By: Kenda






The black Buick flew down the highway. The open windows circulated summer air through the vehicle, as the two boys in the backseat sang with gusto.


"Ninety-seven bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-seven bottles of beer, ya' take one down, ya' pass it around, ninety-six bottles of beer on the wall! Ninety-six bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-six bottles of beer, ya' take one down, ya' pass it around, ninety-five bottles of beer on the wall! Ninety-five bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-five bottles of beer, ya’ take one down, ya’ pass it around...”


Cecilia Simon shot her husband a weary glance. This was the fifth consecutive round of “Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”


"I wish you'd never taught them that song!” Cecilia shouted over the wind tunnel the open windows created.  “I can take two rounds of it...maybe three, but five is a bit much."


Jack laughed. "Look at it this way, Cece, at least it's keeping them occupied. They haven't asked us once in the last six hours how soon we'll be there."


"That's true. And A.J.'s the only four year old on the block who can count to one-hundred. Of course, he counts backwards when he does it, and he has to be singing about beer at the same time. Not exactly something most mothers would want to brag about, but if anyone asks I’ll just say he takes after his father's side of the family."


Jack smiled broadly as his eyes flicked to the rearview mirror, taking in the two smiling singers in the backseat. "That's okay by me. You tell anyone who asks that both of my sons are a chip off the old block."


"I'll remind you of that, Jack Simon, the next time one of your ‘chips’ puts crayons in the toaster, or lets white mice loose in church."


"I'm sure you will," Jack said ruefully, at the same time allowing himself a small smile at the thought of his sons' most recent exploits.


A.J. had been the one who ruined the toaster by toasting ten crayons in it one morning, and Rick had taken three white mice out of their cage in a Sunday School classroom and let them loose in the sanctuary. Of course, "It was just an accident, Dad. They kinda got away from me. I didn't do it on purpose," Jack had been told by the young sinner.


"Well, we won't have to worry about toasters or church services for the next seven days," Jack said.


“No, I don’t suppose we will,” Cecilia agreed, in deference to the fact that the Simons were spending the next week camping in a remote area of northern California. Or at least as remote as Cecilia would allow.


The family had begun camping for one week each summer when A.J. was two. Cecilia's only demand was that there had to be bathroom facilities and a way to wash up. Boy, had she been surprised, and even a little angry, when the bathroom facilities Jack presented her with were nothing more than an outhouse, and the means to wash up came from an old hand pump.


Fortunately for Jack, the four of them had a wonderful time that first year. So, despite the inconveniences, Cecilia had agreed to camping again in the two years since that first trip. Jack and his sons loved the outdoors, and camping was the perfect solution when it came to keeping two active boys busy for a week.


Jack smiled with gratitude when his wife poured him a cup of coffee from the thermos she had tucked by her feet. The Simons had left the house at four-thirty that morning. Jack carried the still sleeping A.J. to the car and deposited him on the backseat without the youngster ever awakening. A tired Rick had stumbled along behind his father, and had fallen asleep before the car was two miles from home.


The first three hours of the trip were peaceful, the early morning stillness broken only by the quiet words that were exchanged between Jack and Cecilia as the car sped north. The boys woke shortly before the family stopped for breakfast at a roadside diner at eight o’clock.


The travel time since that stop had been filled with boyish laughter, teasing, some bickering, and one squabble over a toy car that Cecilia had quickly put an end to. Now the noise in the vehicle escalated as the boys bellowed the repetitious song that was one of their favorites.


Glancing sideways at his wife, Jack smiled. "Only a few more hours and we'll be there, hon. How many more times can they possibly sing it?" Before Cecilia could answer him, Jack's smile turned into a teasing grin. He joined in the singing, that act of mischief only further encouraging the boys' enthusiasm.


"Seventy-eight bottles of beer on the wall, seventy-eight bottles of beer, ya' take one down, ya’ pass it around, seventy-seven bottles of beer on the wall. Seventy-seven bottles of beers on the wall, seventy-seven bottles of beer..."


Cecilia sighed as she picked up her newest issue of Ladies Home Journal. 


Two little girls, Cecilia thought as she started reading an article on the latest matching fashions for mothers and daughters.  Why couldn’t I have had two quiet little girls who don’t like to camp and sing about beer?





The first full day of the Simons’ camping trip dawned bright and sunny with a slight breeze blowing off the sparkling lake. Jack was up at five-thirty. He took advantage of the early morning splendor, enjoying the hour of peace that would be his only leisure time that day. Once the boys were awake activity would abound. Both Rick and A.J. found it impossible to be idle for even a moment.


Jack sat at the lake's edge looking east. He watched as the sun rose over the water. Glancing at his watch, Jack wondered if the boys would be up by six-thirty, their normal waking time, or if they'd sleep a little longer this morning. Smiling, Jack thought of the two sleepy campers he had seen off to bed at nine o'clock last night.


The Simon family had pulled into the large state park at four the previous afternoon. Rick and A.J. hung out a back car window, waving and shouting, "Hi, Ranger Bill!" to the man at the park’s entrance.


The red-headed had ranger waved back, then tousled the hair of each boy as the car came to a halt beside his wooden booth.


"Well, if it isn't my two favorite campers. The Rough Rider and Toby. How are you guys doing?"


"Great, Ranger Bill!"


"Fine, Ranger Bill. We're here to go camping," A.J. informed the man.


"A.J., it looks like you've grown a foot since last summer. Pretty soon you're gonna be taller than your big brother." The ranger had winked at the little boy. "Then maybe you'll get a chance to be the Rough Rider, uh?"


"It'll never happen," Rick shook his head. "He might get taller ‘an me, but he's never gonna be the Rough Rider, Ranger Bill."


That comment set off an argument in the backseat that Cecilia put a stop to as the ranger leaned down to talk to Jack.


"You're favorite spot is reserved for you, Jack. Other than another family who's camping about three quarters of a mile away, it's just you, Cecilia, the boys, and that lake. Oh, and all those fish, too."


Jack had laughed as he replied, "Thanks, Bill. We'll head back there then. It'll probably take us what’s left of the afternoon to get settled."


Ranger Bill looked into the backseat.  "You boys take a walk up here to see me this week, but only because you want to come see me, not because you have to come see me. All the rangers are on alert. We've got a sign posted in the ranger station that says, Caution: Rick and A.J. Simon are here this week. Be prepared for anything.”


Jack and the boys were laughing as Jack drove the Buick down the paved road that would take them to their campsite. Cecilia had shot her husband a dirty look.


"What?" Jack questioned.


"I don't think it's funny, Jack. I bet we're the only family the rangers are on a first name basis with."


Jack shrugged. "So we've needed their assistance once or twice. That's what they're here for."


