By James Swickard
It was a day most any RVer who is worth his salt would recognize. Six hours on the road, assuming the word “road” is accepted as valid terminology for lanes, rutted trails and cow paths. We had reached the ends of our proverbial ropes, maybe even at the end of the earth as we know it. Our patience was worn to the quick and we were desperately in need of a campsite for the night.
This day had started to go bad early on, apparently preparing to punish us for ALL of our past sins, with what appeared to be a simple construction detour. A few detours later we hit the mother lode of detours. While our trusty Garmin GPS screamed in disagreement with the occasional detour signs, those of which were still standing, we were treated to what might pass as a history lesson into the development of homo sapiens, some of whom were into the rudiments of early language capability. Our questions regarding how to find a campground back in this wilderness were met with implicit directions toward landmarks like “the holler,” “Jones’ barn,” “Johnson crick,” and “the cornfield.”
“W___y’s C__pg ____d”
God, or maybe someone masquerading as Him, must have been feeling sorry for us because we finally spotted the remains of a sign mostly hidden by blackberry brambles, with the letters “W___y’s C__pg ____d” all standing out in bold black letters on a board inconveniently black by decades of exposure to Appalachian weather. After guessing what letters might fill in the blank spaces, we warily made the turn towards where the arrow pointed. As they say, “Any port in a storm.” We were about to learn just how inclusive the word “any” might end up as we wound up and down dark mountain passages on a narrow path among towering oaks.
A faint voice was emitting from the Garmin, so I asked my dearly beloved to turn up the volume. “… thy Kingdom come, thy will be done ….” Good grief! Even our GPS was saying the Lord’s Prayer. Do omens ever get scarier than that?
Finally in view, the campground office was a small building whose size and shape might have suggested a different function had it had a crescent moon carved into the door. As I swung open the sagging screen door on its one remaining hinge, it squalled like a Banshee having a molar pulled without the benefit of anesthesia. A huge bewhiskered man, apparently awakened by the noise, rose up from behind a rusty pot-bellied stove.
What have I got? Did I look pale, or diseased, or something else? Did I limp while walking in here? I gave him my best puzzled look, which he seemed to comprehend.
Ahh, he wants to know what kind of RV I have. “A 34-foot class A diesel pusher,” I quickly replied.
“Ah got a nice spot which’ll fit ya jus’ fighn.” He turned towards an open window behind him. “Ma, mark this here feller down for number 17.”
With a look of pure satisfaction, he turned back towards me, pausing in mid-stroke to spit a wad of brown juice towards an empty coffee can in the corner. “At’ll be thirteen dollars and thirty-seven cents, preferably in tens and twenties.” His ample belly rolled up and down the front of his bib overalls as he chortled at his little joke.
“This site has electric and water hookups, doesn’t it?” I calmly asked.
His demeanor instantly turned sour. “Good gosh all mighty, Bub. Ya think ah’m a min’ reader?” Another turn towards the rear window. “Ma, scratch that’n. This here feller’s hav’n a bit of o’ hard time makin’ up his myhnd.”
“OK, Mister Big Shot, I’ll put ya on number nighn. Tha’s one of our bes’ spots. Ya goin’ t’ have t’ be careful tho’. Pull on up pas’ it at a bit of an angle, and back in ‘tween the big boulder on yer riot and the big ol’ oak on yer left. Give ya ‘bout a 2-inch clearance on each side. Might have to swing yer mirrors in a mite, too. Oughta be easy for a ‘sperienced feller like you.”
As I waited for some further instructions, I heard the screen door scream again, and Jen, my wife, squeezed in beside me. “You’ve been in here a long time. Do they have a site for us?”
“Thet yore lady, Bub?” came the voice from behind the stove.
“This is my wife, Jen,” I replied, although I questioned if he really needed to know.
“Purty lil thang. Sure see why ya married ‘er. Reminds me o’ a feller what come in here a couple years ago; had his own purty lady what looked almost zaclly like you’rn. Pullin’ a real ol’ Airstream. Anyway, this purty lil thang starts sweet talkin’ me a bit, an’ she says…”
Jen is pretty quick on recognizing a storyteller, and she wasn’t about to let this one build up a head of steam. “Excuse me, Sir. I hate to interrupt, but the sun’s starting to set, and we really need to get set up while there’s some daylight.”
‘Ah’m plum sorry, little lady. Yer riot. Besides, looks like it might start rainin’ purdy soon. Y’all go and get set up, then come back in th’ mornin’ an’ I’ll tell ya ‘bout the Airstream guy’s lady. Mah authoritis done been actin’ up a bit, so ah cain’t take ya out ther, but jus’ look for the big rock.”
