we were in trouble that summer. wendy and i didn’t know it, of course, because you were the kind of parents who never let your strains and stresses show in front of us. that amazes me now, i wonder what it must have been like, carrying those burdens, wondering if at any moment some white-shirt-and-tie banker would show up on your doorstep to say you’re too far behind on the mortgage payments, time to go. it was that bad, wasn’t it. we’d have a dinner of eggs and toast on a wednesday night and you’d make it an adventure “isn’t this fun, we're having breakfast for supper, i'll bet nobody else has ever even thought of this!” and keep hidden from us the fact that eggs were just about the only option at all until friday’s paycheck.
we went camping that summer, like always, in the white mountains. headed to jigger johnson, our favorite campground. on the ride up, wendy and i made our lists of all the things we wanted to do that week...take the gondolas up to mount cranmore, go to attitash mountain and ride the alpine slide, visit clark’s trained bears and ride the train, make our own sundaes at our favorite restaurant in north conway. i don’t remember if you were both quiet in the front seat but I can imagine you were adding up in your heads what our dreamed-about itinerary would cost you. i can also imagine the knots that were in your stomachs as you did it.
we never knew.
we didn’t make it to any of those places that week. instead, we took hikes up trails along the kangamangus highway, rock-hopped along the swift river, rode our bikes, all four of us, through the campground, built little log cabins out of twigs and sticks that we would set on fire that night in the fireplace. spent 2 days just playing in the river that was right behind our campsite, building dams and forts, little villages along the shore, swimming in cold water that felt so good in july’s staggering heat. it was the first vacation in the white mountains when we didn’t jump in the car and go to one of those tourist attractions that wendy and I both craved, and we didn’t even notice. what we noticed was that we had your full attention...you played with us and laughed with us like you were kids yourselves. wendy and i have talked about it since, that summer in the white mountains, we both remember thinking back then "i had no idea mom and dad were this FUN."
i mentioned that to you, years later. told you both it was one of the fondest memories of my childhood. i remember you sort of smiled at each other, almost with relief, and as if you carried a long-held secret. that’s when you told me the real story. about how we almost lost the house that summer. about how dad had to negotiate with the bank, almost beg for a chance to catch up. about how you had enough money in your pockets that week to pay for the campsite and the gas to get up there, and maybe a few dollars left over for an emergency. about how we almost didn’t take a vacation at all, only you knew we would be so disappointed, you knew we had done this every summer of our lives and you couldn’t bear to tell us we’d have to skip it this year. so we didn’t.
you budgeted every penny, literally. you bargained shopped for food and packed 2 extra coolers of it to get us through the week. you sat up nights planning the days, figuring out ways to fill them up with free adventures that we might love and remember and you worried and worried and worried some more that it wouldn’t work, that we would we notice and be upset and that it would be a complete disaster.
you told me all of these things that night, years later. gave up the secret.
i don’t know if i’d ever had a keener understanding about the kind of parents you were until that moment. I remember thinking ‘there cannot be two better people living on this planet than my mom and dad.’
i am still convinced that’s true.
and I can’t tell you how much i love you for it.