Not once or twice, Jack. Four times in two years, if I remember correctly. And I do remember correctly."


"I'm sure you do," Jack had sighed as his wife continued.


"The first year Rick fell out of that tree on our second day here. We thought his arm was broken, and had to go to the ranger station for First-Aid, then had to take him to the hospital to have it X-rayed. Two days later, A.J. slammed his fingers in the car door while he was getting his teddy bear and we had to go to the ranger station again to get ice for the poor little guy. Really, Jack, he was only two years old. I thought you would have been watching him closer than that."


"Yes, dear," Jack had replied while resisting the urge to roll his eyes. He had no idea why these incidents had to be brought up, as if he didn't recall them perfectly well himself.


"Then last year Rick dropped that rock on his foot while you guys were building the campfire and we had to have Bill give us ice, then A.J. locked himself in the outhouse and Bill had to come get him out. It's no wonder we're like family to them."


"Honey, I remember all of those incidents, believe me. But the boys love camping, and they're none the worse for wear because of it." Jack glanced at the backseat then and proclaimed, "Besides, Cecilia, your two sons and I have had a long talk about camping injuries and how rough they are on Mommy. So this year no accidents, right, guys?"


"Right, Dad!"


"Right, Daddy!"


Cecilia had simply sighed at her incorrigible trio of men, then couldn't help but laugh as she felt two arms encircle her neck and A.J.'s voice by her ear. "But you're a good nurse, Mommy, so don't be mad at us if we do get hurt."


Rick joined in and added as he leaned over the front seat, "Yeah, Mom, you're a great nurse. The best. And pretty, too. A.J. and me are real lucky."


Cecilia tweaked Rick’s nose. "You and A.J. are full of baloney, Rick. Just like your father."


Jack had thought then, That might be true, but at least my two baloney-filled sons have gotten their mother calmed down. Yep, two chips off the old block, all right.


The remainder of that afternoon had been too busy for Jack's sons to get into trouble. The whole family pitched in and unloaded the car, then Jack and the boys went pitched the big tent. Once that job was completed, the three Simon men erected the pup tent the boys would share that Rick had received for his ninth birthday back in April.


Watching the sun climb higher over the lake, Jack chuckled as recalled what he discovered Rick was up to three weeks earlier.


Jack was putting A.J. to bed one evening, father and son discussing the up coming vacation.


"So, sport, are you and Rick looking forward to having your own tent this year?"


A.J. had nodded and smiled. "Yeah, we are. Rick's even gonna let me sleep in the tent if I pay him enough before we leave."


At that remark, Jack had questioned the four year old as to what he meant.  A.J. had then told Jack that he was paying Rick five cents a week so that he could sleep in the tent, and not outside of it, as Rick had told A.J. would be the case if Rick didn't get enough money from the younger boy by the time they left on vacation. From what Jack could gather, Rick was already ahead by fifty cents, and looking to gain at least twenty cents more in the weeks ahead.


After A.J. was asleep, Jack had a talk with the nine-year-old extortionist. That talk ending with, "And you'll pay Andy back not only the fifty cents you owe him, Rick, but also two percent interest on that money."


After a brief explanation about interest and how it worked, and what two percent of fifty cents was, Rick was sent up to bed, Cecilia and Jack shaking their heads at his latest scheme. Later, Jack realized that Rick had gotten around his punishment. There was a lot of candy being shared in the backseat on the long drive up to the national park. It didn't take Jack long to figure out who had been conned into buying all that candy. Jack knew every penny of Rick's allowance had gone to paying back his brother, thereby leaving the older boy with no spending money.


Rick's either going to grow up to be a shifty car salesman, or we'll be visiting him on a regular basis in jail.


By the time the site was set up the previous evening, everyone was hungry. Cecilia had Jack take the boys for a quick swim so she could prepare supper. After the meal had been eaten, the family had taken a four-mile hike around the lake. As they were heading back to their tents the sun was setting. With a mile to go yet, Jack picked up A.J. and settled him on his hip. The little boy fell asleep like that as his father walked, his head resting on Jack’s shoulder.


There were no songs around the campfire that first night as Jack laid the sleeping A.J. in the pup tent, a tired Rick following with only a minimal amount of protest. Jack and Cecilia enjoyed the quiet of the evening as they sat and talked underneath a starlit sky before retreating to their own tent, knowing the next day would be full of activity.


Jack's mental review of their first vacation day was brought to an end as two hands covered his eye and he heard a sleepy, hoarse voice by his right ear.


"Guess who?"


"Mmm, let me see. I think it's Rick."


"Nope, you're wrong."


"Oh, I know! It's Mommy."




"I know. It's my youngest son, Milton," Jack teased.


"Milton! "Who's Milton?" The hands were removed from Jack's eyes as A.J. launched himself into his dad's arms. "It's me, Daddy."


Jack roughhoused with his youngest for a moment, then said, "Oh, that's right, your name's not Milton. I forget though. What is your name, little boy?"


“It's A.J. But you can call me Andy, Daddy."


Jack laughed as he tousled the already tousled hair. He was the only person who called A.J., ‘Andy’ and both he and his youngest son recognized that fact as being something special just the two of them shared.


A.J. settled in his father's lap and looked out over the lake.


"Is Rick still sleeping?" 


"Kinda, I guess. He's a little awake and a little asleep, I think. He's grumpy."


Jack laughed. "He always is when he first wakes up, just like your mother. Not like you and me. Right, sport? We like the early morning sunshine, don't we?"




"Do you need me to take you to the outhouse, or did you find your way there already?" 


"I got there okay. I didn't even get locked in like last year. Rick showed me how not to yesterday so I would remember."


"That’s nice. Rick's a good big brother, isn't he?"




Jack and A.J. sat together another twenty minutes. A slightly sleepy, and still slightly grumpy Rick, finally appeared at fifteen minutes to seven.


As Rick came to sit by his father and little brother, Jack teased, "Oh, so here's Sleeping Beauty now."


"Very funny, Dad."


"You're right, Andy," Jack said while reaching out to rub his hand over his oldest's back. “He is grumpy.”


Jack gave Rick a few minutes to wake up, then suggested, "Hey, guys, how about an early morning dip in the lake?"


"Right now?" A.J. asked incredulously, eyes widening.


"Sure," Jack replied.


"Won't it be awful cold?" Rick asked.


Jack elbowed his nine year old. "What's the matter, Rick, ya' chicken?"


Jack's eldest couldn't resist a challenge. “No way! I'm not chicken!" Standing up, Rick exclaimed, "Come on, let's go!"


As Jack and A.J. stood, Jack caught sight of Cecilia heading towards them.


"Come on, Cece! We're taking a quick dip in the lake!"


"Jack, no, it's too cold! They'll get sick." 


