First, it was a yellow feather tuft from the Boston Tea Party Experience sticking out from under the mattress as I reached to tuck in the sheets. Then, I found a crumpled park map to Fort Wilderness showing us the way to our camping spot while I was looking for the lighter fluid. When I reached for the colander, I found a slightly squished Kinder Egg that came over from Canada as contraband. But it was when I found six pairs of disposable sandals from the Cave of the Winds at Niagara Falls that I realized I wasn’t just preparing the camper for the weekend, I was opening up a time capsule.
I knew that returning to the camper for the first time after our 10,500 mile MOART (Mother of All Road Trips) was going to be nostalgic, and I was even prepared for it to be difficult. When the 80 days on the road ended in November, I stepped off the camper step onto my driveway and went into mourning. I was painfully and palpably aware that the brightest and most shining memories of my life were in the past. I dealt with this reality with a healthy dose of denial, even going so far as to refuse to even step foot in the camper for the final cleanup. As a girl who typically sports a “get ‘er done” attitude, this was certainly shocking, even to me. I really tried to not be a baby, but even just the familiar camper smell was too much for my raw emotions. My heart just would not let me participate in the finality of closing that chapter of our lives.
~Our home on the road~
The Mister willingly shouldered the burden of stripping the beds and cleaning out the corners, and we metaphorically sealed up the doors and relegated our former home to a parking lot. That’s where it sat for the next nine months. We made all kinds of excuses for why we didn’t use the camper, but it was really just that I wasn’t ready to go back to the place where we had made so many memories.
As a last minute decision, the Mister decided that he wanted to go camping for the long Labor Day weekend and I agreed. By some cosmic chance, the calendar revealed that we would be using the camper again on the anniversary of the launching of our big trip. That certainly felt right.
That’s how I found myself picking my way through the tangible scrapbook of tchotkies that had been left behind from a lifetime of memories. I half expected the memories to be more bitter than sweet, but the more I remembered, the more I wanted to remember. Each memory find was like the prize in the Cracker Jacks, and I willingly walked the path of reminiscence with joy.
It all came full circle as I strung up my totally impractical candy- colored lanterns-the ones that had caused my emotional breakdown as I packed them up on the beach on our final day of travel. I noticed that they rattled with grains of sands that bore witness to where they had been before. I tried in vain to shake the sand out of each lantern, but some of it just stuck. The lanterns, much like my soul, were forever changed by the places they have been and the things they have experienced along the way.
When it was time to pack up the camper and seal the doors again, I tucked all the little forgottens back in the places I had found them, so that I can find and marvel at the significance that these relics represent next time. Like the lanterns, all of the other little vestiges tucked away in secret corners were treasured proof that we had exchanged the days of our life for something of value-that we had taken the opportunity of another day on the planet and seized it, rather than squander it-that we had dared to really live. With the camper relegated once again to the parking lot, I vowed to let the unintended mementos be a carpe diem kind of catalyst to spend each day-whether traveling an epic journey or dealing with the mundane- gathering memories to collect in the corners of my soul.