The Camper

When I was seven or eight years old we had already travelled quite bit around the Chicagoland and Lake Geneva area, camping with a pop-up camper attached to my Dad's Dodge van. We had such a fun time camping and hiking and have many stories to tell. This is one of the early ones.

It was the end of another happy vacation and we were on our way home. My parents were in front, my Dad driving along the expressway not knowing what I had in store for him. My Mom was sitting next to him in the "co-pilot seat" that we all wanted desperately to claim as the high point of status in our childhood years. The sole higher eschelon of status was to actually sit in our Dad's lap and steer the vehicle "home".

We sat in the next two rows of seats, quietly reading comic books or story books. I must have read my Donald Duck comic three or four times over, so I was looking for something exciting to end the trip. And then in the recesses of my prepubescent mind, an idea began to form. I started to chuckle already, thinking that I really had a winner here.

My sister Gina, who was no more than five looked over to see what was so funny. I leaned over and whispered to my co-conspirator. Between giggles, I told her what I was going to do. She giggled with me, however she must have been wiser than I was because she said "Maybe you shouldn't. You might get in trouble!"

Trouble! What was trouble when the possibility for fun and excitement was at hand? If I pull this off, I'll get one-up on Dad and maybe even my brother Nick would think it was high comedy. No, I was determined to take hold of the moment and step into the spotlight.

A little nervous, I glanced back to look out of the back windows. Through the double doors of the Dodge van, I could see the pop-up camper trudging behind faithfully as we sped down the highway at 60 miles per hour. The sun glinted off of its fiberglass top. This was the moment. I swallowed carefully and took a deep breath.

I let it out with all the force my body could muster. "DAD! THE CAMPER'S GONE!"

There was a brief moment when all time stopped and I could see my Dad's terrified grimace as he slowed our van down and pulled over to the side of the road. We were all jostled like astronauts heading for splashdown. I grabbed onto the armrest, my grin plastered to my face, still thinking what a good joke this was. I could hear the squeal of the tires as we came abruptly to a stop.

The whine of the other cars whizzing past us was the only sound we heard for a few moments as my Dad tore his fingers off of the steering wheel. He looked at each one of us to see if we were alright and then he looked at me, still confused but at this moment not realizing the cruel trick I had pulled.

He looked through the windows and saw that the camper was STILL THERE. Astonished, he looked at me and all the panic and fury bore down on me as he asked me and all of the universe "It's not gone! Why'd you say that, Dan?!"

In that moment, I probably could have said any excuse and made up for it. We were safe, the vehicles were safe and after a short trip home my parents could both change their underwear. I'm sure I could have thought up any number of reasons. The sun was in my eyes. I panicked. I really thought it was gone.

Yet my parents had raised me to tell the truth and that's just what I did.

"I just wanted to see what you would do."

My mother saved my life at that point, urging my father not to kill me and instead to get back on the road and start driving home. A soliloquy of swearing followed us home like a demonic soundtrack punctuated by my name at various points. As a harmony, my mother's soothing voice interjected at times to enable my dad to stay seated and not strap me to the top of the camper for the rest of the journey home.

To be honest, there was so much to do once we got there that all of my father's anger was directed at unloading the camper and unpacking. By the time he actually got to speaking with me without swearing, telling me how foolish this had been, I had learned the lesson many times over, as well as many other words that I had never heard before.

To this day, I know that curious children are far more dangerous than malicious children, which is why I know that I am doomed. I know that I will not have malicious, cruel children, but rather curious children who will always be wondering "I just wanted to see what you would do."





@ 2005 Dan Speziale