From Tennessee we head toward the Ozarks and our proposed rendezvous with the crew. We reach the legendary Mississippi River on a smaller backroad to find the bridge washed out, the ferry to replace it inoperable and the children terribly disappointed. I try the “pioneer family” excuse. “We’re on an adventure and we never know what we’ll discover,” as we retrace our steps. Not far ahead the kids see the ferry and their spirits return. Though the crossing is neither mighty nor majestic, just muddy, the Mississippi still possesses powerful magic aboard our rickety little ferry.
We climb into the Ozarks and begin looking for the closest national forest or park to set up camp. According to our road atlas there are none nearby and it’s getting late. A billboard flashes past “Camp In Comfort With Us”. Ray falls for it and turns in. The kids cheer. I balk at the ugliness and expense of a commercial campground. I lose. We pull in amidst big intrusive signs on all sides: ‘Wood $1 An Armload’, ‘Build No Open Fires’, ‘Guest Fee – $1 A Piece’ and the piece de resistance ‘NO MOSQUITOES’. Why the capital letters? Sure sounds fishy to me. I ask the manager who assures us there are no mosquitoes. We’re already in so we proceed to our designated site, at least a mile from all facilities. Since this is a one-night-stand we decide to spend our first night in the van, customized to sleep all four of us, instead of putting up the tent. While I make a quick spaghetti dinner, Ray sets up the beds: Two foam pads sit atop our single bed-sized storage area, one for me, and one pad to be placed on the floor at night for Ray and our dog Kobi. Scooter gets the backseat because he’s bigger and Nicole, the front, the cooler with a pillow on top fills the gap between the two seats. Curtains cover all the windows at night including a removable model for the windshield. Very snug. After looking at the cramped accommodations, Since there are no mosquitoes, Ray decides to sleep out under the stars on the picnic table. After dinner I clean off the table while Ray takes the kids to the bathroom. Nicole is thrilled with the real flushing toilet and the hot shower. For the first time, they’re eager to get to bed in their cool new bedroom. As darkness falls the mosquitoes descend. We sit around our ‘enclosed’ fire listening to the children fight and complain about the bugs. Scooter finally dozes off in utter exhaustion, but Nicole’s our bug freak. She continues whining and complaining about the “buggies” biting. Several applications of repellent do nothing other than get in her eyes, raising the level of her crying by several octaves and decibels. I close all the windows and she finally falls asleep in the stifling heat.
I’m exhausted and escape to the lake for a silent cry, except for the motorboats tearing up and down looking for good night-fishing holes. My idea of being a footloose carefree hippie didn’t include the enormous struggle involved in taking a young family of four along on my dream of “Being Here Now”.
I give up and drag off to bed, slipping past Ray outside on the hard picnic table slapping, spraying repellent and emitting his signature curses “Goddamnit! Fuckin mosquitoes!” that the children have sprinkled liberally through their vocabulary, and use most appropriately. Ray finally gives up and stuffs himself into the stifling van with the rest us. The last window is shut, the last piece of clothing is removed and I lie awake listening to the buzzing mosquitoes until the break of dawn.