It’s true. Hershey’s made the Kit Kat bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that brought our happy family ritual to an end.
July 4, 1983: For the fifth year now, Mom and Dad have packed my younger brother and sister and me into Grandpa’s RV and driven us north to Newaygo County to camp at Little Switzerland over the Independence Day holiday. What Switzerland — big or little — has to do with the campground, I can’t begin to fathom. It’s about as Swiss as a taco.
I am 11 years old and chronically bored and self-conscious. I have a good-enough time with my siblings. We do cannonballs and play Marco Polo in the lake. We play miniature golf on the sun-bleached course. We ride around the campground on our bikes while our parents ride their lawn chairs. We get sunburned and mosquito-bitten, despite the layers of Coppertone and Off! Mom slathers on us. At night in the tent, the three of us horse around until our parents yell out the camper window to go to sleep.
But I spend my most blissed-out hours alone on the camper couch where I read Trixie Belden mysteries in front of the fan. I eat Kit Kat bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups while I read, following an elaborate ritual: I break off a Kit Kat stick and take small bites, allowing the chocolate to melt on my tongue before I crunch into the crispy wafer. When I’ve finished one stick, I take a sip of warm Coke. Then it’s on to the next stick.
To eat the Reese’s, I nibble around the perimeter of the cup. I savor the center, allowing it to melt on my tongue. By the time I’m finished, my fingers are coated in chocolate goo. Even after I lick my fingers clean, chocolate blossoms stain the pages of my book.
Once the candy is gone and I’ve reached the end of a chapter in my Trixie Belden book, I snap on my neon-pink fannypack and bike with my brother and sister to the camp store where I buy two more Kit Kats and two more Reese’s. Then it’s back to the camper for more Trixie, more candy and more warm Coke.
Once or twice, Mom calls from her lawn chair as we climb on our bikes: “Take it easy on the candy bars.”
“We will, Mom,” we chorus, and never give her words another thought.
That afternoon, my sister throws up on the picnic table. She misses the fireworks to recuperate at the campsite with cups of Vernor’s, that Michigan-made magic medicine.
By the time dusk falls, I could use some Vernor’s myself. I beg off going to the lakeside fireworks, but my dad convinces me that if I miss them, I will regret it on my deathbed. All I remember is the sea of people, the stench of their Hawaiian Tropic, their sweat and their beer.
Sometime after midnight, I am awakened by what feels like “Dancing with the Stars” in my gut. I belch and wrestle my way out of my sleeping bag. I crawl across the dark tent to where the opening must be. My fingers fumble on the slippery nylon. I can’t locate the zipper. I can’t get out. The dancers twirl. They flip. Kick left, kick right, kick left. I belch like a pirate. The dancers punch the air. I clap my hands over my mouth.
Gwaaaaarp! Chocolate, peanut butter and bile overflow my hands and splatter on the tent floor.
My fingers clasp the zipper at last. I crawl out of the tent and run for the RV. I feebly tap on the door. No response. I rap both fists against the door and bleat, “Mom-my! Mom-my!”
The door flies open and Mom’s standing there in her nightgown, her hair all caved-in on one side and she’s not wearing her glasses. “What? What is it?” she demands in that voice that says that somebody better need the emergency room.
While Mom scrubs up my Hershey’s hork, pausing every few seconds to gag, Dad shepherds my sister and me into the car. He drives us all the way home, cutting corners and stomping on the gas and the brakes so my sister and I lurch into the doors and each other, belching and moaning.
The next morning, my brother barfs in the frying pan Mom is about to cook breakfast in.
That is the last Independence Day camping trip — the last camping trip, period.
Here in 2012, I ironically — perhaps perversely — still love Kit Kats and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. In moderation, of course. But I have never taken my children camping.
— By Kelly O'Toole, one of the Tribune's newest community columnists. Her column will appear on the first Tuesday of each month.