The door opened as Greg and Vic reached the top of the steps. "We didn't expect you until morning," said Greg's mother.

   "Do you want us to leave, and come back then?" asked Greg.

   "Well, it's kind of a bother to have you upsetting my schedule. But, since you're here... " She stepped back, and motioned them into the house.

   As soon as the door closed, the "inconvenience" seemed to be forgotten, as mother and son shared a strong hug. "Welcome, son Gregory. I have really been looking forward to this."

   "Me too, mom."

   She looked at Vic over Greg's shoulder. "And is this tall, dark-haired Norwegian girl with you?"

  "Young woman," Greg muttered, without planning to.

  "Greg..." Vic started to say, but she was enveloped in a hug of her own. "Welcome, new daughter. Not to take anything away from the joy of having my son here, but you're what I've really been waiting for."

   "Thanks, Mrs. Cleveland. You're going to make me cry."

   "Mothers-in-law are not called 'Mrs.' Everybody calls me Merry. That's M-e-r-r-y, not to be confused with M-a-r-y. So, what was that little by-play with Greg, that our hug interrupted."

   "That," said Greg, "is the result of considerable coercion and training. One of my first conversations with Vic included her chiding me for calling her 'a girl,' rather than a young woman. Now, whenever I hear the word 'girl,' I'm like Pavlov's dogs, or like The Three Stooges when they hear the words 'Niagara Falls.'  I automatically say 'young woman.'"

   "He obviously learned his lesson well," Vic explained. "But, really, I started it just because I was trying to get him to notice me."

   Greg's dad had come into the room. "If my son needed that to notice you, he obviously needed new glasses. Hi Vic, I'm Cliff, the father of that fellow by you." He held out his hand.

   "After your comment, I think I would rather hug you than shake your hand. Is that all right?"

   He held open his arms. "Would any man refuse the offer of a hug from a pretty young woman?" He emphasized the 'young woman,' and probably got an even better hug because of it.

   They moved out of the doorway, and into the living room. "Mom, where did that 'tall, dark-haired Norwegian' line come from?"

   "That's the way Vic described herself in her letter to us, so we were on the lookout." Greg looked at her blankly. "Didn't you read the letter?"

   Greg looked at Vic, who just gave him a big smile. "Apparently not," he said.

   "I have it, and will let you read it, if it's okay with Vic." Vic nodded yes. "We decided after we got the letter that, even if you decided not to keep her, we were going to. We thought we might adopt her."

   Vic couldn't control a few tears after that. This was a lovely "homecoming."


   They chatted for a while, then Merry asked if they'd had dinner. "We had lunch up in the canyon before Placerville. Since then, we've been snacking in the car, but haven't wanted to stop in the heat and the traffic."

   "We ate a late lunch, but I'm ready for something else. Leftovers, here we come."

   While they were eating, Greg and Vic described their trip. "Our first night, we spent in Winnemucca," explained Greg. "Neither of us had ever gambled, and there were nickel slots in the lobby. Between us, we had nine nickels that we decided to play."

   "The desk clerk was lonely, or bored," Vic continued. "So he came over and talked to us about what the chances were of our hitting a jackpot. He said he thought that it was the law that a jackpot was possible with every machine, but there was no formula that predicted when it would happen. He said we might lose our nine nickels in nine pulls of the lever, or we might win and lose all evening, but with a nickel machine, even if we hit the jackpot, it wouldn't be very big."

   "He said that we were now at the point where we decided if we were real gamblers, or not," said Greg. "He said if we were, we should go over to one of the casinos, and start playing the quarter or dollar machines. If we weren't, he thought we should take our ''winnings' - we were up about two dollars - and buy breakfast with it in the morning. We went for the free breakfast."

   "It really is exciting for a little while," said Vic, "pulling the handle, and watching the numbers or symbols come up. I can see why people become addicted - not so much with the nickel machines, but if they get brave enough to go for bigger jackpots. Every time I pulled the lever, I had an anticipation that this time would be the big one. I see how it could become easy to believe."

   "I've played the one-armed bandits a few times in my life," said Cliff, "but I'm not a gambler, for sure. We've never had so much money that I could get excited about just giving it away. The one time we stayed in Winnemucca, we could have really used a jackpot. Unfortunately, we didn't even have one nickel that we could risk."

   "Greg told me a little about that, but he admitted that his memory as a one-year-old was a little spotty. Would it be too painful for you to tell me more?"

   Cliff chuckled. "It was a long time ago. The memory isn't painful, but it hasn't got any better, either.

   "Well, it looked like the war was finally coming to a close,  and I was discharged from the Merchant Marine. We'd never been anywhere together - I went to sea shortly after we got married - so we thought it would be fun to do something really special. Being on board ships most of the time, I hadn't had to spent much of my pay, and Merry was living with her parents while I was gone. She helped with the household expenses, but the rest of each pay check went in the bank, so we had a pretty good little nest egg waiting.

   "We decided that Yellowstone was a good destination. It was a long way to go, and we weren't sure about roadside services after all the war years, but I'd heard that there was plenty of gasoline available, our '36 Ford was in fine shape, and I could fix just about anything mechanical that went wrong with it.

   "It was a good trip. We got to Yellowstone without any problems. We had our big umbrella tent with us, and we'd found that the two little kids traveled and slept just fine in cardboard boxes. It snowed on us one day - pretty surprising for us lowland Californians, who seldom saw snow at any time, but certainly didn't expect it in summer. But I guess Yellowstone is at a pretty high altitude.  Anyway, we saw lots of animals - buffalo, elk, deer, bears - the people were as stupid about bears then as they are now, feeding them and getting out in the midst of them to take pictures. I guess I have to confess to some of that stupidity - we never fed them, but I did get out of the car, and take pictures of bear cubs climbing all over our car, trying to find a way in. You probably remember those shots in the photo album, Greg?

   "Well, as I said, we had a good time. We were surprised at how many people were there. Of course, nothing like there are, today, but still a lot. I guess everybody was feeling the same need to get out and do something different, after all the years of not being able to do much.

   "The trip was going fine until Winnemucca, when something important - the universal joint - broke in the car. I said I could fix anything mechanical - which I could - but the universal had to be replaced. Obviously, there were no '36 Ford universals in Winnemucca - probably none in Nevada. We finally located a used one in Los Angeles, but it was going to take quite a while to get it to us, and then of course there was the repair time to consider. It looked like we were stranded for quite some time.

   "We found an auto court to stay in, but we were really short of money. We'd brought enough extra with us for any of the usual travel problems, but a stay of a week or so wasn't in the planning. We were lucky, in a way, that the auto court was badly in need of repairs. I convinced the owners that I could do everything from building repairs to plumbing, and they let us stay free in exchange for my labor. We still needed money for food. I found that the local garage and gas station was short of help, so they hired me for a couple of hours every day."

   "It was pretty awful," interjected Merry. "We had two kids still in diapers, it was hot and dusty, there really wasn't anything to do, and with Cliff working most of the time... Well, I wouldn't want to do it again."

   "Yeah, the combination of the boredom  and the uncertainly about how long we'd have to be there, were pretty wearing. I probably had it best just because at least I was moving around and working. I used to  take Cliff Jr. for a walk each day - to use up some of his energy, and to give Merry a little break. Just north of the auto court, the road crossed over the railroad tracks, and there were a lot of freight trains going by. Cliff loved to watch the trains, so I usually tried to keep him out quite a while.

   "Well, we were there for a whole week. We had to ask Merry's parents to send money by Western Union for us to pay for the universal, but the garage owner let me use their tools, so I was able to install the universal by myself. At last, we started home, and arrived there without further mishap. Thank God!"

   "Wow," said Vic. "That is quite a story. I hope that eventually you were able to kind of set that week aside, and remember the rest of the trip as pretty good."

   "We have been able to do that," Merry agreed. "It was a great trip, and just the kind of change we needed to get going in the new post-war world. I would gladly trade that one week, but I wouldn't trade the trip for anything!"