"Oh, they will not. They'll be fine. Come on and join us."


"Absolutely not! You three might be crazy, but I'm not."


"Oh, come on, Cecilia."


"Yeah, Mommy, come on," A.J. said as he ran to his mother and tugged on her hand.


"Yeah, come on, Mom. Or are you chicken?" 


"I'm not chicken, but I'm not stupid either." 


After a chorus of, "Come on, Mom," "Come on, Mommy," and "Come on, Cecilia," the woman finally gave in.


"Okay, okay, but let me put on my swimming suit."


"Don't do that. This is just an informal ‘come as you are’ dip in the lake," Jack said. Cecilia was wearing a pair of shorts and an old shirt of his, while Jack and the boys were still in the gym shorts they had slept in.


Cecilia reluctantly agreed to the craziness then as husband counted, "One, two, three, last one in has to cook breakfast!"


Jack took off running with Rick close behind him. Cecilia grabbed A.J.'s hand and raced for the lake, too. The woman and her youngest son beat Rick to the water's edge by a big toe. Everyone screamed as the frigid water hit their feet, then they laughed and splashed while teasing Rick and telling him he was cooking. Cecilia finally put an end to Rick's protests by assuring him that everyone would help make breakfast. The water was too cold to enjoy for long. The Simons ran for their campsite to retrieve towels and dry clothes.  As Cecilia had promised Rick would be the case, everyone assisted with breakfast duty.


After they’d eaten, the Simons spent the rest of the morning fishing.  After a lunch of grilled bass, they hiked through the woods. The trails the family traveled were well marked. Rick and A.J. picked up rocks, and leaves, and other treasures along the way the only little boys find interesting.


At three o'clock that afternoon Cecilia was reclining in a lawn chair by the campsite, engrossed in a novel. The boys and Jack were by the lakeshore tossing a football between them. Cecilia glanced up to watch upon hearing Rick's laughter. Noticing one family member was missing, she called, "Jack! Where's A.J.?"


Jack held onto the football Rick had just thrown him. "Isn't he up there by you? He said he was going to sit by you and play with some toys he’d brought along."


"No, he's not up here!” Cecilia put her book down and stood. “I haven't seen him!"


Jack hurried toward his wife with Rick at his heels. He tossed his oldest son the football, then cupped his hands around his mouth.


“Andy! Andy!”


Cecilia added her voice to her husband’s. "A.J.! A.J.! A.J., where are you?”  The woman looked at the thick woods behind the campsite, her heart picking up its beat as she thought of her four year old lost somewhere in that dark maze that stretched for miles.


Just as panic was about to set in, Cecilia heard a quiet voice from the pup tent mumble, "I'm in here."


Cecilia hurried to the tent's opening. She pulled back the flap and saw her son curled in a ball, lying on top of his sleeping bag. She crawled in beside him.


"Honey, what are you doing in here? Are you tired?"


"No,” A.J. grimaced. “I've got a tummy ache." 


Cecilia laid a hand on A.J.'s forehead as Jack poked his head in the tent's opening. "Does he have a fever?"


"He doesn't seem to." Turning her attention back to her youngest, Cecilia asked, "Where does it hurt, A.J.?"


The boy pulled his knees tighter against his abdomen and moaned, "Everywhere." 


Cecilia turned to look at her husband. "See, this is what happens when you let the boys go swimming at seven o'clock in the morning.


"Cecilia, an early morning swim doesn't cause stomachaches. It's been a busy day, it's hot, and he's been running around at full speed since sunup. I'm sure that's all it is. I think he's just overtired. You want me to sit with him for a while?"


Though the woman was still angry with her husband over his decision to let the boys swim while the water was still so cold, she didn’t want to argue with Jack in front of them.


"No, I'll stay with him. You go ahead and take Rick swimming like you promised you would. If I need you, I'll come get you. Would you have Rick get a few of A.J.’s storybooks out of the car before you guys leave?"


Jack nodded at his wife, then reached out to pat A.J.'s leg. "You rest a little while, sport. By the time Rick and I get back you'll be feeling better."


"Will you take me swimming then, too?" A.J. asked.


"Sure," Jack replied, while at the same time Cecilia replied, "No!" 


Jack sent Rick on the errand for the books. Upon his return, Rick told his father, "We don't have to go swimming, Dad. It won't be any fun without A.J. anyway. I'll stay here and read to him. I don't mind."


Jack smiled fondly, "No, Rick, Mom wants to stay with Andy right now. Come on. Let's go swimming. By the time we're done, maybe your brother will be feeling better and the three of us can go again. If he's not, you can read to him then, okay?"


"Okay," came the reluctant response. As Rick followed Jack to the lake he mumbled, "But it ain't gonna be no fun without A.J."


Jack laughed to himself. One minute Rick's black mailing Andy for his allowance, and the next minute, no matter what we do, it just isn't going to be any fun if his little brother can’t come along.





An hour later, Jack and Rick were back at the campsite. Cecilia was still sitting with A.J., who was feeling somewhat better.


As Jack and Rick were rummaging through the various snacks

Cecilia had brought along, Jack came across something he found interesting when he picked up the marshmallow bag.


"Cecilia! Cecilia, come here a minute!"


Rick stood next to his father eating potato chips as Cecilia crawled out of the pup tent and approached them. "What, Jack?"


Jack grinned. "To my recollection, we didn't have a campfire last night, did we?"


"No, you know we didn't. We were all too tired."


"So, if we didn't have campfire, that means no one has had any marshmallows yet, right?"


Cecilia was exasperated with her husband and his game, Cecilia replied sharply, "That's right, Jack. No one has had any marshmallows. What's your point? I've got a sick child I need to get back to."


From behind his back, Jack produced the bag of open marshmallows that was half empty. "Well, I'll take a stab in the dark and guess that our little boy with the tummy ache has been into the marshmallows this afternoon.


"Oh, no," Cecilia said as she, Jack, and Rick walked toward the pup tent. Crawling inside, Cecilia asked him, "A.J., did you get into the marshmallows?"






“After lunch.”


"Why did you do that without asking first? And how come you ate so many?"


A.J., who all ready at the tender age of four knew when he needed to use his charm to beguile the fairer sex, turned pitiful eyes on his mother.


"Well, last year the ones you brought were stale. Everybody hated 'em, and no one would eat 'em, so I was just testing these to make sure they were okay. Then once I got started, I couldn't control myself."


Jack had to turn away and cough in order to cover the laugh that was trying to break through at this confession.


"Well you should have told me you wanted to try them. I would have given you a few, but not half the bag for goodness sake! It's no wonder your tummy hurts."


