Company’s come


Company’s come. I know, the suspense was murder, wasn’t it?

“Company” this time means daughter Mary; her good, substantial Rainer; and his older son, Hartmut. Hartmut’s fiancée will be along in another week.

Despite our warnings that it would be hot here, the Germans had no choice as to when they’d be here: Most of Germany shuts down for the month of August. They delved into car rental as soon as they deplaned, and got to the house about 3:30. Not too bad for a flight from Frankfurt.

Going through customs was uneventful, despite the ton of electronics and photo necessities the father-and-son team carried. All I could think of was “sherpa.” Isn’t that the term for those local guides that lug the gear the climbers need, to claim they had conquered Mt. Everest?

For some reason I had a flashback to an adventure Mary had when barely a toddler. It must have been at least 50 years ago, because she’s 50-something now, and then, two sisters not yet a glint in her father’s eye.

We were living in southern New Jersey at the time and enjoying being the parents of this little person. She was smart and curious and funny, always up for an adventure.

We couldn’t afford air traveler, so we would go to places that were free or at least cheap. On this particular weekend, we drove our little (key word here, “little”) Ford Fiesta to the 1.1 million-acre forest known as the Pine Barrens, an apparent wasteland just a few miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean.

The uninformed public may not understand that the Pine Barrens is an aquifer that filters enough water through sand and vegetation to provide pure water for the increasing populations of Philadelphia; and Camden and Newark, N.J.

A certain amount of industry grew up. There were metalwork, rubber, logging, gunpowder, glassmaking, agricultural and other industries in the Barrens. But the largest part by far is undeveloped. The road system/firebreaks while safe are safe, but soft, and the traveler had better know where he is.

We had driven into the maze of trails and dark streams, and parked in a shady spot where we could eat our picnic supper and let our baby play in the water. The heat of the day gradually released its grip and we napped briefly on an old mattress pad in the back of the tiny station wagon. (This was before our RV days.)

So we packed up our gear, made sure the site was clean, and started the car. When it didn’t want to get traction, we shut it down to cool off, and gathered a couple of arms full of broken branches to build a ramp. After that was ground into the sand, we put the car’s rubber foot mats under the wheels.

To no avail.

Of course we rocked forward and back, in place, and we took turns pushing – without success. The baby thought it was great fun and cheered us with barrages of baby talk. But it became clear: We were going to have to walk out. We were positive we knew in what direction we had to get back to the paved highway, where a police patrol would pass by to save us.

Gathered the remnants of our picnic – a couple of saltines, a bottle of orange drink, some hard candies – and set off, wearing sandals or some other inappropriate shoes. I don’t think we had a compass so we calculated our direction of travel, and set off again.

The setting was magical. We were walking beneath a nearly full moon. The pines were the walls of our boulevard, and the white sand squeaked under our feet.
We took turns carrying Mary, who was angelic. Did I mention that I was in early pregnancy with our second child? She wasn’t heavy yet, but I did worry a bit about her well-being.

We walked and walked, until we were exhausted. I saved enough food to dole it out to Mary, who was having the time of her life riding on Daddy’s shoulders. Eventually she fell asleep and was no trouble at all.

We walked and walked. It was getting dark, the silence was profound, and we had no clue where we were.

Finally we turned around and retraced our steps. Somehow we found the car, crawled in the back and tried to get comfortable on the flattened cargo area. Tired, worried, sore, we thought we’d drop right off.

Mary had other plans. She wanted to talk. Any other time, we’d have loved it.

I don’t remember sleeping, but I must have because the sun was shining. We put shoes back on our weary feet and tried to civilize our hair, and then we walked to the door of the first house we came to.

Mary got us in, no doubt about it. Who could turn away that precious bundle of blonde hair and huge blue eyes? The sheriff’s deputy came and checked us out and, I believe, arranged for a deputy heading home in the direction we needed to go.

When I saw her step from a rented van in front of our house last week, I saw a glimpse of the happy baby on her Daddy’s shoulders. The wispy hair is brown streaked with gold, the inquiring eyes still blue.

Ah, Mary. Welcome home.