   "On another subject," Greg began, "Are Janna and Cliff going to be able to make it?"

  "Tomorrow afternoon," Merry replied. "Both were talking about coming just for a while on Sunday, but I convinced them - actually, coerced is probably the better word - to stay overnight, so we could have a family gathering tomorrow evening. It's been too long without."


    "I didn't get your comment about the Three Stooges," Vic said later, when they had retired to their bedroom. "What was that all about?""

    "You don't know the Niagara Falls routine?"

   "I guess not."

   "Well, every time somebody said 'Niagara Falls' around one of the Stooges, he would stop in his tracks. Then, he'd say, 'Slowly I turn, step by step, inch  by inch..' and then grab whoever said it, and pretend to beat them up. It's just like somebody saying 'girl,' and me reacting by saying 'young woman.' Get it?"

   "I'm not sure. It doesn't seem like the same thing to me."

   "Okay, try this. You hypnotize me, so that I will always respond in a certain way when you say 'take me to bed.' You say it, and slowly I turn, step by step, inch by  inch, until I can take you in my arms and carry you to the nearest bed. Does that illustrate it more clearly?"

   She gave a little chuckle. "You have some of the most amazing fantasies, I'll give you that. There are two major problems with this one."

   "Really? I thought it was rather well thought out. What's wrong with it?"

   "Well, first of all, I couldn't hypnotize you. Even in your fantasy, I couldn't hypnotize anybody. The second problem is actually more just a basic question. Why would I ever have to  hypnotize you to get you to take me to bed? If I said the words - or even suggested the words - I think the response would be inevitable."

   "Oh, okay. Are you perhaps suggesting the words, now?"

  "Let me put it this way. If you have anything in mind along those lines, it better be quick and quiet. I predict that I will be asleep within one minute of my head hitting the pillow."

   Greg seemed to consider that. "I can't see that we can accomplish much if I have to use all my energy just keeping your head from hitting the pillow. Perhaps this time it would be best if I just hold you in my arms, and we both dream about the next time we're both awake."

   "I think that's a very good solution."


    After breakfast, Merry and Vic were alone in the kitchen, just getting to know one another. "Where did Gregory disappear to? His father had to go to the auto parts store to pick up a couple of things for Cliff Jr. Did Greg go with him?" asked Merry.

   "I don't think so. He may be going through some of his boxes, looking for a book. He promised Mrs. McPherson - my dorm mother - that he would let her read his copy of a rather hard to find Nevil Shute book. He doesn't have it with him in Idaho, so he assumes it's here."

   "Well, he still has a ton of stuff here, so it's quite possible."

   "On an entirely different subject," Vic started, "Greg was really surprised - shocked, is maybe a better word - when you asked him on the phone if we were sleeping together."

   Merry smiled at her. "Vic honey, your generation did not invent extramarital sex. Greg and I don't talk a lot but, when we have lately, it's mostly been about this girl he knows. I figured that he wasn't spending his money going to see her on the weekends, sending her back to her dorm when the sun went down, and spending his night alone in an expensive motel bed."

   Vic giggled. "No, I suppose not. I guess we hadn't thought of it the way you did. But we were a little worried about it. We have been enjoying sleeping together - even when we really are 'sleeping' - and we wanted to do that on our trip to see you. We didn't want to offend you, or lie about our situation, but we really didn't want to end up in separate bedrooms. It was a real relief for both of us to know that wasn't going to be an issue."

   "No, I can understand your concern. Every generation - and every part of every generation - has its ways about such things, and of course the reality is sometimes not anything like what's really going on. Here in California, there was quite a bit of dabbling in the 'fine arts' in Cliff's and my day, even if it was the 1930s. Actually, maybe because it was the '30s, with all the confusion and uncertainty of the war. Everybody knew we were going to end up in the European war at some time, and everybody knew that would change everything. Anyway, Cliff and I were among the 'dabblers.' He was working as a mechanic in a garage, and I was working in a department store. We met at a dance, and immediately liked each other. We didn't get together very often but, after a few dates, it always seemed like we ended up in bed. That wasn't always easy. I shared rooms with a bunch of other shop girls, and he lived with several guys, but we made it work, somehow.

   "That sort of thing wasn't unusual. Probably the only unusual thing about us is that we were  monogamous. Neither of us had had sex with anybody before - or after, for that matter. We just really liked each other, and liked the sex. Neither of us was thinking of it as a prelude to marriage, at least not at first. After about two years of 'dating' - I guess that's what you'd call it  - we just decided we were ready. In some ways, getting married was crazier right then than not getting married. We knew the war was about to start, and we knew that Cliff would almost certainly be off somewhere fighting it most of the time, but we suddenly wanted to do it. We got married, tried very hard to get pregnant - and succeeded. He joined the Merchant Marine, and I went home to live with my parents.  He was at sea most of the next five years, so we didn't see each other very often. When we did, we made the most of it, including planning pretty precisely when we wanted our other babies. There were a lot of surprise 'war babies' born, but all three of ours were very much planned - Cliff in 1938, Janna in 1941, and Greg in 1943.  The war got over, Cliff got a job on land, we moved out of my parents' house, and raised our family in the conventional way.

   "You don't need to tell Greg about the sins of his parents. But on the other hand, why not? He's an adult, and he must know that most of the stories of 'the virginal life' are untrue. He probably has guessed, anyway, after all the time he's known us."

   "Thanks for telling me that," said Vic. "My mom tells a story about North Dakota that sounds very similar. She and Daddy didn't have sex before they got married, but many of their friends did, and there were 'war babies' there, too. Mom said that they didn't have any religious or moral reasons for waiting, just neither of them felt they were ready.

   "I guess Greg's and my situation is a little different. We were fully committed to marriage before our first time..."

   "But Vic, honey, how much do you think that mattered in your original decision, or in what has happened since?"

   Vic looked puzzled. "I'm not sure I know what you mean."

   "Well, when you first decided you were ready - or when Greg did, however it worked with you two - did you really go forward because it seemed okay, because you were going to get married? Any time you've made love since, have you thought, 'well, we're jumping the gun a little bit, but we do plan to get married'?"

   Vic still looked puzzled. "I don't think we thought about it as 'jumping the gun.' I think for a long time we've pretty much considered ourselves married. We just haven't legalized it."

   "I think that's what I'm trying to say. Neither of you had any religious or so-called 'moral' convictions about sex outside of marriage. All of us worry a little bit about social convention, I guess, but almost everybody knows - because of your parents, and Cliff and me, and probably a bunch of your friends - that 'social convention' is pretty much a 'do as I say, not as I do' situation. Most couples don't feel guilt about their sexual behavior, because there's none to feel.

   "Legally speaking, there's no connection between marriage and sex. I guess a few states - mostly in the South - have laws on the books about certain sexual behavior, but almost nobody ever tries to enforce them. In most of the United States, if you are a man and a woman, are both 18 or over, and neither is married to somebody else, you can have sex any time you want, married or unmarried. I've always thought that's the way it should be. Lust is a beautiful and confusing emotion. It should be allowed to operate freely."

   Vic laughed. "Wow! I'm learning a lot about the older generation..."

  "Can we call it the previous, or earlier, generation, rather than older?"

   "Of course. The previous generation, which includes parents on both sides of my marriage-to-be, is turning out to be quite surprising. I like it."

   "Thanks, Vic. I may need to clarify my comment about lust operating freely, so you don't think of me as a completely wanton woman. I think that anybody should be able to share sex with anybody they want to, as long as both people are in complete agreement, and they've done the proper planning for whatever outcome they want or don't want. In my shop girl days, I came to understand that, for many people - men and women - going to bed together was just how you ended your date. I kissed quite a few boys before Cliff, along with some of the light gymnastics that often accompanied kissing. I'm sure he did the same. But, despite the lack of any moral convictions against it, both of us just felt that sex was different. Actually joining with someone else's body seems like it has to involve more than just fun. Still, that's me. I repeat again, if there's willingness and no guilt, I'm not going to judge it for anybody else.

