Although I wanted to be a writer from the age of five my creativity became stymied as a young adult. It all started when my husband forgot the instructions for assembling the tent. We were in a beautiful campground in northern Arizona, a two hour drive from our home in Phoenix, which is where the instructions presumably were. The afternoon was beginning to wane and in less than two hours it would be Shabbat. We were not ready.
Shabbat camping has its share of drawbacks. Unless it is group camping there is no minyan, which means there is no Torah reading and only individual prayers are said. Also, the laws of carrying preclude moving anything outside of the tent unless there is an eruv, a technical boundary that my husband could make by stringing wire around the campsite. As newly observant we loved being in nature. Since the weekends were the only times we could go camping we decided to put up with the inconveniences of Shabbat camping.
We had chosen a beautiful campsite but it had no running water. Not only were there the tent to pitch and the eruv to string, we also needed to fill our water containers at the water pump a quarter of a mile down the road. Even if I could have helped my husband with the tent I knew his macho pride would not want my assistance. He knew the laws of building an eruv, not me, so I kept silent on that subject. The food for Shabbat was all ready and the baby was napping peacefully, so I offered to drive to get the water.
The fact that my husband immediately accepted my suggestion was a sign that our situation was becoming desperate. Having grown up in Kansas I was never a confident mountain driver, but right then I was a determined one.
Determination is all well and good, but experience would have served me better. Halfway to the water pump I drove off the side of the road. A glance at the sky showed me the clock was ticking away. I ran as the crow flies through trees and brambles and came into the clearing just a few feet from our campsite. With a sigh of relief I saw that the tent was finally up and my husband was working on the eruv. He did not stop his work as I gasped out my story. He also did not offer to come to my rescue.
Instead he instructed me to forget about the car until after Shabbat and just ask someone to take me to get the water. I did not have a lot of choices of who I could ask. The campground was empty save for us and two couples at the opposite end of the reserve. I hiked over to them as quickly as possible, practicing what I would say to them as I went.
Campers tend to be friendly, helpful people and these two couples were no exception. The two men, brothers-in-law, were happy to take me to get the water. As we drove by our car they declared it would be easy to get it out of the ditch. I tried to explain my time concerns but was not convincing and, in truth, the car was back on the road in just a matter of minutes. Now I would have to drive the darn thing to the water pump.
The brothers-in-law picked up on my apprehension and one offered to drive our car to the pump. I accepted gratefully and we visited as he drove. He and his wife had a six-month-old baby like us and his wife was a teacher like me. He was in the leasing business and when I mentioned that my husband sometimes leased equipment for his business he wanted to know its name and location. My husband worked out of our apartment which was not far from where they lived. Small world, but their world was not our world.
We got the water and were back at the camp site with a few minutes to spare before candle lighting. The eruv was finished, the baby was up and smiling, my husband was calm, and we had plenty of water. I lit Shabbat candles on the picnic table and we focused on our baby, each other, and our very special day of rest.
After Shabbat we made Havdalah, took down the eruv, made a campfire and roasted marshmallows. Sunday morning my husband took off for the general store to buy some fresh milk so I could make French toast for breakfast. The baby and I were lazing in the tent as he drove away. He had been gone only a few minutes when I heard someone call my name. I jumped with the surprise wondering who in the world knew my name out there. It was our neighbor, “The Good Samaritan”, who has helped me with the water.
“Here,” he said once I had recovered from being so startled. “I wanted to give you my card.”
“Oh, thanks,” I answered offhandedly. “I’ll give it to my husband.”
He looked at me rather strangely but the baby began fussing and needed my attention. The Good Samaritan wandered away and that was that. I made delicious French toast, we took a little hike with the baby in the backpack, and then we packed up camp and headed back to the city. It had been a nice, inexpensive getaway and we were going back to the grind.
A few days later the phone rang in the middle of the day. To my surprise it was The Good Samaritan on the other end of the line. I couldn’t imagine why he was calling. Did he want to talk to my husband about some business issue? Was he going to ask for reimbursement for the help he had given us? Perhaps, he was going to suggest that we get together with him and his wife socially? No, none of the above. He was interested in getting together with me! Embarrassed I ended the conversation abruptly. I was not only embarrassed, I was annoyed. I had done nothing to encourage this guy. What kind of Good Samaritan was he anyway? I called my husband to vent. He was supportive and I put the whole experience in the back of my mind.
A year or so passed and I signed up for a creative writing class at the university. I was from a different world than the rest of the students. As a getting-to-know-you exercise on the first day the instructor asked us to describe what we would drink and where we would drink it if we could be anywhere we wanted. While the others had fantasies such as drinking a margarita on a Honolulu beach I stated I would prefer a hand squeezed lemonade on the front porch of my cousin’s farmhouse. When we were told to write a love poem I wrote an ode to my infant daughter. The instructor did not know what to do with me.
The grand finale was the short story I wrote, a fictionalized account of the camping trip. Of course, I left out the part about the eruv. How was I going to explain that to a non-Jewish audience? And I downplayed the pressure of Shabbat, emphasizing the need to get the water before dark. I thought it was a great story but my instructor did not agree.
The heroine is too naïve to be believable he wrote with red pen at the end of my story. The heroine was me and I may have been naïve but I was a real person. My creative writing drive was set back for a number of years. Not until I found a Jewish audience that was likely to be as naïve as I did I begin seriously writing again.minyan: minimum of ten men
Havdalah: service marking the end of Shabbat