With that, Cecilia left the tent, making room for her oldest son who was itching to get inside and be with his brother for a while. When she and Jack had walked far enough away, they both burst out laughing, then laughed even harder as Jack offered his wife a marshmallow from the bag he still held in his hand.


Rick crawled in beside his brother, "How ya’ feelin,’ kid?"


"Not so good. I feel like my insides are marshmallowed together."


"Well, you shouldn't have eaten so many, dummy. I think you over did it."


"I know, but last year those marshmallows Mommy brought were awful, and I just wanted to make sure these were okay."


"Yeah, the ones she brought last year were pretty bad. Real stale. Were these?"


"No, these were just right."


"Good, ‘cause a campfire just isn't a campfire without marshmallows." Rick reached out and patted A.J.'s arm. "Want me to read to ya' for a while?"




By the time Rick had gotten through two storybooks, the tummy ache had passed. A half hour later the youngest camper was running around playing, and showed no signs of ill effects from his afternoon adventure in vacation cuisine.


That night after the sun had set, the family sat around a campfire, toasting some of the marshmallows that had caused so much worry earlier in the day. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that A.J. had no desire to partake in the marshmallow eating. Jack teased the boy by waving a stick full of roasted marshmallows in front of him until Cecilia put an end to it.


"Jack, honestly, you're worse than a little kid sometimes with your teasing. And then you wonder where Rick gets it from. Leave A.J. alone for Heaven's sake." Jack just laughed at his wife, but took the chastising to heart as he promised, "Okay, Mommy, I'll be good."


Soon the evening quiet was broken by four voices singing an array of songs from “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” to “Bingo.” As darkness settled over the campers, Jack told the boys a story was full of adventure, and just a little scary - the kind of tale young boys like best.


As Jack finished Cecilia glanced at her watch. "Okay, that's it for tonight, boys. Time for bed."


"Oh, Mom! Just a little longer.”


"Mommy, please, we’re not tired.”


Cecilia rose, pulling A.J. up with her. "No, absolutely not."


"But, Mom, it's vacation!" 


"Rick, that's enough now. It's over an hour past A.J.'s bedtime, and a half hour past yours. You boys have had enough fun for one day. Now come on, you and A.J. make one last trip to the outhouse, then it's off to bed," Cecilia ordered while handing her nine year old a flashlight.


Rick turned to look at Jack in an effort to enlist his father's help. "Sorry, buddy, but the general has spoken. Do as your mother says now. There going to be plenty of time left for fun in the next five days. You're not going to miss anything."


Rick sighed, knowing he was fighting a losing battle. He took A.J.’s hand and led him up the trail to the outhouse, the flashlight illuminating the way.



            Fifteen minutes after the protests had started, both boys were asleep in their tent.  Jack and Cecilia walked hand in hand up a moonlit trail. They didn’t wander to far from the campsite, but rather, went just far enough so they could have some private time while their sons slept the heavy sleep of two children who had been outdoors all day.




Two days later, the weather changed. Although the sun was shining, a cool front had moved in and the Simon's woke to a morning temperature of just fifty degrees. While Jack prepared breakfast and Cecilia aired out sleeping bags, Rick and A.J. scrambled around the area playing Rough Rider and Davy Crockett. Rick had his cowboy hat on, and A.J. was wearing his coonskin hat.


 Cecilia had to laugh as she thought, Kind of an odd combination, a cowboy and a frontiersman, but at least they're happy, busy, and not arguing over who's going to be the Rough Rider and who's going to be Toby.


As Rick led his brother toward the nearby woods, Cecilia

called, "Boys, don't wander off!"


"We're just goin’ up this trail, Mom!  We're goin’ exploring!"


"All right, but don't go too far. And stay together!"


This was the first year Cecilia had allowed the boys to wander together up the nearby trails for a short distance without supervision. Rick had accepted the responsibility with maturity that made his parents proud. He had followed the rules Jack had set down by not wandering out of earshot, and at the same time keeping an eye on A.J.


"Geez, Mom, I'll bet the Rough Rider's mother and Davy Crockett's mother didn't tell them not to go too far!"


"Well, I'm not the Rough Rider's mother or Davy Crockett's mother, now, am I? I'm your mother, and I'm telling you not to go too far, or your exploring will come to a quick end, Cowboy!"


Rick rolled his eyes. "Okay, Mom." Grabbing the front of A.J.'s shirt, Rick pulled the blond toward the trail. "Come on, Davy, we've got to kill us a bear before breakfast."


The two boys stalked the pretend bear for a few minutes. Rick stopped when he noticed a trail he had never seen before.


"Hey, I wonder where this trail goes?"


"Rick, Daddy said we're not supposed to go up any trails he hasn't taken us on before, remember?"


"Aw, A.J., come on. Let's just follow it a little ways." 


A.J. shook his head, the tail of his coonskin hat hitting him in the face as he stood his ground. "No, we'll get in trouble. I'm not going."


"Come on."




Rick sneered at his brother, then looked up the trail one last time. While he was tempted to break his father's rule and explore it, he wouldn't if A.J. wasn't willing to come along. No matter how disgusted he was with his little brother, Rick wouldn't leave the youngster alone in the woods.


Rick looked down at his sibling.  “You're such a goody, goody, sometimes."


A.J. shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t care what Rick thought of his decision to follow the rules. Further arguments were stalled by Jack's voice calling, "Boys! Breakfast is ready!"


Upon hearing that, the hungry campers raced to the breakfast table, the angry words and unexplored trail soon a thing of the past.







The temperature never rose above sixty degrees that day. The strong wind coming off the lake made it seem even colder to the southern Californians.


Cecilia made sure her men had jackets on when they went fishing at ten o'clock. The previous year, Jack had discovered that the best fishing spot was a half a mile away, so that's where they headed. Cecilia remained behind, choosing instead to relax in a lawn chair while reading her novel.


At eleven-thirty Cecilia looked up from her book when she heard voices in the distance. Jack was carrying Rick, his legs taking long strides as he hurried toward the campsite.  A.J. ran along beside his father in an effort to keep up. Cecilia dropped her book and hurried toward her husband.


"What happened, Jack? Rick, are you all right?"


Rick’s clothes were wet, the excess water soaking into the sleeves of his father’s jacket.  Water ran down the boy’s face from the hair that was plastered to forehead.


"He's okay, Cece," Jack assured his wife. "He took a dip in the lake and found out how cold the water is this morning."


Rick's teeth chattered as his father carried him toward the pup tent.


"Help him get those wet clothes off, Jack, and get him into some dry ones. Then wrap him in a blanket. I'll make some hot chocolate," Cecilia said. Turning to A.J., she instructed, "Go to Mommy's tent and get a towel out of Daddy's duffel bag, A.J. Take it to Daddy and have him dry Rick's hair with it."