   "Also, remember, I'm only talking about the relationship of marriage and sex. I am fully in favor of official marriage for other reasons. That simple piece of paper protects both partners in the event of a divorce or other family calamity. It gives status to children in the marriage. It gives an income tax break to be able to file jointly - although I guess in some states, 'domestic partners' are recognized the same way. If often clarifies estate planning when one of the partners dies. And a very important benefit that we don't often think about until confronted by it - you can live for 30 years as 'married' but without a license, and if you try to visit your sick spouse in the hospital, you may be turned away because you're not legally 'family.''

   "So, get married, by all means, but I'm happy to have you as part of the Cleveland clan, with or without license."


   Later that morning, Vic found Merry alone in the living room, reading a book. "I've lost my fiancé, again. He found the book he was looking for, so it's not that. Do suppose he's grown tired of me?"

   Merry put down her book. "Will it ease you mind if I tell you he's off with his father, doing some 'man things' out in the garage?"

   "No, I think that's nice, and I wasn't worried about the 'forgetting' part, anyway, He knows he's stuck with me, and I know he likes it. It does make me think of something else I wanted to talk to you about. It's kind of meddling in 'family business,' though."

   "Vic, honey, you are family. What's on your mind?"

   Vic sat beside her on the couch. "I was thinking about this because I'm going to meet Cliff Jr. and Janna tomorrow. When Greg talks about them, it's always fondly, but he says he doesn't really know them, that their whole relationship was as kids. He doesn't relate to them as adults. I think I understand that, but it always seems to me that there must be something more involved."

   Merry took a moment before she spoke. "Well, what he says is true. Cliff was off on his own just a few years out of school, Janna got married only a year after graduation, and Greg was gone to college when he was still sixteen. They haven't seen much of one another since, particularly Greg.

   "I'd say that all three kids were pretty close in their younger years. They went to Saturday matinees together, we took a lot of Sunday drives as a family, and had camping vacations almost every summer. But Cliff was five years older than Greg, and it was inevitable that he would suddenly be a 'big kid,' and Greg and Janna would be 'little kids.'  He developed other friends and other interests.

   "Greg and Janna stayed very close - you could call them 'best friends' for several more years. They were close enough in years - only two years different - that they might still be best friends today. But that didn't happen because of Greg's school situation. I suppose he's told you about that?"

   "We've talked quite a bit about it. I guess it was pretty bad."

   "It was, and I suspect he hasn't really told you the full extent of how bad it was. It was a disaster. You know he skipped grades, twice. The first time was in the Third or Fourth - I can't even remember which - and it was only half a grade. The teachers - some of whom were good personal friends, after teaching all three of the kids - were all insistent that Greg was so far ahead of the rest of his class, that he should be challenged a little bit. We couldn't see any harm in it, because he was still with all the kids he'd known his whole time in school, and he didn't even change teachers or class rooms. The teachers were happy with the move. I'm not sure that Greg knew anything was different.

   "The really bad was yet to come. A couple years later, the school staff still thought that Greg needed more challenge, and they proposed skipping him over the entire sixth grade. Now, we're not stupid parents. We considered that a move by himself to a different school was a lot different than moving his desk in elementary school. We didn't give enough consideration to the question of his age. He would suddenly be with kids two years older than him, on the verge of having all new interests - dating, cars, varsity sports, everything. Socially and biologically, that was too far in the future for him to even think about, and he would never catch up. We didn't think about it enough, but I don't think the school thought of it, at all.

   "I blame them for that, but I really blame them for the education part of it. They had to know that sixth grade isn't just a move to another classroom and another teacher. Just like they talk about 'college prep' classes, the way our schools are set up with a three-year junior high, sixth grade is 'high school prep.' Everything in grades one through five is just a slow and steady transition. Sixth grade introduces completely new concepts. Math may just have been a name change for arithmetic, but the next step - to algebra, geometry, and beyond - introduces whole new ways to think about numbers. If you didn't have sixth grade, seventh grade could be a disaster. It was.

   "Our other two kids had gone through sixth grade, and maybe we could have asked them about how different it was. But it probably wasn't, for them. They were just good students making their way from grade to grade, and very likely didn't realize how important it was to them to get it right. They got through, and went on to seventh grade, just like they should have. They just absorbed  the new concepts, just like Greg would have if they'd been presented to him.

   "Anyway, seventh grade was really a disaster for Greg. He wasn't the kind of kid to think of himself as super smart in grammar school. He just did his work. But in seventh grade, it became all too clear to him that he was now super dumb, compared to the rest of his class.

   "Any one of the various problems would have been bad, but to have poor grades, new school, no friends, and immaturity all piled on him at once was too much. Overnight it seemed, he became a different kid - still there in body, but pretty remote from us, in his own world. It was hard on Cliff and me, of course, but we'd been through some of the teen years with the others, so weren't quite as surprised as we might - or should - have been. Cliff Jr. was pretty much out the door by then, so it didn't really affect him. He just remembered his little brother had turned weird. It was Janna who was really hurt. Her best friend was not any kind of friend, anymore, just another boy. I don't think she's ever gotten completely over that.

  "Well, we obviously knew that something was terribly wrong, but we had no clue what to do about it. I think we thought - hoped, is probably the better term - that he'd work his way through it all, and become himself, again. Of course, that was wishful thinking. He suffered pretty much alone from the seventh to the tenth grade.

   "The breakthrough came in the eleventh grade. He got to know a boy in his  class, who could have been interested in girls, cars, and sports, and so of not much interest to Greg.  He was about two years older than Greg, was really handsome and personable. But at that time, Jack had only one interest - mountains. He loved everything about mountains, and he found a companion with that same love in Greg. Greg probably told you about his early adventures at Lake Tahoe, and his later mountain adventures?"

   "Yes, as a matter of fact, we were talking about it on our drive down here. We made a special detour down the west side of Lake Tahoe so he could show me his favorite area."

   "Oh, good. Well, Greg and Jack were two peas in a pod when it came to mountains. They ate, drank, and breathed mountains! When the Sierra Club sponsored a weekend camping trip to Yosemite, we let Greg go, even though he was only fourteen. We figured there were plenty of adults along. Later that summer, there was another trip to Yosemite and, again, we let him go. It seemed to really be doing him good.

   "The next summer, Greg and Jack and some other boys decided they wanted to make some trips on their own. We were hesitant - I mean, Greg was still only fifteen - but we'd come to really respect Jack's judgment and maturity, and we had seen that Greg was pretty cautious - not any kind of risk taker - so we said okay. They made a couple of backpacking trips that summer, and it seemed to really be good for Greg.

   "The mountain experience seemed to be opening him up in other ways, too. He couldn't really compete in the hard academics anymore, but he found he really liked music and English classes, and found a whole lot of kids of various ages who liked choir and drama and such, and he developed quite a few friendships. There was one girl - a pretty little thing, even younger than him - that he started to walk home from school with almost every day. It wasn't a boy-girl thing - neither was old enough to really think in those terms - and I don't think they ever saw each other outside of school and their walks, but again, it was another sign that he was getting comfortable with himself. When graduation came, it really felt like we had our son, again.

   "Well, this has been kind of a long way around Robin Hood's barn to answer your question about Greg and his siblings, but I kind of had to bring it to this point. Greg wanted to go to college, even though his grades weren't that good. It would have been a big achievement in a number of ways. Besides him getting it all back together, he would be the first one - ever! - in either Cliff's or my family who had gone to college. State college wasn't a giant expense, but we didn't have much money, so it would be a little burden for us to get him started. When Janna and Cliff heard  about the plan, they were pretty upset. It wasn't that either had wanted to go to college - they didn't - but they hadn't seen the changes in Greg those last couple of years, and they resented  him getting the reward after he had been - to use Cliff Jr's colorful term - a royal pain in the ass!

