“This vehicle is not moving! Look at the traffic backed up behind us!” It was my turn behind the wheel of our 1973 orange VW camper as our family of four made its way from Heidelberg, Germany to Italy on a camping vacation. I was convinced the engine had malfunctioned on the steep Austrian alpine pass. It was mid-summer, the snow had finally melted, and the steep highway just recently opened to travelers.
In the back seat the girls – one toddler and one just past toddlerhood – were beginning to ask “Are we there yet?” We had spent a restless night camped out in a park in southern Germany. My Starter Husband had pulled another panic attack (read previous blog post) in the evening and not knowing whether or not to look for the nearest “Krankenhaus” (hospital) I hadn’t slept well. Nobody had. Van-full of cranky people, fueled by orange peanut butter crackers and boxed juice. This two-week vacation was not off to a happy start.
The VW was not broken, just suffering an overburdened engine straining to cross the Alps. Practically coasting down the other side, we were relieved to finally arrive in Italy and a campground near Pisa. With the top of the camper popped up and a small tent attached to the side of the van, we made ourselves at home. Bedtime came and I gathered up girls, towels and toiletries for the trek to the communal shower and toilet building. We had a small porta-potty in the van for emergencies when on the road, but bath time meant a flashlight hike to the not-that-great-smelling cinder block building.
The entrance had a ledge to step over. Since I was burdened like a pack horse I never saw the step, tumbled to the ground and heard a faint snap from my foot. “NO! This can’t be real,” I thought. For a few days I ignored the pain and laced my sneakers up tighter for support. Seeing me limp, the German doctor camped next to us pronounced that the foot was “kaput.” An astute observation as I hobbled around chasing kids.
We weren’t far from the US military base near Pisa so we drove to their medical facility where a tech did an xray and assured me there was no break and wrapped the foot in Ace bandages.
The vacation (and the pain) continued as we traveled to Venice. At our final stop at a beach campground on the Venetian Lido we were awakened one night by the camp manager. We had a phone call in the office. What the . . . ? Our best friends and neighbors back in Heidelberg had our itinerary but we never expected them to track us down. They let us know that my mother-in-law had died.
Early the next morning we literally folded our tent and unpopped the pop top and decided to drive straight through to grab a military transport plane back to the States (Leaving the girls with Rosemary and Danny for what turned out to be a pretty long time. We still owe them a return babysitting gig 40 years later.)
Once again we found ourselves on a beastly hot June day creeping across the Alps going north. Bathroom emergencies happened. Several times. Did I mention it was hot? Since this porta-potty had no “max capacity” fill line we didn’t keep track. One final poop did it. The pot exploded inside the van sending a shower of unmentionable sewage into the air. From one person’s point of view this was unimaginably hysterical. From the other person’s view point it was a sign of gross household mismanagement. If you know me, you know which was my reaction. This camping vacation was our last. (After an xray in a Florida hospital I was diagnosed with a broken foot.)