However, we never kept the cookies in our own house. My mother, always concerned with our well-being, liked us to eat nutritiously, even if she wasn't the world's greatest cook. Every summer before we left for our family camping trip, she would pack healthy snacks for the ride: apples and turkey sandwiches on rye. And as we made our way up the coast, my brother and I would always get restless. I'd pass the time playing cards and answering geography questions as we passed various highway signs. My father always quizzed me about cities in New England and would often throw in locations in Europe to test my international skills. We'd also listen to whichever station en route was playing the classics, my dad's favorites. He loved listening to the easily identifiable songs sung by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Dean Martin. Looking back, I suppose those singers served as great English tutors for my parents, a virtual Berlitz songbook of standard American English. Our drive would often be interrupted by the frightening metallic creak of the old seventeen-foot aluminum Grumman canoe peeling loose from the roof of the car, punctuated by my father huffing, pulling the car over to the side of the highway, and tightening the ropes across the old boat.
The excitement was palpable when we pulled into Bar Harbor, Maine, and soon headed through the gates into Somes Sound View Campground by the Atlantic Ocean. My brother and I couldn't wait to get out of the car, and neither could Nicky, who would immediately set out to meet and greet the other inhabitants of the campground. It was the early years of Somes's designation as a campground and it was therefore rather primitive, but it was an ideal vacation spot — surrounded by forest and mountains, yet also right next to the ocean. It had the picture-perfect place to pitch a tent.
Every year, we'd arrive at the same campsite and we'd all help my father unload the car — sleeping bags, the camp stove, Coleman lanterns, a big, sturdy, cooler, and of course, the tent. Our tent wasn't in much better shape than the car. It was itself a family heirloom — just as much a part of our Somes ritual as the drive and the music. It was very old, and had been patched so many times that it had begun to resemble a quilt stretched over the frame of the poles. Inside we'd set up house: our sleeping bags on cots, a place to leave our shoes, and a spot for the dog. We slept lengthwise in the tent, with Nicky right inside the zippered door. Nicky hated the darkness and was the first in the tent every night.
When night fell, my mom would spritz the crisp air with insect repellent and we'd bring out our lanterns to cook dinner and roast marshmallows at a campfire. My dad would include my brother and me in all camping tasks, teaching us how to build a fire, put up the tent, and find food — everything about how to survive in the woods. He'd craft us walking sticks and we'd go for long, steep, treacherous hikes. Dad knew all the different plants and would point out the ones to avoid and the ones that were edible. If we were hiking to the top of a mountain and wanted to take a break, he'd say "gotta keep going all the way to the top." Skinned knees and scratched arms were no excuse.