A.J. scampered off to do as he was told. He crawled in the pup tent carrying the bath towel in one hand.  He dropped the towel and began helping his father get Rick's wet jeans off. Rick’s hands joined the fray as the trio pulled and tugged on his wet t-shirt. Jack finally gave A.J. the task of drying Rick's hair when he realized all three of them tugging and pulling in the tight confines of the pup tent would never work. Jack soon felt like one-third of the Three Stooges, and figured it must look that way from outside the pup tent too, when Cecilia called, "What are you doing in there, Jack? Hurry up and get those wet clothes off that child!"


Jack shook his head as he continued to tug and pull. If you think it's so easy, then you get in here and do this.


When Jack and his sons emerged from the tent, Rick was wearing dry clothes and was wrapped in a blanket. Cecilia had him sit down and sip hot chocolate, while Jack started a fire. Jack then sat behind Rick and wrapped his arms around his son in an effort to share his body heat. 


Cecilia poured a cup of hot chocolate for A.J.  She handed it to him, then sat down between her sons. As Rick’s shivering abated, Cecilia asked her husband, "How did this happen?"


"Richard, do you want to tell your mother how you fell in the lake?" 


Rick was tempted to tell his father no, that he didn't want to share his latest adventure with his mother, but his dad's tone of voice let Rick know he had no choice.


"I...I was out on the peninsula and kinda slipped."


"The peninsula! Rick, you know you're not supposed to be out there. The water's twenty feet deep on the other side of that peninsula. Daddy and I have told you before not to go out there."


"You didn't tell me that this year!" 


"I didn't think we had to," Cecilia informed her son. "I thought you were old enough to remember that by now. You've just lost your fishing privileges for the rest of the day, young man. That was a dangerous stunt to pull, do you understand that?"


Still within the confines of his father's arms, Rick nodded and sighed, "Yes, ma'am."


When Rick was warm once again he discarded the blanket.  With his mother’s permission, he and A.J. went to the car to get the baseball and bat they had brought from home.


Jack stood, too. "I need to get the poles and tackle box. I couldn't carry those things and Rick. The tackle box is too heavy for Andy, so I just left everything there."


"Okay. When you get back we'll eat lunch. How did Rick get out on the peninsula without you seeing him?"


"I was helping Andy cast his line and didn't notice that Rick had disappeared. He said he had seen a school of fish swim that way and he waded out looking for them. Once he got on the peninsula he must have leaned over the water's edge and lost his footing. The first I knew anything was wrong was when I heard a loud splash and Rick yelling, "Dad! Dad!" By the time I got to him, he was already climbing back on solid ground."


"Well I hope he learned his lesson."  


"I think he did. I don't know if he was more frightened by falling in, or more frightened of facing me when I helped him out. Probably a little bit of both actually. I hope so anyway. He deserves to be scared, because he sure scared his old dad for a minute or two there."


“Oh, you're not old, Daddy."


"Richard's aging me before my time, believe me. I swear that boy is going to give me gray hair yet."


Cecilia reached up and combed her fingers through her husband's thick, blond hair. "I think he already has. There's a little gray buried in here somewhere I've noticed."


"Given the antics of our two boys, it doesn’t surprise me.”


Cecilia chuckled at her husband’s long-suffering tone.  He turned to hike to the area where the fishing tackle had been left, while she turned in the opposite direction so she could begin making sandwiches for lunch.


After lunch had been eaten, Rick and Jack took a walk to the general store that was just outside of the park in order to restock their depleted food supplies. A.J. chose to stay with his mother at the campsite and play Davy Crockett.


As Cecilia sat with one eye on her book and one eye on her youngest, she instructed, "A.J., don't wander off. You stay right here where I can see you."


"Okay, Mommy."


A.J.’s game took him exploring all around the immediate area. Cecilia found she didn't have to watch him too closely, but was able to keep track of A.J. by the sound of his voice. He was keeping up a steady stream of conversation with his pretend friend, Daniel Boone.


"Hey, Mommy, do you think Davy Crockett ever picked flowers for his mommy?"


Cecilia looked up from her book, smiling at her young frontiersman as he stood among some foliage and wild flowers at the edge of the woods. A.J.'s toy rifle was held firmly in his right hand, and his coonskin cap was sitting sideways on his head.


"Yes, honey, I think Davy Crockett probably picked flowers for his mommy."


A.J. smiled at his mother over the assurance that picking flowers for his mommy was something even a rough and tumble woodsman like Davy Crockett would do. The boy bent down and gathered violets in his left hand, Cecilia smiling fondly before returning her attention to her book.


When his hand was full, A.J. trudged toward his mother. "Look, Mommy, I got lots of flowers for you, and these real pretty leaves, too."


Cecilia looked up at her son. She was about to exclaim over his thoughtfulness and the pretty bouquet, when instead she yelled, "A.J., put those flowers down right now! Drop them on the ground, son! Oh, A.J., those aren't leaves, that's poison ivy.”


Hurrying t A.J., Cecilia yelled, "No, don't touch your face! Don't touch anything! A.J., hold your left arm out like this for Mommy." As she gave those instructions, Cecilia extended her own left arm and hand away from her body, trying to get her four year old to copy her movements.


"No, that's your right arm, A.J. Hold out your other one. Yes, just like that, sweetheart."


Cecilia knelt to inspect A.J.'s hand, already seeing the beginnings of rash.


Fortunately, given the cool weather that day, A.J. was dressed in blue jeans and a long sleeve shirt so his body was well covered. Cecilia could detect just a little redness on his left wrist, right below the cuff of his shirt.


"Come on. Let's go over to the car and get the first-aid kit. I think I brought along some calamine lotion."


"What's calmy lotion? Will it sting?"


"Calamine. And no, it won't sting. I promise. It will help stop that hand from itching."


As Cecilia reached for the first-aid kit she had tucked under the passenger seat, A.J. said, "But it doesn't itch."


"Well, that's good. This will keep it from starting to itch, then.”


Cecilia used a washcloth to put the lotion on A.J.'s hand so she wouldn't come in contact with the poison ivy herself. Once that task was completed, she rummaged through the kit for gauze to wrap the hand in. She didn't want A.J. touching any other parts of his body and spreading the rash around. Nor did she want him infecting his father or brother.


"Mommy, is my hand gonna fall off like what happens to those guys in the Bible?"


"What do you mean? What guys in the Bible?"


"The leopards."


Cecilia laughed as she assured her son, "No, sweetheart, your hand isn't going to fall off. And the word is lepers, not leopards. Poison ivy and leprosy are two very different things, believe me."


"Oh," came the disappointed response. "That's too bad, it sure would have been a neat ‘venture. Rick would really be jealous."



Cecilia just shook her head and laughed some more before informing her son, "We sure don't want any adventures like that, A.J."