   "Well, he did get into college on the basis of his English and History scores, but he had a hard time. College algebra almost did him in - he still didn't understand the concept - and some other courses were almost as hard for him. He made it through, even though it wasn't with flying colors. But when he came home after the first year, both Janna and Cliff were pretty cold toward him. They called him 'college boy,' and he knew it wasn't a friendly term, the way they said it. He went off again and, as you know, he did finish up pretty well. But he has seldom seen his brother and sister since, and the meetings have been a little formal.

   "So, tomorrow, there won't be any fights at the dinner table, and probably no harsh words, but it may seem a little wooden. My hopes as a parent that there will be a reconciliation are not looking good. Somebody has to step up, and be the 'adult,' I guess. No one has done it, yet."

   "That's sad, and I think it hurts me especially because my sister Mandy and I have always been so close, and we've both benefited from the love and friendship. But thanks for sharing all that. it does help me to understand things."

   Just then, they heard Greg and his father returning from wherever they had been. "We thought we'd lost you," Merry said.

   "No, we were just out in the shop. Greg was telling me all the things I could have taught him if he'd been interested, that would have helped him on the job."

    Greg took the comment good-naturedly. "Well, how was I to know that working on a bird refuge would involve building fences, servicing automobiles, doing home repairs, and driving farm equipment?"

   "He even had to have some girl teach him how to drive a tractor." Cliff winked at Vic, as he said it.

   Vic turned to Merry. "That 'some girl' he mentioned was me."

   "That sounds like a good story. Tell me about it."

   Vic glanced at Greg to make sure he was okay with that. He nodded. "Well, I didn't have to teach him to drive a tractor. He could do that. What he was having trouble with was backing up a tractor when it was pulling something. The guys were teasing him about jack-knifing the trailer every time he tried. It was good-natured ribbing, but that gets old pretty quick. Anyway, I convinced him that he should let me teach him how to do it.

   "Merry, we were talking before about how sometimes you needed to learn a new concept before you can do something. Well, if you've never done it before, backing a trailer is a brand new concept. You know that with a car or a truck or a tractor, they can be made to move in all different directions and at different speeds, with very simple movements from you. A trailer that you're pulling has no controls at all. It can only move by how you move the vehicle in front. If you try to get it to back up by putting your tractor or truck in reverse, and giving it some gas, it will almost certainly swing away from you, most likely jack-knifing. You have to really slow down, and start to feel the movements."

   "That's a good explanation," Cliff observed.

   "Thanks. And once Greg understood that concept, he did just fine. The whole lesson probably didn't take over an hour. He wasn't perfect at it, but he could do it."

   Cliff chuckled. "So, what was the crew's reaction?"

  "Amazement," Greg replied. "Since we never told them how it happened, they're still amazed. We've created a fun mystery. The only problem with it is that Vic's hasn't received credit for her great teaching skills."


   Cliff Jr. arrived with Janna's family just after noon. There were introductions, hugs and handshakes all around, but Vic felt the greetings to Greg by his siblings were a little cool. It wasn't too obvious - Cliff Jr. shook his hand, and Janna gave him a brief hug. She might not have noticed at all if Janna's husband, Lee, hadn't greeted Greg like a long-lost brother, and Janna's girls hadn't proceeded to climb all over him like he was their best playmate. Lee, Janna and Cliff Jr. accepted Vic, as if they'd known her all their lives.

   Around a lunch of sandwiches and salads, they traded recent family news. When there was a lull, Vic mentioned that Greg was taking her from Oakland to see redwood trees and an ocean.

   "Having lived my whole life in North Dakota and Idaho, there has been a decided lack of sightings of either of those. I'm really excited. I'm not really sure why, but I've thought about both for as long as I can remember.

   "Greg was telling me about your family vacations in the redwoods. Those sound like really fun years."

   That got Cliff Jr. talking. "They were. We had this great place on the Navarro River, where we could put up our big umbrella tent, and then just run wild for a couple of weeks. We obviously didn't have the whole campground to ourselves, but it was never crowded, and everybody there seemed like they really wanted to enjoy the outdoors, rather than bringing a lot of their city stuff with them. As little kids, we couldn't know how lucky we were to have such a place, when the redwood area in general was already getting pretty civilized and tourist-crowded."

   "Does anybody remember what we always did first - well, first after we got the tent set up?" his dad asked.

   Merry, Greg, Cliff and Janna all raised their hands. Janna answered. "We all went down by the river, and looked for long, flexible sticks. They had to be a couple of feet long, and still green enough that they wouldn't immediately catch fire if you got them hot. Dad helped us all make good points on the end." She turned to Vic. "These were our roasting sticks. Sometimes, we cooked our hot dogs on them - holding them over the campfire, rather than putting them on the grill - but mostly they were for our nightly marshmallow roasts. We saved them for the whole two weeks."

   "That sounds fun! I've never roasted marshmallows."

   "Well, you've missed one of the greatest pleasures of childhood, believe me. Don't let Greg take you back to Idaho until  you've melted a few marshmallow over a fire."

   Vic glanced at Greg, who smiled at her. "I will remember that. So, what else did you do in the redwoods?" she asked.

   Merry answered. "Mostly, they just ran wild. Sometimes, their dad and I would go on walks with them, but mostly they just amused themselves. I remember them as being easily amused - which was nice, because it let me sit under those magnificent trees, and read a book in peace - or sometimes just daydream."

   "Do you remember the great frog migration?" Cliff Jr. asked the room, in general. "Actually, I guess we later decided it was a toad migration, because they were walking rather than hopping."

   "That was really something," Greg agreed. He addressed his comments to Vic. "We were going down by the river, and we suddenly noticed that hundreds - really, hundreds! - of little toads were headed the same direction. We didn't know what was happening at the time - it was just a great treat! - but they must have all hatched out at one time, and were making their ways to better habitat."

   "I really wanted to touch one," admitted Janna, "But I was afraid it would be slimy. Greg tried to assure me that they weren't slimy, but I guess I wasn't convinced. Finally, he picked one up, placed it in the palm of my hand, and helped me put my finger on its back. Its skin was a little rough, I remember, but it was completely dry. He picked up a couple more for me to hold, and they were all the same. They were nice little animals."

   "The other animal thing I remember," began Cliff Jr., "Was the great trapping adventure." Janna and Greg both smiled at that. "Greg and his box trap and the blue jays."

   "Steller's jays," Janna said. "Steller's jays are blue, blue jays aren't so blue." She looked at Greg. "Didn't I learn my lesson well?"

   Greg smiled back at her. "You did. Do you also remember that blue jays are an eastern bird, not found in California?"

   "Yes, although the logic of naming them 'blue jays' still escapes me. Anyway, after holding a Steller's jay in my hands, and seeing pictures of blue jays, I like the Steller's jay best."

   "What's a box trap?" asked Vic.

   "It's a very sophisticated trapping method," Greg explained, "Requiring the use of a cardboard box, a forked stick, and a long piece of string. You put some bread or something else that animals might like under the box, tie a long piece of string to the stick, and prop the box up with the stick. When something goes under the box to get the food, you pull the string, and the box falls down around it."

   "That does sound extremely imaginative," Vic observed. "What did you catch?"

   "Well, mostly Steller's jays, but sometimes a chipmunk or a ground squirrel. It was very illegal, even though we were turning them loose immediately, but the park ranger would certainly have chewed us out if he had seen us do it.

   "We just let the mammals go. Mom and Dad didn't want us touching them, as they can bite, but also because some of them - not chipmunks, as I recall - just the bigger ground squirrels - can carry diseases that humans can get.

   "It wasn't always easy to get the jays out from under the box without them escaping - you just had to reach under the box, and try to grab them. When we got them, we'd just hold them for a minute, and let them squawk  and peck at us, then let them go."

   "They were so pretty," Janna remembered. "Greg would hold them for me, so I could see them up close, and pet their feathers. They were really, really dark blue, and their feathers felt so soft to touch. They were funny, too, because they weren't a bit scared of being trapped. Often, the next one we caught was the one we had just let go."

