We're marking yet another "would have been" this weekend. This would have been Elena's first girl scout overnight camp. Her troop is spending part of the weekend in the same campground where Maggie's troop will stay all weekend.
As my flight from San Francisco touched down last night, Kim and Maggie were driving with the other troop members for this semi-annual event. In the past, Elena was either too young for girl scouts or in a troop that was too young to go as well. So she and I had our own camping routine while Kim and Maggie were sleeping in a cabin.
First, Elena and I would go to the store and shop for food that could be cooked over a flame. This usually meant hot dogs, Jiffy Pop popcorn, and marshmallows. The Jiffy pop was important to her because we never had that kind. Usually we would take down the heavy calphalon pot and heat it, add a bit of oil, and then throw in a handful of kernels before closing the lid. During home camp outs she requested and got a container of Jiffy Pop.
The other big decision was marshmallows. Elena really liked the small ones, but for toasting you need the large ones. Once you've decided on the size you want, you have to settle on the brand. Elena took her marshmallow shopping very seriously. She'd hold up a bag of the multicolored minis.
"What about these?" she'd ask.
"You can't really toast those. They're too small. The stick would just break them in half."
"Dad," she's say rolling her eyes as if it was completely obvious that that wasn't what she had meant. "These are for eating."
"We're not going to toast marshmallows then?" I'd ask.
"Of course we are, we're going to toast these," she'd say holding up a second bag that I'd somehow missed. "We'll eat the tiny ones while we cook the big ones."
Some times I'd make her choose and other times I'd hear Kim's voice in my ears asking "oh what's the big deal? Her sister is going camping and she's staying home, why not buy both kinds of marshmallows?"
Next, we'd go to the library and take out a couple of movies that Elena wanted to watch. Some show that she wanted to see.
"We'll camp out in the living room in front of the t.v." she'd say. "I'll bring down my blanket and pillow and sleep on the couch.
We'd go back home and unpack the groceries while the long wooden skewers soaked in water.
"Why are we soaking the pokers?" she'd ask.
"So they don't catch on fire when we put them over the flame."
"Ooooh. We learned in safety town that that would be dangerous. I wouldn't do this except that you're an adult. We're aloud to be near fire if we're with an adult. Just not a stranger."
I smiled. I put a hot dog on a stick and handed it to her. I put another one on a stick for me. I turned on the front burner and we held out hotdogs over the flame.
"I bet this is how the Pilgrims cooked hot dogs daddy," she'd say.
"I don't think the Pilgrims had hot dogs."
"Don't you think the Indians gave them hot dogs. Something for days when it's not Thanksgiving."
I'd smile. She always made me smile.
She'd get tired long before her hot dog was done. I had water boiling over another burner and we'd place the hot dogs on sticks across the pan above the steam and cover it with another upside down pan. While the hot dogs cooked we'd take newspaper and lay it out on the living room floor. Normally food isn't allowed into the living room, but this was a special picnic spot that was officially designated with yesterday's sports section.
We'd put the hotdogs on a paper plate along with chips and take it into our special picnic area in the living room.
"This is the best hot dog, daddy. I think hot dogs taste best when you're camping." She'd lift her can of fizzy water and hold it towards mine and say "Cheers." We'd clink our cans together.
We'd head back to the kitchen and the soaking sticks. I'd load them up with marshmallows and we'd hold them over the flame.
"Keep turning it," I'd advise.
But hers would catch on fire. Sometimes she'd blow it out before it was too charred. Other times she would let it go too far and hand it to me when it was burnt beyond recognition.
"Here," she'd say, "you can have this one."
I'd toast a few for her and then she'd want me to cue up a movie for her. She'd watch a while and ask for the popcorn. We'd sit together on the floor eating the popcorn right out of the tin foil. After the movie she'd gather up her blanket and pillow.
"Aren't you going to sleep down stairs?" I'd ask.
"No, I don't think so. I'm going to sleep in my bed."
I'd straighten up while she got ready for bed. Hot dogs, marshmallow, pop corn and a movie. As it turned out, it was the only camping out that Elena ever knew.