Jack and Rick approached the car, each carrying a grocery bag. Cecilia was still looking for the gauze, and A.J. was still standing beside her with his hand held in the air.


Upon catching sight of his father and older brother, the youngster yelled, "Hey, Rick, I got poisoned! But my hand's not going to fall off! I'm not a leopard!"


Jack and Rick exchanged puzzled glances.


"See, Dad, did I tell you?  He really is a weird little kid."


Jack laughed and tousled Rick's windblown hair. "Takes after his big brother, then, doesn't he?"




Once Jack and Rick got the whole story from Cecilia regarding the poison ivy, A.J.'s words made some sense. Jack looked the hand over and was happy to see there was no blistering, and that A.J. didn't seem to be in any discomfort.


“It looks like a mild case,” Jack told his wife.  “He must not have come in contact with much of it.”


As soon as A.J.’s hand was swathed in gauze, Jack took his boys for a closer look at the poison ivy patch.



“You guys stay away from here,” Jack instructed. “And if you see any other plants that look like this, don’t touch them.”


“Okay, Dad.”


“ ‘Kay, Daddy.”


After Jack returned to the campsite to put the groceries away, A.J. looked up at his brother. 


“Hey, Rick, wanna play Rough Rider and Davy Crockett?”




A.J. started hiking toward the woods.


“Okay. And I’ll be a leopard, too, and then my hand will fall off, and then--”


Rick grabbed his brother by the arm and steered A.J. around the poison ivy patch he was about to walk through. The blond never broke the stride of his conversation. “You’ll find my hand and have to sew it back on.  And then--”


“Kids,” the nine year old mumbled under his breath, right before bounding into the woods with his brother to play Rough Rider and Davy Crockett. 






By Friday the family had fished, swam, and hiked more times than Cecilia could keep track of. The temperature had risen again and the day was warming to eighty-five degrees. By two o’clock the Simons had gone swimming twice, played a game of kickball, and Jack and the boys had fished.


The week-long camping trip was drawing to a close, and Jack Simon was tired. His boys had kept him going non-stop since they’d arrived at the park.  He was actually looking forward to the drive home on Sunday.


Jack and Cecilia sat at the lake's edge talking while watching their youngest son wade in the water. A.J. had a fleet of plastic boats sailing around him.  The little admiral watched as his fleet bobbed in the water’s gentle current, and occasionally moved a boat to a knew position when he deemed it necessary.


Rick approached from a trip to the outhouse. "Hey, A.J., come on! Let's go exploring."


A.J. didn't take his attention away from his fleet as he answered his brother. "No, I don't want to. I wannna stay here."


"Oh, come on. Let's be the Rough Rider and Davy Crockett."


"I already told you.  I don’t wanna.” 


“I'll let you be the Rough Rider. You can wear my hat and everything." 


A.J. looked up as Rick stopped just short of stepping into the water.


"No. I don’t wanna play that game right now.”


"A.J., come on! Pleeease."


"Rick, leave him alone,” Jack ordered. “Go play Rough Rider by yourself for a while. Maybe Andy will want to play later."


"Geez, you guys told me I was gettin' a little brother so I'd have somebody to play with, then you let him go and do stuff like this to me.” 


Jack had to turn away to keep from laughing, the cough that came from Cecilia sounded suspiciously like stifled laughter as well.


A.J. invited, "Rick, you can play boats with me."


"Nah, that's baby stuff. I don't want to play that."


Enjoying the time he was spending watching his youngest son play ‘baby stuff,’ Jack stepped in before the conversation escalated to an argument between the two boys.


"Andy’s having a good time playing with his boats, Rick, so just leave him be. You can go exploring on your own for a little while, scout. When you get back, we'll all do something together, I promise."


Now that he gave it some thought, Rick decided exploring on his own, with no little brother tagging along, definitely had possibilities. 


“Okay, Dad. I’ll do some exploring.”



As Rick jogged toward the woods, his mother called, "Don't go too far, Rick!"


"I won't!" The boy promised, right before he disappeared in the thick forest.





At four-thirty, Jack and Cecilia Simon, with A.J. in tow, were searching for their oldest son. The nine-year-old had not yet returned from his trek. When Jack realized help was needed, he drove to the ranger station, leaving Cecilia and A.J. behind to continue the search.


Jack returned in the Buick, Ranger Bill following in a park-owned Jeep.  The men climbed out of their vehicles and hurried toward the sound of Cecilia’s voice.


"No sign of him, Cece?”


Upon hearing her husband's voice, Cecilia emerged from the woods with A.J.'s hand clasped firmly in hers.  She’d lost one son this afternoon.  She wasn’t about to lose another.


"No, Jack, nothing. We’ve called, and called, and called."


Jack looked at the ranger.  "We've searched every trail twice that Rick's accustomed to us taking."


"What about the other trails, Jack?” the ranger questioned. “The ones you said you didn't check?"


"Daddy, I know where Rick is," came a little voice Jack ignored as he answered the ranger.


"Rick wouldn't take a trail we haven't been on before, Bill. He knows I'm firm about that rule."


A.J. wormed his hand from his mother’s grasp and tugged on Jack’s shirttails. "Daddy, I know where Rick is."


"Be quiet, Andy."


"Well, Jack, in that case, what we should do first is--"


"Daddy! I know where Rick is." 


Jack glared at his youngest.  "Andrew, That's enough now! Be quiet, son." 


"Wait, Jack,” the ranger advised. “Let's hear what he has to say." The red headed man knelt in front of A.J. "What do you mean you know where Rick is, kiddo?"


"I know what trail Rick took, Ranger Bill. Come on!"


A.J. grabbed the man’s hand and led him toward the woods. Jack and Cecilia followed, openly skeptical over Bill's faith in their four year old.


As the group came upon a specific trail, A.J. stopped and pointed. "There, that's the one. That's the trail Rick took."


"Did you see Rick go up this trail, Andy?"


"No, Daddy."


"Well, then, how do you know Rick took this trail? I've never taken you boys on this one before."


A.J.'s young mind shifted into high gear. He realized that if he told the grownups Rick had wanted to explore this trail ever since the boys had discovered it on Tuesday, then Rick would be in big trouble if he was found on it. Therefore, A.J. innocently contradicted his father.


"Yes, you did, Daddy."


"No, Andy, I didn't."


"Oh...well, I guess...I guess we got mixed up then. Me and Rick thought you had taken us on it. I told Rick you had. I told him we could go on it ‘cause you said it was okay.” 


The ranger stood. "I think we should take a walk up it, Jack.”


“But I never took the boys on it.”


