A few weeks ago, having enjoyed several days at one of our favorite off-grid camping spots, we were awoken around 2 am by a gust of wind. Usually these kinds of wind, though hugely bothersome to me when we first started our adventure in the camper, are something like a boat rocking in the night, lulling us back to sleep. This was not that kind of wind.
Following Nick’s gut feeling, we were able to bring the top down before the gusts ripped a hole in the tenting. With me holding onto the roof for fear it would rip off, the shaking and rattling is what I assume it feels like just before being taken into the eye of a hurricane. In minutes the intensity built to 100+ MPH winds in all directions strong enough to blow out the back window to the camper, forcefully shooting glass, rocks and sand at us through the opening. In a moment between the gusts we threw our things together and drove away from the base of the mountains to find security in town for the rest of the night to patch up the window, clean up the glass and get a bit of rest.
Nick Ocean is my Mark Whatney. With a little duct tape and a head lamp, we had a weather-secure window fitting and a few witty jokes about my upbringing in a trailer.
My family lived in a double wide mobile home from when I was born to age 16. The house was moved when I was 7 from the trailer park in Marysville to our new property on an indian reservation, taking the house in two pieces up Firetrail Hill while my brother and I were at a dude ranch in Colorado with my Aunt and Uncle. The house was baby poo brown with adult poo brown accents like fake shutters and exterior moulding. The actual siding of the mobile home wasn’t wood or metal like some of the other models; I would describe it as more of a cardboard. When we moved it to the property, my parents decided to paint the mobile home their favorite colors. Though color clashing isn’t for everyone, we lived in the woods, so who cared that the main color was brick red and the accents, like the fake shutters, were a french country blue? To say that it stood out against the serene Washington forest would be an understatement.
Unable to create a permanent structure for our house, as is the nature of a “mobile” home, we chalked the tires with blocks and then painted large sheets of plywood a concrete gray, placing them along the edges of the house to mimic the look of a basement level. This potential mobility comes into play when several years later while I was home alone one evening I believed that my crazy neighbors were shaking my house while attaching it to a tractor to remove it for fun, rather than what was actually happening: a very large earthquake.
I seems only natural that when moving to property like this, one inevitably begins to collect cars that don’t run and aluminum cans meant to take to the recycling facility but that never seem to make it. We had bonfires and a giant puddle that turned into my skating rink the one winter that it got cold enough. My brother and I had separate tree forts and we rarely wore shoes in the summer.
The inside of my home-on-wheels was traditional with fake wood paneling wallpaper and 3 bedrooms, one a small utility room turned into my brothers jungle bedroom by my mother and some creative sponge painting. We had a wood burning stove and built-in storage in the dining area for my mothers china and silver. Yes, we had china and silver; the influence of my mother’s family. We partitioned a living room and a family room; one “room” for entertaining guests was complete with a chaise lounge set up back to back with a large 70’s velour and wood sofa with a hide-a-bed for overnight guests in the other “room”.
I had a canopy bed from Sears and sweetheart-pink walls in my room. You could scrape the paint off of the wood panel wallpaper walls to make designs or scratch “RB+LC” in the hidden areas of the room, like behind the curtain. I had a school desk and a Lisa Frank sticker collection, unstuck and unopened, in my desk. I also had a full size standing freezer in my room to house the half-cow and several pounds of un-shucked corn that my family purchased every year. To make having a giant appliance in my bedroom even more fun, my mother stocked me with dry erase markers and a smile, making a large white freezer into a huge art pallet for me and my friends. I made use of the top as storage for my retainers and my hair brush. One of my pink walls had shelves covered in printed contact paper to hold my tchotchkes from McDonald’s Happy Meals and the long row of the porcelain dolls I received every year for Christmas from my Grandma. At one point I lost my door. To address the need for privacy, we hung a blanket and a heart-shaped wind chime so that I could hear when someone rang to enter the otherwise noiseless door.
We housed international exchange students and missionaries, the girls staying in my room and the boys sleeping in the living room. Or was that the family room? I never quite understood the difference. I’m sure our guests wondered where we were taking them, miles from the church or school they had arrived at after their international flight, past all the friendly neighborhoods and the farm houses, up the tallest and longest hill I’ve ever seen, down dusty roads and into the woods. As unusual as their “American experience” must have been, our exchange students seemed to enjoy themselves making use of our kitchen to fry tempura and becoming pen pals with me after their stay, even sending me stickers to add to my collection.
My house was also home to many animals, a fact I took much pride in as a child. My cat’s name was Baby and she lived in my room, sleeping under the blankets at the foot of my bed or rubbing her face up against the edge of the freezer. She was happy. We had a blind old cat named Kitty Cat who attempted to come when you called, bumping into chairs and walls to find her way. We also raised a few chickens. As adults, they lived in the chicken mansion we made for them next to the car port and the dented metal garden shed. But when the chickens were babies, and when we weren’t hosting guests, the chicks lived in my room with me and my freezer, possibly to save them from being abducted by our other indoor/outdoor cats and dogs and possibly so that my father wouldn’t know that we had added to our collection of chickens.
I could go on, sharing stories of running wildly through the woods and getting tangled in berry bushes sounding a lot like the Disney version of Huckleberry Fin. And it was in some way, to me, like some sort of storybook life with faded and dust covered memories.