   "That's like duck banding," Vic observed. "When Greg took me banding with him, sometimes we'd catch the same duck over and over. They go in the trap, eat a little grain, get caught, get  released, and soon after often get caught again. Apparently, some of them thought that a free meal was worth the little bit of handling involved."

   "Leaving the bird stories, does anybody remember the waterfalls inside the tent?" Cliff Senior asked. He knew the answer. "Yes, you all remember it, damp sleeping bags and all."

   He turned to Vic. "Our umbrella tent was old, but still in pretty good shape. When it rained - which thankfully wasn't often in summer - the inside of the tent stayed nice and dry. That is, until the only one of the kids who was tall enough to reach the roof of the tent, found he could cause mini-disasters. The fabric on the roof was loose enough that little pools of water would form on the surface. If you pushed up on those spots, the water would drain off. However, our eldest son found that if you pulled down on those spots, the old canvas was just porous enough that the puddle would drain into the tent. He got very good at causing little damp spots on our sleeping bags. Luckily, there wasn't enough water in any of the puddles to really get things wet - just wet enough for all of us to glare at him."

   Merry started a new reminisce. "One other thing we liked about Navarro was that it was only a couple miles from the ocean. A couple times each week, we'd take our hot dogs and marshmallows down there, play on the beach until almost dark, and then start a little fire to use our roasting sticks over. I loved to watch the sun drop into the ocean, sometimes with a lovely colored afterglow. I think I missed that part of the vacation most of all."

   "It really sounds like a fabulous place, "Vic mused.

   They took a break for a little while, then reconvened in the living room. Janna's and Lee's two little girls climbed up in Greg's lap, and soon went to sleep. Before they did, Greg remembered to take a few family photos.

   "If you guys aren't tired of reminiscing," Vic began, "I'd love to hear about what happened after you had to leave the redwood camp. Greg has told me a little bit about it - that it was kind of hard on everybody."

   Greg's dad replied. "It was hard. We loved that place. The kids just understood that we couldn't go back, but Merry and I were stuck with finding a new place, while wondering why State Parks had made the decision to convert the campground to just a picnic area. There were no other campgrounds out in that general area. Ours didn't get a lot of use, but certainly enough to show that it was justified. Also, the idea of needing a picnic area there just seemed silly. People could picnic any place they could pull their car off the road, and walk a few feet into the woods. There were no picnic tables, trash cans, or outhouses, but who really needs a table? You can carry your little bit of lunch trash away with you, and if you have personal needs, there are thousands of large trees to go behind. As I said, it just seemed silly.

   "But, silly or not, we had to find another vacation spot. We love the redwoods, so started asking friends and park rangers if there were any other lightly-used campgrounds in the area. Unfortunately, the tourists had already discovered the redwoods, and everything seemed aimed at trailer campers and resort goers. The most promising answers were that you had to go north of Eureka = beyond the main tourist area - to find what we were looking for. But that was a long way from home, and still pretty much of a long shot.

   "We got various recommendations about non-redwood areas, but none of them really clicked with us. When one of the men I work with offered his cabin near Lake Tahoe, we were skeptical, but Merry and I were getting desperate. When the guy assured me that his cabin was isolated and out of the main tourist areas, we took a chance."

   Merry took up the story. "Cliff and I had never been to Tahoe, and the kids had never been in the mountains, so it was exciting to go up over Echo Summit. However, when we dropped down to Tahoe, it felt like going back into the city. There were people everywhere, and the highway was crowded with cars. The road we took into Fallen Leaf Lake was one lane, with passing turnouts, and had been built around the trees, rather than clearing a straight line. That was kind of promising, but it was paved, and the cabins alongside it were almost as fancy as our home in town. It wasn't looking too hopeful.

   "The last vestiges of hope seemed about to fly away when we got to Fallen Leaf Lodge. The parking lot was full, and people were coming and going everywhere. It looked like the cabin owner had a much different idea about 'isolation' than we did."

   "But all was not lost, after all," Cliff continued. "The road that left the pavement near the lodge was hardly a road, at all. It was rough, rocky, and rutted, and probably wouldn't have been passable for many of the cars at the lodge. But our old Ford had great clearance underneath, so the mile trip to Lily Lake was uncomfortable for us passengers, but a piece of cake for the car. We didn't see any other cars - or any people - on the drive, and the little parking lot at the lake was deserted.

   "Lily Lake itself was a little gem, surrounded by deep forest, at the foot of a steep rocky cliff. We had been told that we could take a boat across to the cabin, but there were no boats, so we walked halfway around the lake. Our cabin was the first one we came to. There were some others beyond, but we never saw or heard anybody at any of them on either of our stays there. It really was quiet and isolated."

   "But," Merry interrupted, "It was a cabin, and looked to be fairly new and very clean. I had visions of sweeping floors and washing dishes and making beds - all the things I wanted to escape on my vacation. It was hard for me to take in the beauty of the place at first, with that feeling of disappointment."

   "Yeah, it took some getting used to," rejoined Cliff. "But after a while, it dawned on us that we could use as much or as little of the cabin as we wanted. There wasn't enough level ground to pitch our umbrella tent, but there was a nice fire ring where we could make our dinners and roast our marshmallows. There was a screened porch, and plenty of deck, where we could stretch out our sleeping bags if we didn't want to sleep in a bed, inside. We could sit on the deck, and watch the lake as we read a book, or sit out and watch the stars at night. We finally worked it out, so that we had breakfast indoors, and lunch and dinner outdoors. We gave everybody the choice of where they wanted to sleep. When our two weeks had passed, I think we all were ready to come back the next year, if we could. We could, and we did."

   That seemed to be the end of the introduction so, after a pause, Vic asked what kinds of things they found to do at Lily Lake.

   "Cliff and I tried a little fishing," said his father, "But we didn't catch anything. Then, I decided to try swimming in the lake. We took a rowboat out. I jumped off one side of the boat, and was immediately so cold that I was barely able to climb back in, again. I should have thought about it being a pool of pure snow melt. I could have got hypothermia."

   "Hypothermia." Vic couldn't help chuckling.

   "Hypothermia is not funny, young woman."

   "No, I know that. I was thinking of something entirely irrelevant when you said the word. Sorry."

   "What were you thinking about?" Merry asked.

   "As I said, just a random thought. My sister Mandy and I once saw a movie, in which freezing to death was involved."

   "What movie?" asked Janna. "Tell us about it."

   Vic glanced somewhat helplessly at Greg, who just grinned at her. You got yourself into this... "Okay. As I said, it has absolutely nothing to do with what we were talking about. In the movie, there's a plane crash in Alaska. The two people in the plane don't know each other - just the pilot, and a passenger. Neither are hurt in the crash, but their radio is broken and they don't have any way to tell anyone where they are. They don't have much food. They assume that somebody will eventually look for them, but who knows how long that might take." She stopped. "Are you sure you want me to spend our time talking about some dumb movie?"

   "Yes!" said Janna, Lee, Cliff Jr., and Greg. (You traitor, Vic glared at Greg, who grinned back.)

   "Okay. They were running out of food. They were getting really cold, and knew that they would soon be in trouble. They had no idea when - or even if - they would be rescued. The pilot recommended that, to delay hypothermia, they preserve their body heat by undressing, getting in a sleeping bag together, and hugging each other. Of course, they didn't show us that part in the movie."

   "So, what happened?" asked Janna.

   "Oh, they were rescued, apparently just in the nick of time. The movie ended, but it was sort of implied that they became good friends, afterward."

   "I imagine so," Cliff Jr. thought.

   His dad looked serious. "Well, if they hadn't made it, that sounds like a pretty nice way to go."

  The cries of ""Dad!" and "Cliff!" were almost unanimous. "What? Would you rather they hadn't tried it, and had their frozen carcasses eaten by grizzly bears or wolves without having shared that last personal touch? You are truly heartless people. I can't believe you belong to me!"

   It took a while for things to settle down. When they did, "Sorry about that," said Vic. "So, other than not catching fish and not quite getting hypothermia, what else did you do?"