“Still, it's worth a try. These trails all look alike. I can see how the kids could have gotten mixed up. And this one is kind of tricky. It's not straight out and back like most of the others. It winds around in circles. If Rick stepped off of it and walked just a few yards into the woods, he could have gotten lost quickly.” 


"Oh, Jack," Cecilia whispered upon hearing the ranger's words.


Jack squeezed his wife's shoulder. "Don't worry, hon. Rick's a smart boy. He knows that if he gets lost in the woods he's supposed to sit in one place and wait until help arrives. I'm sure that's what he's doing right now."


The ranger nodded. "Jack's right, Cecilia. Your Rick's a sharp kid. He'll be fine. If we don't find him on this trail, I'll get the other rangers. Then there will be twelve of us out looking for Rick. Thirteen counting Jack.  Don't worry, we’ve never had a lost child yet that we haven't found safe and sound."


Cecilia smiled slightly and nodded.


"Cece, you take Andy and go wait by the tents in case Rick returns. We'll be back within the hour."


"Daddy, I wanna go with you. I wanna help look for Rick."


Although he was upset over the thought of his missing oldest child, Jack took the time to bend down and tweak the nose of his youngest.


"No, sport, I need you to stay with Mommy. She needs someone to be with her right now. Can I count on you to do that for me? To stay with Mommy and be her and be her little man?”  


"Yes, Daddy," A.J. replied, as he hugged his father. As he did so he whispered, "Find Rick, Daddy."


Jack hugged A.J. a long moment, then released him and turned to follow Bill up the trail.


The two men hiked for thirty minutes, only ceasing their calls for Rick when they paused to listen for his voice.  Suddenly, Jack heard a distant, "Dad! Dad, I'm over here!"




“Dad, I’m here!”


"Rick, stay where you are! Keep calling to me so we can find you!" 


Five minutes later, the two men found Rick deep in the woods seated on a log waiting for them. Rick ran to his father.  Jack hugged him while asking softly, “Are you all right?"


"Yeah, Dad, I'm okay."


Jack stood back and gripped Rick’s shoulder.  “Okay, young man, out with it.  What happened?”


In short order the story was told. How Rick got mixed up on the trail, how after walking around in circles he came to the conclusion he was lost, and how he remembered his father's instructions to always stay where you are if you get lost in the woods and listen for someone calling your name.


As Rick, his father, and Ranger Bill hiked back to the Simons’ tents, Rick was surprised that his dad wasn’t angry with him. By now, the boy had expected to feel his father’s hand on his backside for his disobedience.


As the trio came within sight of the tents, Cecilia looked up and saw her son. 


"Rick!” the relieved mother exclaimed while running toward the boy.  “Oh, Rick!”


A.J. was running as fast as his little legs would carry him.


"Rick, Rick, you're back! You didn't get eaten by a bear!"


After Cecilia finished hugging her son, A.J. took his turn. He wrapped his arms around his big brother's waist.


"Rick, I was really worried. I thought maybe a bear had eaten you, or Indians had scalped you."


Rick bent and hugged A.J. in return. "Aw, squirt, you worry too much. I'm okay."


Cecilia and Jack thanked the ranger for his help, then had Rick apologize to the man for all the trouble he had caused. Ranger Bill laughed.


"It's no problem, folks. It wouldn't seem like the Simon family had visited us if I didn't get called on for assistance at least once during your stay."


After Bill had left in his Jeep, Jack confronted his eldest.


"Rick, what made you take that trail in the first place?"


Now Rick knew he was in for it. If his father hadn't been angry before, he sure would be now. Rick's mind worked fast and furiously to try and come up with something to tell his dad other than the truth. Maybe he could say he saw a fox, or a cougar, or a... 


Before Rick could formulate his story, A.J. tugged on his brother's hand.


"Remember, Rick, I thought Daddy had taken us on that trail before? Remember, I told you that the day we were playin’ Rough Rider and Davy Crockett before breakfast? I guess I got mixed up, huh?”



Rick looked down into his little brother's face, the face that was silently pleading with Rick to catch onto the lie and agree with it.  The nine-year-old slowly nodded his head as he returned his attention to his father.


"Yeah, Dad, A.J. thought you had taken us on it before, and I guess I kinda did, too. It wasn’t until I was already lost that I realized maybe I was wrong."


"Well, from now on both of you boys need to pay closer attention to the trails we go on. See, this is what can happen when you go off exploring an unfamiliar area by yourself. Do you understand, Richard? Andrew?"


"Yes, Dad."


"Yes, Daddy, we'll be more careful."


Jack tousled the hair of both his sons, who were standing before him presenting the perfect picture of obedience and innocence.


Cecilia asked, "Rick, I imagine you're hungry, aren't you?" 


"Hungry? Mom, I'm starving!"


Cecilia chuckled. "Well, after your little hike this afternoon, I suppose you are." Handing Rick a washcloth towel and dishpan she instructed, "Take A.J. and go to the pump, please. Wash up, and then help you little brother wash, too. Bring some water back in that pan for Daddy and me so we can clean up as well. Everybody's going to help make supper tonight so we can eat early."




Rick carried the things his mother gave him in one hand, while holding A.J.’s hand with the other. The brothers walked side by side up the trail that led to the outhouse and the pump.


As she watched her sons walk away, Cecilia hugged her husband.


"I’m so glad you found him, Jack. I don't know what I would have done if Rick was still lost by nightfall."


Jack kissed the top of his wife's head. "I know, I kept thinking of that, too." Pulling away from Cecilia, Jack looked down at her with twinkling eyes. "Well, as usual, Rick doesn't seem to be any worse for wear from his experience. But gee, Mommy, are those some gray hairs I see on your head?"


"I wouldn't doubt it," Cecilia readily acknowledged before shrugging her shoulders. "Ah, well, another incident to put into the Rick Simon Scrapbook of Life.'"


Jack laughed as he began helping his wife get things out for supper.


"I hope that scrapbook has a lot of pages, hon. I have a feeling Rick's going to fill every one of them by the time he's eighteen."





The two boys stood at the pump. Rick scrubbed A.J.'s dirty face and hands, then scrubbed his own dirty face and hands. When he was through washing, Rick leaned against the pump and asked, "How come you told Dad that you thought he’d taken us on that trail before? You knew he hadn't. You were the one who kept tellin' me that all week - every time I tried to get you to go up it with me."



“ ‘Cause I knew if Daddy found out you went on that trail when you knew you weren't supposed to, he’d be real mad at you. He might have even spanked you, and I didn't want him to do that. We’ve been havin’ fun, and I wanna keep on havin’ fun. I didn't want anybody to be mad, or anybody to get in trouble."


Rick smiled at his little brother as he bent and hugged him.


"You're the best brother a guy could have. Thanks for coverin' for me."


As Rick released his brother A.J. shrugged, trying to act very grown up. Trying to act at least seven.


