In my opinion, there’s no better way to start the summer than spending a weekend camping with my family. True bonding means cozy evenings spent by the campfire singing songs and roasting marshmallows followed by even cozier nights in a tent with a door zipper as unpredictable as the weather forecast, crammed with four sweaty bodies covered with swollen mosquito bites and rashes they can’t explain without referencing an encyclopedia.
This Memorial Day weekend, we set out as usual with our car packed with all the necessary gear, including my grandfather’s cookstove that I inherited from his estate several years ago. The morning after we arrived at our campsite, I pulled out the stove manufactured in 1973 and set it on the picnic table. "Fire her up!" I said with false cheeriness to my husband as I tried to distract myself by digging in the cooler for the eggs.
The weather might have been unpredictable this weekend, but unfortunately, the upcoming scene was as predictable as my children’s reactions every time I serve them peas with their dinner.
First, my husband whistled as he poured the fuel into the small canister. Then, he said softly, "Let’s see now … how did I do this the last time we camped?" Next, he began furiously pumping fuel into the burner until beads of sweat began forming on his forehead. He pulled out the lighter and I squeezed my eyes shut. "Please don’t blow yourself up," I chanted until I felt it was safe to peek through my fingers. A barrage of swear words followed. "I can’t get this *&#*&$&*#*&#&&$&#* cookstove to light!" he yelled. He pumped frantically as he held the lighter poised over the burner.
"Stand back kids!" I ordered. The wild turkeys in the woods behind us stopped gobbling and eating bugs as they slowly backed away from the campsite.
The lighter clicked. I shut my eyes.
"*#&$*#&$*&*#&$*#&&$*#!" my husband yelled.
I opened my eyes. "Holy crap!" I shouted. "Should I call the fire department?"
The entire stove was on fire. "Ready for the eggs?" I squeaked.
My husband pushed the cookstove off the picnic table and on to the ground. "Look kids, a campfire without the wood!" I joked, but our children were too busy running for their lives to laugh.
Lucky for us and the Ponca, Nebraska Volunteer Fire Department, the blaze burned out quickly. Unfortunately, my eyebrows didn’t fare as well. Nothing an eyebrow pencil can’t cover up for the next 30 years though.
A lot of good things happened in 1973. Pink Floyd released their album The Dark Side of the Moon, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in the battle-of-the-sexes tennis match, the United States bombing of Cambodia ended, and The Six Million Dollar Man premiered on ABC.
It just wasn’t a good year for Nixon … or the cookstove factory.