   "We took some hikes," Cliff Jr. offered. "I think Greg and I took the first one. We found that the old rutted road continued a couple miles beyond Lily Lake to what apparently was an old resort - Glen Alpine Springs. There were some old cars parked there, but we never saw any people, and assumed it was all closed up. Anyway, the road ended there, and just beyond there was a sign saying we were entering - what did they call it, Greg? - a primitive area, was it? That time, we just went a little bit farther, to Grass Lake, then we turned around and walked back to camp. Well, I walked back. I thought that Greg came back with me, but I think maybe he left some part of him there - maybe his brain - because it seemed like he only appeared intermittently, after that."

   "I think you exaggerate a little bit, brother Cliff," rejoined Greg. "You remember that all of us kids hiked over to Angora Lakes at least once that vacation." He turned, and addressed his comments to  Vic. "There was a trail about halfway between Fallen Leaf and Lily Lake that climbed up over a ridge, and down the other side to two pretty little lakes. There was some sort of private camp there. I remembered it as belonging to Stanford University, and operated as a retreat for their alumni, but I think maybe I was wrong. Stanford did own land down at Fallen Leaf. I think Angora Lakes were maybe a private resort. There  was a road from Tahoe that came in, but cars weren't allowed to drive all the way to the lakes. There were lots of people around, and we didn't know if we were allowed to swim in the lakes or anything, but there was a general store where we could buy really good lemonade, I remember. Did they also have snow cones, or was that just at the lodge?"

   "Just the lodge, I think," said Janna. Cliff agreed.

  "What's a snow cone?" Vic asked.

  "Vic, you have led a very deprived life. No oceans, no redwood trees, no marshmallow roasting, and now no snow cones. How have you survived?"

   Greg rescued her. "A snow cone consists of a scoop of ice shavings, with some kind of flavored syrup poured over it. Pretty to look at, but absolutely no food value except a little sugar. Munching on one is supposed to make you feel cooler - kind of like eating a popsicle - but it  probably doesn't, really."

   "Don't forget our big family hike," his dad said. He turned to Vic. "The whole family hiked up Mt. Tallac."

   "Yes, Greg showed me the mountain from Lake Tahoe, and told me a little about the trip. It was a really long hike, wasn't it?"

   "I guess it was the longest we've ever done as a family, about 12 miles round trip, as I recall. We waited until the second week of our vacation, so our hearts and lungs could get used to high altitude. Mt. Tallac is about 10,000 feet high, so the air is pretty thin, but Lily Lake is something like 6,000 feet high, so already being fairly high helped a lot in getting us ready."

   "How does the high altitude affect you?"

   Greg answered. "Well, it makes your body work a lot harder - everything you do seems a little tougher -  but you can also get what is called 'mountain sickness.' You often get headaches and just feel achy, and you may get an upset stomach and throw up. I've had it several times, when we went from sea level to high elevations without taking enough time for my body to regulate. Mountain sickness usually passes pretty quickly, but you can certainly feel miserable for a little while."

   Merry had been quiet for some time, just listening to the chatter around her. Finally, she joined in. "There were some big changes that year. Some were because of our adapting to a new spot, but there were other changes that would have occurred if we stayed at Navarro, or gone anywhere else. You kids still liked to camp and hike and roast weenies and marshmallows, but suddenly you weren't little kids, anymore. You were teens - even Greg, by the second year at Lily Lake - and teen things often were better down by Fallen Leaf Lodge than they were around camp. More and more, you gravitated toward the lodge, and all the boys and girls your own ages who were there."

   "That wasn't true of us all," Cliff protested. "Greg was usually up in the primitive area somewhere. And we did go on hikes together. I remember we went back to Angora Lakes at least once, because we went cross-country to the top of Indian Rock, where we could look straight down on Lily Lake."

   "I remember that trip," said Greg. "Indian Rock is so steep, it really did look like, if we jumped, we would land in the lake. Also, we could see most of Fallen Leaf, and I think maybe a little bit of Tahoe."

   "And we didn't have to go to the lodge for drama and excitement," said Janna. "We manufactured some of our own." She spoke to Vic. "It hasn't come up here, and Greg probably didn't tell you - heck, he may not have ever known, for sure - but we had somebody else with us for our two vacations at Lily Lake. Since in our family, it was always three boys against two girls, Mom and Dad gave permission for me to even things up - I brought  my best friend, Mary - M-a-r-y.  I had great girl-plans - All kinds of things that Mary and I were going to do on our own. Unfortunately, love interfered."

   "Love?" asked Vic.

   "Yes, love. My big brother, who had seen - and ignored! - Mary for years, suddenly decided she was his dream girl. He couldn't seem to let her out of his sight. We couldn't shake him. He was always there, no matter where we went or what we did. It was pathetic to see, and frustrating for us."

   "That is not true!" Cliff stated.

   "Brother dear, if you could read my diary for that time - which you can't! - you would see that, if anything, I'm being charitable toward you. You were like a puppy, following us everywhere. It was sad, too, because - one, she looked at you the same way I do, as her big brother, and you can't be romantic about your big brother. But more importantly, she had already given her heart completely to someone else. To make that extra complicated and sad, the one who had her heart - we began calling him 'the missing boy' - didn't know he had it. I'm pretty sure he never even once considered her as a love interest, then or later."

   "Are we to know who 'the missing boy' was?" asked Merry.

   "Well, Mom, this is where it gets even more confusing - and frustrating, for me. The 'missing boy' - Mary's heart throb - was none other than - ta dah! - my little brother, Greg!"

   "Janna, you are nuts!" Greg exclaimed.

   "Well, Gregory, I refer again to my diary. Words written at the time  - while it was all still going on - are like a death bed confession. They are unchangeable, and indisputable. You were the cause of the anguish of unrequited love for Mary, and of utter exasperation for me. Here I was - hoping for an enjoyable two weeks with Mary - and I found myself caught in some crazy soap opera love triangle  involving my older brother and my two best friends. If you could read my diary for that period, you'd never again be satisfied with 'The Guiding Light' or 'Search for Tomorrow.'"

   "Janna, you're making this all up," Greg continued to protest. "I spent a lot of time with Mary - we played Scrabble or checkers almost every night, and she never acted like... like, anything."

   "Well, you obviously didn't notice anything, but from across the room,  I could see the sparks jumping from her to you. You were too busy trying to make your Scrabble tiles spell 'antidisestablishmentarianism.' She kept hoping that, one night, you'd look up at her, lay down you Scrabble tiles, take her by the hand, and lead her out into the moonlight. You never did. Of course, even without the excitement of getting a big Scrabble score, you probably wouldn't have noticed her unless she had a snow-capped mountain on top of her head!"


   "Have it your own way, Greg, but I was there as an observer, and it's all written down in my diary. Now, thankfully, things had calmed down a little by our second year. I had really thought about not bringing her with us - after the first year fiasco - but I'm glad I changed my mind. We mostly had a good time together. As you noted, Mom, we were spending more time down at Fallen Leaf, and the addition of all those boys and girls eased up some of the previous trauma.

   "For example, Cliff had pretty much forgotten that Mary was anything more to him than a little sister. He had a new love interest down on the beach at Fallen Leaf."

   Cliff sighed, expressively. "I do remember that. She was really nice... What was her name? Oh, Margaret - Maggie. She was cute, and funny, and a very good kisser. At least, I think she was. I didn't have much experience along those lines at the time, but it seemed pretty great." Cliff looked over at Lee. "Was I supposed to say that to my parents?"

   "I think maybe that ship had already sailed. But please, all of you, carry on with the childhood adventures of my inherited dysfunctional family. I'm enjoying it."

   "Maggie's good kissing was probably the reason for your late arrivals back at camp some evenings?" Cliff's mother suggested.

   "That seems entirely possible."

   "So, what happened with Maggie, the good kisser?" Vic asked.

   "Well, I met her parents. Her dad was a doctor, or a lawyer, or something. I got the impression that he thought it was all right for Maggie to hobnob with the lower classes for a week or so, but he wasn't considering me son-in-law material. Well, that may not be fair - that was a long time ago, and I didn't have any experience with girls' fathers at that time. That's how it seemed to me, anyway.

