I have long enjoyed Bill Keane's comic strip, The Family Circus. It features a husband and wife, Bill and Thelma, and their four children, Billy, Dolly, Jeffy and P.J. When I started reading Keane's strips his children reminded me of me. Now I have been full circle with him -- pardon the pun -- and can identify with the whole scope of the strip.
Every summer the family goes on vacation and those strips really hit close to home and make me long for the days when my lovely wife, Lisa, and I were crisscrossing the country with our own crew. This summer the Keanes visited New England -- specifically Boston -- and each of those panels put me to mind of experiences we had our own sojourn "up east." Did you know that there are still people in Maine talking about the time Georgia's "Lieutenant Governor" visited a particular Desert Island lobster pound?
This past week's Family Circus has been devoted to an overnight campout, in the back yard. Monday the dad brought home a tent. Tuesday they set it up and the rest of the week the older kids spent what seemed to be a never-ending night outside, waiting for the safety of the sunrise. Their situation reminded me of some of my longest nights.
I'm sure you've had them, nights when the clock refused to move, for whatever reason, and you thought morning would never come.
One such night occurred during the first summer of our marriage. Lisa and I were camping at Hatteras National Seashore on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. What a great place! If you've never been there you should go. There are wild horses on Ocracoke and Blackbeard, the legendary pirate, was said to have hung out there. Who knows? Maybe a gold doubloon will wash up on shore while you're there. Cape Hatteras has one of the widest beaches -- and some of the roughest water -- I have ever experienced and up at Jockey's Ridge, near Kill Devil Hills, you can see where the Wright Brothers flew the first airplane. I bet you thought that happened at Kitty Hawk, didn't you?
But I was fixing to tell you about a long, long night we spent. We were camping in a tent, much like the one the dad in the comic strip brought home for Billy and Dolly and company, in the primitive campground on Hatteras. We had enjoyed a great three or four days, and were bedded down for the night when a storm came up out of nowhere. That's the thing, I have learned, about storms. A lot of times they seem to come up out of nowhere.
When I say a storm came up, I mean a storm. There was thunder and lightning and wind and rain and we could hear people shouting over the roar of the weather as they abandoned their tents and scrambled for the relative safety of their vehicles. Our tent creaked and swayed through the night and water poured through the walls. One corner collapsed and neither Lisa nor I slept a wink. We just huddled together, holding one another, waiting for morning.
And morning finally came. At first light, during a lull in the storm, a park ranger threw back the flap of our tent, which was literally the only one left standing in the whole campground, and warned us that even worse weather was coming and that the island was being evacuated. That's not the point of the story, however. The point of the story is that we waited, together, through the long stormy night, wondering if dawn would appear. Dawn did.
I remember another fretful night -- this one in a cheap family hotel in North Myrtle Beach. It was not nearly as dramatic, but it was certainly as long. There were five of us clowns in the Huckaby family circus by this time and we had eschewed the campground we usually stayed in on the Grand Strand in favor of a pool, a television, air conditioning and a private shower. But we were a young family, just getting by, and the place we were staying -- well, it wasn't the Ritz.
We did, however, splurge for what passed as a two-room "suite" at this particular establishment. There was a tiny bedroom separated by a sliding partition -- to call it a door would be an exaggeration -- from the living room, which had a hide-a-bed sofa. For the first few days of our vacation Lisa and I shared the bedroom with the two girls and Jackson slept on the couch. But he was really small and didn't have to fold it out.
On the last night of our stay, one of us -- I'm sure it was Lisa--insisted that the kids would stay behind the partition -- and that she and I would sleep on the foldout. I can't remember the motivation for the switch (wink, wink) but I can remember that bar that poked into my back the entire night. Just like at Cape Hatteras, I thought morning would never come. It did.
I have had many other long, fearful uncomfortable nights in my life, but every time -- every single time -- the dawn has always followed even the darkest night and the darker and meaner the night the more welcome was the dawn.
Keep the faith, America. Bright morning will follow the darkest night. But honesty compels me to admit, I do wish I knew what time it is.