she had walked back to her office, and then ushered all my children into one room. No way was I splitting us up. 

The kids were so exhausted it only took minutes for them to fall asleep, spread over the two beds and on the floor. I sat there and waited till they were all resting and then called my husband again. I told him where we were. He said that the tow truck was towing them to the same town and according the maps, it was only about two miles away. He said that when he got the van settled at the auto repair shop, he and our son would leave the dog in the car and walk to the motel so we could be together. Big sigh of relief. 

I decided to jump into the shower before I went to bed. I entered the bathroom and immediately started hearing screaming from the next room over. There were some large crashes and more yelling. Something thumped into the wall of the bathroom. I continued my day-long prayer. Lord, whatever this altercation is about, please don’t let them start shooting off guns. 

I sat up another hour until finally I heard a quiet knock. I walked over to the door and removed the chairs I had stacked up in front of it (since it was a super-flimsy door without a proper security lock) and let my husband and son in. They were exhausted. They had just walked about two miles and it was now closer to 2am. I handed him the key to the other room since this room was literally overflowing with children. We hugged briefly, clinging to each other, then they went to the other room to sleep. I laid down, feeling peace now that our family was all in one place, and went to sleep. 

The next day my husband left early to go back to the garage to check on our dog and figure some things out. I got the kids up and dressed. We walked back over to the strip mall where I had noticed a small grocery store. I bought some food for the day and we walked back to the motel to eat. The room had a tv but it only got one channel. The room we were staying in was playing JAWS the movie. Not exactly what I wanted to entertain my children. The kids got the bright idea to check the other motel room we had paid for, maybe that tv was showing something different? It was! A western. Fun.

A little later my husband showed up. He and my son were both on bikes towing bike trailers. In one bike trailer was our dog and then the other bike trailer was just full of bikes and bike helmets. Well. This is an interesting solution. My husband and I and five of our children rode bikes while the other five rode in the bike trailers and the dog ran alongside us. The motel owner and his wife came out into the parking lot to see the spectacle. They seemed surprised to see that my story of a broken down car was actually true. 

To make a very long story shorter…We finally ended up riding our bikes to a Jellystone Campground (great place!). The mechanics from the garage were willing to tow our trailer to the campground and so we had all of our camping gear and were able to set up camp. The van was declared unfixable and we spent a week trying to figure out how to get home. Finally my inlaws decided to buy us a van and drove it down from Maine for us. (A super blessing we can’t begin to express our thankfulness for.)

It was a crazy time. My kids were amazing. I was determined to keep our attitudes positive and made it a requirement that everyone list off things they were thankful for every time the mood started getting sourl. The kids managed to relax a little and enjoy the time at the campground. We called some friends from our church and they got on the phone and helped with paying for the campground and even arranged for a nearby church to bring us a hot cooked meal. God provided for us in miraculous ways. 

I can’t imagine going through life without God. His peace is what carried me through that time. 

 

Passing On the Family Heritage

Camping is in my blood.

Now when I say that, I don’t mean that I’m obsessed with camping and just want to go all the time. No, what I mean is that from my earliest memories, my parents dragged me along on camping trips until it became embedded in who I was.

My earliest memories of camping are when I was somewhere around 4 years old. We lived in the North of Haiti and I remember my parents loading my brother and I along with a ton of luggage, into our old, unreliable Peugot station wagon. We traveled about 12 hours down to the South of Haiti, up into the mountains. I remember heat, dust, throwing up from car-sickness, my mom singing songs from the Sound of Music to entertain us, chewing on minty gum that we bought from a street vendor. I also remember that we got to our destination late at night, that it rained, the tent leaked, all our belongings got wet, it was a lot colder in the mountains than my parents were anticipating so we were freezing, and my brother and I ended up sleeping in the car because it was the only dry, warmish place. That was just the first night of camping. I think it improved after that. Not sure. Maybe. I also remember picking blackberries, exploring a large fog-filled meadow, and fighting with my brother over who got to be in the hammock that my dad had strung up. Every year that we lived in Haiti my parents would insist on going camping in the Southern Mountains. It was their vacation and they were/are adventurous people. They also loved that part of Haiti and dreamed of working there.

The five years that we lived in Kentucky my mother was in school and life was busy. I don’t think we did any camping during that time, but we spent lots of time at the lake or visiting the nearby Carter Caves or the Natural Bridge. We also squeezed in a trip to Niagara Falls and a trip out West and saw the Grand Canyon. Not camping, but definitely forays into nature.

When we moved to Alaska, when I was 15, camping became a regular way of life during the summer. We would load up into our boat, head up the Kuskokwim River and go for hours until we found a likely spot on the river bank and then we’d stop, spend more hours setting up camp, and then sit around the fire, roasting sausages and marshmallows, drinking tea. My dad would go fishing and we would eat whatever he caught. It was a time of rest and relaxation. And mosquitoes. (Pictures of Alaska are beautiful, but that’s just because they photo-shopped out all the giant mosquitoes making black dots on the picture.)

Later, when my husband and I were living in Chile with our first two babies, my parents came and visited, and what did we do? We went camping in the Andes. My dad and my husband went off to hike Mt Picazo (Same name as my maiden name, my dad felt a connection, wanted to hike it). My mom and I and my two babies stayed in a campground. (We didn’t feel the same connection and were quite content to stay behind with the babies). The two main memories that stand out to me was first, our tent site was on a side of hill which meant that by morning, we had all rolled to the bottom of the tent and were effectively squishing each other, and second, the very friendly owner of the campground explained to me the secret to cooking good pasta: get a really big pot with lots of water so that the pasta has room to cook and doesn’t stick to each other. (I have always remembered this, but I never seem to have a big enough pot handy, so I still deal with clumpy pasta.)

Nowadays,  I would tell you that my idea of getting out in nature is to rent a cabin in the mountains and sit on the deck and enjoy the view.  Alas, I married a boy scout. My husband’s idea of getting out in nature is to get a pack and go off and do a section of the Appalachian Trail. He knows all about wilderness survival and gets out camping/hiking/canoeing any chance he can get. We went camping on our honeymoon. Any time we travel long distances we camp. If we are going to do something fun as a family, it’s probably going to be camping. Still not my favorite thing to do. But it’s in my blood. I feel duty bound to pass this on to my children, it’s part of their heritage. And so I go camping. And if my kids complain, I take on the role of cheerful optimist who thinks that hanging out in a tent with 7 children because it’s raining outside is FUN! Going to the bathroom in the bushes is CHARACTER-BUILDING! Fighting your way through swarms of mosquitoes….well, even I can’t think of a positive statement for that.

Here’s the funny thing though. We went camping this past weekend. Primitive, out in the middle of nowhere camping. We got there by canoe. Took 7 children with us. You know what? I actually had a lot of fun. I loved being outside. I loved seeing the beautiful lake and mountains and streams and forests. I loved cooking over the campfire. Ok, I still just endured using the bathroom in the bushes, but does anyone love that? It was a wonderful experience. I especially loved watching my kids have fun, watching my husband teach them how to cook a simple campfire meal, watching him teach them about “Leave no Trace”. I loved seeing my 7 yr old daughter get her tent and pitch it all by herself. I loved watching my oldest daughter as she paddled our canoe diligently with me across the lake. I loved watching my sons get excited about all the different animal tracks they found. I loved watching my two youngest just run around the camp, so excited to be outdoors for such a long period of time. This camping thing is a bit of a crazy heritage, doesn’t exactly fit my personality, but I’m learning to appreciate it.  And I’m learning the joy of passing it on to the next generation.

canoetrip