   "That probably didn't matter. I don't think it was meant to be. I found out that they lived in Fresno or Bakersfield or somewhere down the Valley - somewhere  that I was sure I would never purposely go. We wrote a few letters back and forth, and I called her once on the phone, but it cooled pretty fast. I don't think she was heartbroken when we gave up - although Janna probably would have written something pretty dramatic in her diary."

   "No, I wouldn't. We'd forgotten all about you. Greg was a little bit harder to get out of the picture. Mary had almost given up hope, but not quite. It helped a little when we met a couple of boys down at the lodge who were cute and nice."

   "Didn't one of them come all the way to the cabin to see her, one time?" Merry asked.

  "No, that was for me, not Mary. I don't remember his name, anymore, but I was impressed at the time that he would make the effort to come and find me. We had a nice couple of hours, exploring around the lake, but it didn't last. When he realized it was getting dark, and there was a mile and a half of bear, cougar and wolf-infested forest between him and the lodge, he was obviously shaken. He tried not to show it, but clearly he was very worried about having to do the trip by himself. I casually suggested we make a moonlight hike out of it, and I gathered up Mary and Greg, and we all walked down to the lodge parking lot. I saw him a time or two after that, but I think he was too embarrassed to really enjoy our meetings."

   "So," Greg began, "Getting back to Mary. You're saying that she was over me before I even knew that there was anything to be over?"

   "Well, not completely over, but she was beginning to see the futility of trying to compete with a whole mountain range. Actually, our trip back from saving my suitor from the bears and other stuff may have been your last good chance. When we got to the car, and started the walk around the lake, Mary started to hang back, like she was really tired. I took a flashlight, and went ahead - although the moon was so bright there wasn't any need for the flashlight. Anyway, I left you two alone, so you could help her get back safely. Unfortunately, from her standpoint, that's exactly what you did. You occasionally took her hand to guide her over a rocky area or around a fallen log, but that was the extent of your contact. I heard her thank you politely when you reached the cabin, but when we were alone a little while later, she was still mad enough to spit nails! She said you were a perfect gentleman - exactly what she didn't want! She was thinking more in terms of what might  be written on the cover of a paperback romance."

   "What does that mean?" asked brother Cliff.

   "Well, let's see." She closed her eyes, and seemed to be composing in her mind. "They were alone in a primeval forest, no one but them anywhere around. He turned and smiled at her, but it was a smile that contained a whole heaven of wants, wishes, and desires. His eyes took in her whole body, starting with the moonlight streaming through her hair, and progressing downward, stopping briefly at each curve and nuance. She felt afraid and very vulnerable, but at the same time full of eager anticipation. He reached for her, put his strong hands on her shoulders, and kissed her gently but lengthily. Then, suddenly their lips were locked in a long, deep, passionate communication, understandable only to each other." Janna  paused. "Well,, something like that."

   There was a simultaneous exhaling of held breath from everyone there. "Wow," said Greg, after a moment. "Wasn't that a bit much to expect from a fourteen year old boy who had never had a girl friend - had never even kissed a girl?"

   Janna waved off his objection. "Well, that was ten years ago. I may be remembering more as a 25-year old woman would have imagined it, rather than a 15--year old girl. Still, I think the idea is pretty much the same."

   "Jan," said her husband, "I think you should write romance novels."

   "Or, at least, the back matter on the covers of romance novels," her father suggested.

   Janna still seemed to have something on her mind. "You know, I might have given the impression that the failure to connect in the walk in the woods was the final straw for Mary. Actually, I think she is still almost as taken with Greg as she was ten years ago." She glanced over at Vic, mischievously. "Although she is married with a wonderful husband and great little boy, I sometimes get the feeling that, if Greg said just the right words, she'd drop everything and run off with him."

   Vic grinned back at her. "I feel very confident in the strength of Greg's and my relationship. However, just to be on the safe side, I think we won't visit them this trip."


   They took a  break, then. Lee and Janna rescued Greg from the two sleeping girls on his lap, and put them to bed. Greg was a little stiff after acting as a bed for so long, and was happy to have Cliff Jr. give him a hand to get up out of his chair. After a bit, they reconvened at the kitchen table, over coffee, hot chocolate, and cupcakes.

   "So, what did you do in the years after Lily Lake?" Vic asked Cliff.

   "We couldn't get the cabin a third year, or we almost certainly would have gone back. We all liked it for different reasons, but we all liked it. The next two years, we were able to find fairly peaceful campgrounds in the mountains south of Tahoe. We liked both spots, but they weren't anything we thought of as special. Actually, our time as a full family was coming to an end. I think Cliff only made one of those trips, because he was working, and Janna was gone after the second. I guess Greg was, too. Since then, we've got together as often as possible, but we can't all get two-week vacations at the same time, and even one-weeks are tough. Let's see. Greg and I went on one overnight backpack trip a few years ago, and Cliff and Dan and I go fishing fairly regularly. Janna and the girls are over here, regularly, so we're hanging together the best we can.

   "Merry and I have kept up the tent camping routine, still not in the least tempted by camper shells and travel trailers. As the years go by, we're having to go farther and farther afield to escape the madding crowds, but we're still finding some quiet places.

   "We're still both comfortable sleeping on the ground. The problem for me is getting back up, afterward. Therefore, once we're down, we stay down as long as possible. We still have the big umbrella tent, but for just the two of us we got a fancy little one that goes up in a minute or two. We have a double sleeping bag, roomy enough for two people to be comfortable in it. It fills up pretty much all the floor space of the little tent. At bed time, we both slip in, then pretend that we're saving each other from frostbite or hypothermia."

   "Dad!" Janna reacted.

   "And hope the rescue team doesn't find us," Merry added.



   Later, in their bedroom, Vic commented on Greg and his sleeping angels. "They seem rather comfortable with you."

   "It's interesting, because I really haven't seen them that much, but they've always been like that with me. I wish my sister was as comfortable with me."

      "I know, but I think some headway may have been made. She certainly has lots of fond memories of you. I don't know how many times she referred to you as her best friend. No matter what she felt or thought at the time - how far apart you were, compared to earlier times - she's remembering you and her as still being 'you and her.'"

   "Yeah, that is nice, and something to consider."

  "By the way, here's the letter I sent to your parents. Merry said I could show it to you."

   Greg sat on the edge of the bed, and read it through. He grinned all the way through, and laughed out loud a couple of times. "That's terrific, Vic. No wonder they want to adopt you. Weren't you being a little brave to send it to them, not knowing them?"

   "Nancy asked the same thing but no, I don't think I was particularly brave. Parents who raised you had to have had a sense of humor - oops, maybe that's not what I intended to say."

   "Maybe not."

   "What I meant was that, despite your problems growing up, you obviously came from an open, caring family. Your mother asking you over the phone if we were sleeping together was a clue for me. I just said to myself, this is silly, but I am silly sometimes, and Greg loves my silliness, so... "

   "Well, it's priceless, and they obviously took it in exactly the right way."

   Vic sat down next to him. "There's something else I wanted to talk to you about, but I'm not sure how to do it. If I ask the question that's on my mind, you will undoubtedly think that I have an opinion on the subject, and I don't want to give you an opinion - assuming I have one on the subject, which maybe I do and maybe I don't. But I want to know what you think, unfettered by any preconceived notions about what I might like or not like."

   "Does this have anything to do with what might be considered 'sexy fun' - maybe something we haven't..."

    "Greg! No, it has nothing to do with 'sexy fun.' I'm trying to be serious, and you're trying to get me thinking about sex - which, by the way, I am! - but that's not what this is about. Why can't you just answer my question, without trying to draw me into your web of erotic fantasies."

   "Because my dear Victoria," he whispered, as he moved his face closer to hers, "While I am always ready to draw you into my web of erotic fantasies..." His lips stopped on hers, and stayed there for some time. Finally, he leaned away. "As I started to say, I can't answer your question because you haven't asked it yet."