"You'd have done the same thinq for me. ‘Sides, I had to show you I’m not a goody, goody all the time.


Rick laughed as he handed A.J. the towel and washcloth to carry, while he carried the dishpan full of water. "No, you're not a goody goody, A.J. And anyway, there really isn't nothin' wrong with bein' a goody, goody. You sure help me stay out of trouble."


A.J. thought about that as he and Rick walked side by side down the trail.


"Rick, if I'm a goody, goody, does that make you a bady, bady?"


Rick laughed again. "You're so weird. But yeah, I guess I am kind of a bady, bady. At least Mom thinks so sometimes."


"Rick, were you scared when you were lost today?"


With all the nine-year-old bravado he could muster, Rick replied, "Nah, kid, I wasn't scared."


Rick wasn't about to admit to a four-year-old that he had been, in fact, a little scared. And even more scared as he sat waiting to be found, wondering what it would be like to be alone in the woods all night.


"Did you get to pee outside?"


"Yeah, I did. I had to go real bad, and there was no bathroom around, so I didn't really have a choice."


"Wow! That's so neat. I wish I coulda’ done that." 


Now, as the boys approached the tents, A.J. ran on ahead of Rick.


"Hey, Mommy! Hey, Daddy! Rick got to pee outside!"


“Oh, no,” Rick groaned. "Why don't you just tell the whole world, blabber mouth!"


Jack laughed at his children, while Cecilia said, "A.J., sometimes in certain situations, emergencies arise and things can't be helped. I'm sure that's what happened to Rick this afternoon. But that's not how we normally do things, is it?"


“No, but I sure wish I'd have gotten my chance, too. Boy, Davy Crockett and the Rough Rider did it that way – Uncle Ray said so - now Rick got to go to the bathroom outside. When's it my turn?"


"Never, I hope," Cecilia replied, while giving Jack a dirty look for laughing. She also made a mental note to tell Jack to speak to his brother about what information Ray passes on to impressionable little boys.


Soon the family was busy preparing dinner, the afternoon and all it contained taking a backseat to the evening meal.





Saturday, the last day of vacation, arrived warm and sunny. The entire family took an early morning swim, then ate breakfast. As the boys went about their assigned tasks of picking up the campsite of stray toys and litter, A.J. ordered, "Now stay close to me, Rick. Don't wander off. I don't want you gettin' lost."


A.J. was mimicking the exact words his brother had said to him all week, each time the boys had been allowed to wander off on their own.


Finally, big brother got disgusted with having the table turned on him. "A.J., give me a break, will ya’? I ain't gonna get lost. And quit followin’ me around. Every time I turn around I trip over you."


Just as A.J. was about to protest, Cecilia stepped in and put an end to the matter.


"We're all going to stay together today. Nobody's going to get lost."


And stay together they did. The four hiked, swam, and fished. Jack and Cecilia even joined the boys in the woods in a game of frontiersmen. Rick assigned everyone to his or her roles. He, of course, would be the Rough Rider, and A.J., Davy Crockett. Rick decided his dad should be Daniel Boone, and his mother, "Sacagawea, because she was a really good scout for Louis and Clark, even if she was a girl."


By eight on Sunday morning, the tents were down, the car was packed, and the family was finishing a breakfast of fruit and muffins. The boys were sent to the outhouse one last time, then the Simons piled in the car and pulled away from their campsite. A repeat of the day they arrived occurred as the car came to the park entrance.


"Bye, Ranger Bill!"


"Goodbye, Ranger Bill!"


Jack stopped the car so he and Cecilia could say goodbye, and thank Bill again for his help in finding Rick.


“You’re welcome, Jack, Cecilia. I was happy to do what I could.”


The man bent down to say goodbye to Rick and A.J. "You boys have a good trip home. I'll see you next summer, right?"




"You bet!"


Laughing at the boys never ending enthusiasm, the ranger teased Cecilia, "Just make your reservations six months in advance, so we're prepared for your arrival. Extra work goes into the week the Simon boys are coming to visit."


The Simon men laughed at the ranger, while Cecilia just shook her head with playful exasperation. After one last round of goodbyes, the car pulled onto the highway. They hadn't traveled a half a mile before A.J. said, "I wish we could go camping again next week."


Jack chuckled. "Well, sport, you'll have to wait until next year before we camp again."


"A whole year? That's forever."


Cecilia turned to look at the boys. "We've got to get home, A.J., so you and I can take Rick shopping for new clothes and his school supplies. School starts again in just two weeks."


"Don't remind me, Mom," Rick groaned. "Hey, I bet Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone didn't have to go to school! If we camped all year round I wouldn't have to go to school, either."


"Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone most certainly did go to school, Rick," Cecilia informed her son. "And if frontier children didn't have a schoolhouse close enough that they could walk to, then their mothers taught them at home. If we camped all year long, then I'd have to be your teacher."


"Oh, no," Rick teased in horror. Rick knew his mother would be the toughest schoolteacher he had ever encountered.


Knowing how much the boys hated to see this vacation end, Jack suggested, "If you boys want to, we'll set the pup tent up in the back yard until school starts. You can sleep out there and get a little flavor of camping for a while yet."


"Yeah, Dad, that would be great!" 


As he often did, A.J. mimicked his older brother. "Yeah, Daddy" that would be great!"


Soon the talk in the car gave way to silence. The enthusiasm the boys possessed on the trip up was gone now as they headed for home. Cecilia reached for her book. She had just one hundred pages left to go. Glancing at the passing countryside she thouqht, I should be able to finish my book before this vacation ends. We won’t be home until sometime after six tonight.


Cecilia glanced over her shoulder and smiled at her sons’ bowed heads. Rick was engrossed in a comic book, and A.J. was coloring in his Davy Crockett coloring book. Turning back to her book, Cecilia enjoyed the peace and quiet while she read.


Two miles later, Cecilia's peace and quiet was broken by two young voices.


"Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of beer, ya’ take one down, ya’ pass it around, ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall! Ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-eight bottles of beer..."


A.J. interrupted his singing long enough to lean over the front seat and say, "Mommy, we're gonna see if we can sing this song the whole way home. Do you think we can?"


"Oh, I wouldn't be surprised." 


As the boys continued their singing, Cecilia realized all hopes of finishing her book were now lost.


Oh well, if you can't beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em.


Cecilia and Jack smiled at one another as they joined in the boys’ fun.


"Ninety-two bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-two bottles of beer, ya’ take one down, ya’ pass it around, ninety-one bottles of beer on the wall! Ninety-one bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-one bottles of beer, ya’ take one down--"


Voices raised in song filled the car as the Buick sped south to San Diego, taking the Rough Rider and Davy Crockett home.



~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~



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