I needed a whole lot more information than that. “It looks like there’s a lot of big rocks around here. How will we recognize this one?” I asked.
“Easy-peasy, Bub. Som’ne done painted a skull and crossbones on it.”
“Between a tree and a hard place”
Oh, Lord. Here we are, miles from civilization, it’s getting dark, it’s about ready to rain, we have to look for a site between a tree and a hard place, and the rock has a skull and crossbones painted on it. Could it get any worse?
We no more than left the confines of the office when the sky opened up with a downpour. Black clouds were hastening the oncoming darkness, with only repeated brilliant flashes of lightning offering much illumination.
The big rock with a skull and crossbones was indeed obvious. Splotches of algae seemed to pick up a reddish glow from the lightning flashes, looking almost like fresh blood. I tried to ignore all the omens.
Jen and I had worked as an efficient RV parking team for a lot of years. I knew all her hand signals, including you-know-what. Unfortunately, with her bundled in a dark raincoat in the middle of a downpour, she was almost invisible in my rearview mirrors. Numerous times she yelled a panic-driven “STOP!!!” I would get out and inspect the latest potential meeting between our coach and Mother Nature. Finally, thinking we were almost in place, we found our rear duals sinking in gooey red muck such that every fraction of an inch deeper into the mire leaned the edge of the motorhome’s roof closer to an already imperceptible gap between it and a huge oak.
Exasperated beyond caring, we mutually agreed “the hell with it.” We went into the tilting coach, throwing all our soaked clothing onto the shower floor as we went by, scrambling into some sleepwear, and literally falling on top of the bedspread. Blessed sleep took over like we had been fed knockout drops.
Possum marinated in moonshine
Morning apparently beat us at awakening. The sun was obviously well above the horizon when we heard the rapping on the motorhome door. Peering out the window, we had to look twice to finally see a wizened, grey-haired lady who looked to be a hundred, or maybe more, years old. She was carrying a covered tray of some kind. We invited her in.
I took the tray so she could navigate the steps. “Wally was tellin’ me ‘bout the ruff tahm y’all been havin’, so ah russeled ya up some grub fer bre’kfas’. Jus’ brin’ th’ tray back when ya come up to pay. I do apologize if Wally done give ya a har’ time; he done come out backward when he wuz borned, an’ he ain’t n’er changed.” I had heard the accompanying chortle somewhere before.
Surprisingly, the breakfast was sumptuous – bacon, eggs, homemade bread, homemade butter, and homemade jelly. Jen, after devouring most of her plate, looked up at me with a questioning look. “You know, the bacon seemed to look a little different, and it didn’t taste quite like most bacon.”
For the first time in the last 24 hours, I felt in a playful mood. “Oh, it was probably possum marinated in moonshine.” As she forced down an “urp,” I realized she was not amused. She rushed toward the bathroom trying to hide her newly acquired green complexion. She might start speaking to me again in a couple of days.
Another rap in the door broke an icy silence.
“Good morning,” the well-dressed gentleman offered with a bright smile. “I’m Tom. I hear you’ve met both Ma and my brother Wally. I also see you’ve got a bit of a parking dilemma. Always thought this was the worst site we had, but for some reason Wally keeps assigning it to our guests, maybe for the amusement factor. You’ll have to excuse Wally; Ma says he came out backward when he was born and he hasn’t ever changed.” The chortle confirmed that they, in spite of appearances, were truly related.
Get us out of here!
“I’ll go get the tractor and a chain saw; have you on nice dry level land in a jiffy. Don’t worry a bit; I’ve been through this a million times.” It was time to ask, “So then, how do I get out of here onto a paved highway?”
“I’ll be happy to lead you out with my pickup. I’m not sure how you made it in, but it’s only about a half-mile down to the highway, and then only a couple of miles on up to the interstate.” I shook my head in disbelief of the irony of what I was hearing.
“Stop at the station next to the interstate, and I’ll have the boys ready to hose the mud off your coach. I’d offer you breakfast at our restaurant down there, but I hear Ma brought you breakfast already. She’s a fantastic cook; I’ve even been tempted to add her possum marinated in moonshine to the restaurant menu.” I needed no explanation for the “urp” I heard from behind me.
The coach was finally extracted from the grips of Mother Nature, and Tom prepared to lead me out of Dogpatch. Then he turned to make one last comment, “Oh, by the way. For the next time, a man with a nice coach like yours might prefer staying in my new RV Resort behind my gas station and restaurant there by the interstate. Just tell them Tom sent you, and they’ll give you a preferred client discount.”
I do hate to see a grown man cry, so I’m avoiding mirrors for the rest of the day.