   "Oh, that's right. So, what, I should just ask it?"

   "If you want an answer, or if it's something you want me to consider, that is probably the best course of action."

   "But if I ask it, won't we be right back to you thinking that I have an opinion..."

   "Vic, if you start into that whole rigamarole again, I am going to have to go to Plan B."

   "What is Plan B?"

   "Drawing you into my web of erotic fantasies."

   "Oh. Okay, here's the question. How important is it to you that your brother and sister attend our wedding?"

   "I don't know. What do you think?"


   Their heads were still close together. He brushed a few strands of hair back from her face, and let his hand rest on her cheek. "I'm just teasing you, but I really haven't given it any thought. The one thing I wanted to do is introduce you to my family. We've done that, and I'm sure they all agree that I hit the jackpot with you. I'm also sure that they're all well aware that - for all intents and purposes - we are already married, except for the formality of the license and the ceremony. So, I guess my feeling are that I want Mom and Dad at the wedding, but I don't have any strong feelings about Cliff and Janna, one way or the other.

   "So, now that you have my opinion, can you tell me why you wanted to bring it up?"

   "I think it started with the travel. I remember how complicated it seemed when we were thinking about coming here last winter. Unless they're combining the wedding with some other longer trip, it means they'll probably need a whole day to get to Idaho, and a whole day to get back home, for a ceremony that might take two hours at the most. They won't really be able to visit with us, because we'll have to pay some attention to everybody who comes. It just seems really wasteful of their time, without really accomplishing anything very important for them or us."

   "I  think you're right. The problem now is discussing it with them, without making it sound like we don't want them to come. Any ideas?"

   "No. I think you tell them what you and I just talked about, and leave it with them to decide."

   That seemed to end the discussion. "So," ventured Greg, "If we've taken care of all the business, would you be interested in being drawn into my web of erotic fantasies for a while?"

   "Well, we are on our honeymoon. If we're reasonably quiet about it..."


   The well of family reminiscences seemed to have dried up, and Sunday morning was spent with  the participants sharing with one another on a more personal basis. Merry had planned a formal Father's Day mid-afternoon meal, which everybody pitched in to help with.

   Over dessert, Vic and Greg expressed their pleasure at how the weekend had gone. Cliff, Janna and Lee returned the compliments. Then, Greg talked about the upcoming wedding.

   "Vic and I talked about this last night, worrying that it was going to sound like we are both inviting and uninviting you to come. I guess this is about as plain as we can make it. We are having a wedding ceremony. It's important to us personally, not to 'seal the deal' - as you've probably guessed, that's been a given, for a long time - but just to formalize things, and to give folks a chance to celebrate with us. We're sending announcements, but we really aren't expecting people to come from far away. From our own trip planning experiences, we've found that it will be pretty much impossible for anybody traveling any distance to attend our hour-long ceremony without devoting two full days to travel to it. If anybody wants to do that, fine. But we're not expecting it.

   "Talking specifically about you guys, we expect Mom and Dad to be there to 'give me away.' For you - Janna, Cliff, Lee - this has been a great wedding celebration for us, already. That's what we wanted - for you and Vic to meet, and get to feel a little like family. Maybe when things settle down again, we can continue to do family gatherings on a more regular basis."

   There was a general silence for a little while after Greg quit talking. "So, if I'm reading you correctly," Cliff Jr. began, "You don't want us to come to your wedding."

   Greg and Vic both laughed. "That's exactly what I was saying!" Greg replied.


   The siblings left shortly after dinner, hopefully to beat any heavier Father's Day traffic. Greg and Vic settled down to a quiet evening with Merry and Cliff.

   "This has been wonderful!" exclaimed Merry. "All our kids together - including my favorite new kid." She reached over, and held Vic's hand. "The family stories made me both happy, and want to cry. Janna was an amazing story teller, with all her diary secrets."

   "Those can't really be true, can they?" Greg asked, somewhat seriously.

  "Janna may have been laying it on a little thick but, yes, Mary had quite a crush on you, and you only had a crush on mountains at the time."

   Vic chuckled. "It really was funny to hear her tell it. I know the trouble I had attracting his attention, so I can really feel for poor Mary."

   "So, how did you break through that stony exterior?" Cliff asked.

   Vic looked at Greg, but he just smiled at her. "I had better luck alone with him in the woods than Mary did. I cornered him, and sang him the words to a song from 'Pajama Game.' It worked."

   "What was the song?" Merry asked.

   "'Small Talk.' Do you know it? 'I don't want to talk small talk, now that I'm alone with you.' And, of course, the irresistible clincher. 'I've got something better for your lips to do, and that takes no talk at all.' When a lovely woman is saying that to you, with her face about six inches from yours, what other choice do you have?"

   Cliff laughed. "That would certainly do it for me!"

   Greg laughed, too. "Well, not to take anything away from the wiles and techniques of the enchantress in our midst today, I think Mary needs a little defending. First, that song probably hadn't even been written when she tried for her assignation. Second, I was fourteen, and never been kissed. That would have taken strong magic, I would think."

   "Defend Mary if you like," Vic began, "But here's what I think. If you had been the 14-year old boy, and I had been the 15-year old girl, it wouldn't have mattered if there were love songs, or moonlight, or magic potions, or whether or not you had been kissed before. If we had been alone in that forest, you would have soon forgotten all about your old mountains. You would have been a goner!"


   It took a bit for things to calm down. When they did, Greg brought the conversation back to the wedding. "Have you given any thought to how you are coming to Idaho? As we told Cliff and Janna, the airline schedules are complicated. The way with the least strife might be to fly to either Boise or Salt Lake, and get a rental car. It's about a two hour drive from either place, but might be worth not going through the hassle of trying to make the airline schedules work in both directions."

   "We have been considering our options," said Cliff. "We're thinking we may just drive from here in our own car. It's a two-day trip, as you know, but it's a pretty easy one, and the extra day might well be a good trade-off over having to deal with strange airline scheduling and rental car agreements."

   He looked  at Merry for agreement, and she nodded. "If we did that, then I think we might use some of my vacation time, and make a camping trip out of it. We've only been in Idaho the one time - the Yellowstone trip - so there's a lot of the state we haven't seen. I hear that there are some really nice camping areas in the mountains north of you, and they're not likely to be anywhere near as crowded in July as ones in California will be. We could spend a few days camping, eventually work our way over to Oregon, and come south either down the Valley or over through the redwoods."

   "It sounds like you could make a fun trip out of it," Vic observed.

   "We'd probably do something different if Cliff or Janna decided to go. I don't think they will. They'd really be rushing, probably, and you gave them a nice graceful out. I think this visit takes care of all the reasons they might want to go. Anyway, if one or both should come, then we might do what you suggested - maybe fly to Salt Lake, get a rental car, take them to the wedding, get them back on a return flight, then take our camping trip in the rental car. As I said, I don't think they'll come, but that would be a doable option."

   "We were hoping that you'd be able to spend a little time with us, after the wedding," said Vic. "If you aren't going straight home, maybe you could come out to the refuge with us. Mom and Daddy will be staying in the house in town, so there'll be plenty of room. You could see where we live, see a little of the refuge, and then we'd send you on your way Sunday afternoon."

   "You don't really want us around on your wedding night, do you?" asked Merry.

  Vic and Greg both laughed. "Well," said Greg, " our 'wedding night' is kind of in the moveable feast category. We're having our honeymoon now, we'll have the wedding, and then I suspect we'll have some more honeymoon. If the official, traditional 'wedding night' isn't the most memorable, it will still be good, no matter where we are or who we're with.

   "Another thing about going out to the refuge is that, if you're going toward Pocatello after that - and that is the logical way to head north into the mountains - we'll take you out the back entrance to the refuge, and you'll be almost 25 miles on your way."

   Merry looked at Cliff. "That does sound nice. I'd love to see the refuge."

   "Well, keep it in mind," urged Greg. "I think it would be fun for all of us."



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