You bought what?!” Randy Jackson’s amused incredulity was clearly evident in the tone of his voice. His parents, Andrew and Rose sat comfortably in the Adirondack chairs on the lawn of the Jackson farmhouse, lemonade in hand, both wearing sunglasses against the blazing Sunday afternoon sun.
“A tent,” said Andrew casually. “We bought a tent.”
Randy leaned back in his own chair and closed one eye in an apparent attempt to make sense of this information.
“Why?” he said, finally.
“Because we’re going camping,” said Rose. “Why else would we?”
“I thought there must be some other reason,” he said. He turned his head towards his wife, Jackie, who had just set a pitcher of lemonade down on the picnic table beside him and was seating herself next to him. “Mom and Dad are going camping,” he said.
Jackie laughed out loud. “Good one!” she said.
“We bought a tent,” said Rose.
Jackie stopped laughing. “Oh, you’re serious!” she said.
“We’re here looking for advice,” said Andrew. “You guys go camping all the time. We need helpful hints about stuff. Like what to take with us. We don’t want to get there and find out we’re missing all kinds of stuff we need.”
Randy laughed. “I don’t think you need to worry, Mom will be all over that!” He turned to Jackie. “Did I ever tell you the story about how Mom ran away from home when she was seven?” he asked.
Jackie shook her head.
“Mom had a big argument with Grandma over breakfast one day,” said Randy. “Mom was unhappy with the bowl her porridge was in or something like that. Anyway, she ended up stomping off up the stairs yelling that she was not going to live there anymore and that she was running away somewhere where she could make her own decisions about tableware and she did not come downstairs all day. But, eight hours later at suppertime, when Grandma called everybody to the table, Mom came trudging down the stairs, sat down in her chair and helped herself to the mashed potatoes. “I thought you were running away,” said Grandma. “Why are you still here?” Mom just reached for the gravy. “I’m not done packing,” she said. “I’ll leave in the morning.”
Jackie laughed again. “That sounds like a true story,” she said.
“It was an ugly bowl,” said Rose.
“I for one,” said Andrew, “would be happy to dispense with the humorous historical anecdotes in favour of some practical advice vis-a-vis camping. There are two important facts we need to focus on here. One, Rose and I are going camping, and two, we have no idea what we’re doing.”
Randy looked at Jackie, who looked back at him. “Should I?” said Randy.
Jackie nodded. “You should,” she said. “Go get it, it’s the only way.” Randy got up and headed towards the house.
“Get what?” said Andrew.
“You’ll see in a minute,” said Jackie. “Did you get a good-size tent?” she asked.
“Sleeps 10,” said Andrew.
“Just for the two of you?” said Jackie.
“Probably big enough,” said Jackie.
Randy returned at that moment and handed each of his parents a sheaf of papers. This is The List,” he said. “Everything that’s on it is essential to your happiness when living in a tent. Do not delete things from the list. Add things if you must. Mess with it at your peril.”
“Wow, it’s three pages long!” said Andrew, clearly taken aback.
“I was going to say wow, it’s only three pages long,” said Rose.
“We’ve whittled it down considerably over the years,” said Jackie. “For instance, we no longer take both our laptops and our TV.”
“Seriously?” said Andrew.
“I’m joking,” said Jackie. “We would never go without a TV. What would the kids do?”
“She’s still joking,” said Randy, seeing the look on Andrew’s face. “Of course we don’t take a TV. There’s no electricity in the wild. You would have to get a solar panel and set up your own power station and now you’re into a whole “nother thing.”
“Of course,” said Andrew. He studied the list for a moment. “This is a lot to take in,” he said.
“Follow the list,” said Randy. “Whatever you may encounter out there in the wilderness of Birds Hill Park, “this list will save your bacon.”
“Is bacon on the list?” said Andrew.
“Obviously,” said Randy. “There are only two things that matter when you’re camping. Eating, and sleeping.”
“That’s just like real life for Andrew,” said Rose.
“That’s very true,” said Andrew. He looked up from his list. “And what,” he asked, “is the one thing we should avoid if we are to have a successful outing?”
Randy looked at Rose and laughed. “Ugly bowls,” he said. “Don’t take any ugly bowls.”