Monday, August 28, 2017

The Summer of Adventure! Part 1.

[Dear Readers: Four years ago I wrote this novella to publish in parts while my family went on vacation. That was for my old defunct, inaccessible blog. I've always been fond of the saga of Henry and his crew -- this story and the Christmas edition I ran later that year -- and with your kind indulgence I thought I would run it again this year, before summer runs away.]


The Summer of Adventure! 

by Frederick Key

Part 1

“Disney’s out,” said Jane, plopping onto her chair at the kitchen table.

“That’s all right,” said Henry, who had not been very keen on the idea of dragging three small children through a kingdom, magical or otherwise. They said it was the Happiest Place on Earth, but after his brood had been through it they might have had to reassess.

It was almost Memorial Day weekend, and unlike most of their friends, Henry and Jean still had no vacation plans. What they did have was a three thousand dollar bill coming for Jean’s gum surgery, which helped quash the idea of doing much of anything this year. Henry had been hoping they might get away, as he’d been feeling restless, but seeing Jean slump with guilt over her lousy gums aroused his sympathy.

“We’ll have fun anyway,” he said. “It’ll be a fine summer.”

“I don’t know how much fun it will be,” Jane said. “It would have been nice to have something good on the calendar. Look at the things we do have coming up. A wedding for your revolting cousin Tor. Your trip to the home office. The library petition campaign. The church carnival. Everything is horrid or drudgery or horrid drudgery. It’s the summer of drudgery.”

“No,” he said. “It’s the Summer of Adventure!”

Henry was a copywriter for an agency that mostly did catalogs for clients. Henry knew five hundred ways to describe a sweater he had never seen or felt that would make you want to buy it anyway. He was used to putting a good face on the unknown.

When he told Jane that he was rebranding the summer as the Summer of Adventure!, he was hoping that she would think of the upcoming irritations as challenges. But he himself was thinking of the old saw that “adventure” was some other poor sucker going through hell on the other side of the planet.

Henry did not mention that. He said, “We’re going to be the Adventure Family. I’m going to start calling myself Hank. It’s much more butch.”

“Uh-huh. I’m feeling more action-packed already.”

“Even if we can’t afford a big trip to Disney, we can swing a weekend away. Why not take the kids to Hershey Park? I think I can even get discounts through the company.”

Jane thought for a moment, as if her dislike of exposing the children to a mountain of chocolate was wrestling with her periodontal guilt. Then she said, “Okay, why not? Let’s pick a weekend.”

The looked at the kitchen calendar and stepped over the landmines of the library campaign, the Overmyers’ annual barbecue, her parents’ surprise anniversary party, the carnival, and of course Horrid Cousin Tor’s wedding. They settled on the second weekend of August.

“At least it will be something on the schedule that’s not torturous,” she said.

“Think adventure,” he said, “not torture.”


Henry (or Hank) made the reservations, feeling proud of his proactive stance. Of course, they had waited too long to make plans, and the best lodging was booked for that weekend, but the third-string motel would save them some money anyway. And, by paying in advance, Henry got fifteen percent off.

So he was fairly happy as he drove to work the next morning.

Even the flat he got when some schmuck pulled out on a very tight turn, forcing him to the roadside (or “up on the marbles” as he later described it), causing him to run over a nail big enough to have united the transcontinental railroad, his mood would not be ruined. The incident happened outside a convenience store that sold cans of that aerosol tire fixing injection stuff. He bought a couple, filled the tire, and was back on the road in fifteen minutes. Proactive!

When he got out at lunchtime the tire was quite low again, but he’d proactively foreseen this and made an appointment with the tire guy two blocks from the office.

“You used that spray stuff?” asked the burly tire guy.

“Yeah, and it got me to work on time.”

“And voided your warranty.”

“It— What, now?”

“I could’ve fixed it for free. Now I have to replace the tire.”

Henry began to suspect that the cynical definition of adventure may have been the right one after all.


Jane’s periodontal surgery was the first appointment of the Saturday following, which meant Henry had to load up the car, bring all the kids along to drop Mommy off at seven thirty, then stash them somewhere until Mommy called to be picked up.

“Why we goin’ so early?” muttered Hal, who, like his mommy, was not a morning person.

“Because Mommy doesn’t know if the doctor will give her drugs that will make her get arrested if she tries to drive,” said Henry.

“Mommy’s gettin’ arrested,” Hal helpfully informed his sister Phoebe.

“Why’d she do?”

“Went to the dentist.”

“That gets you ’rested?”

“Depends on the drugs,” said Henry. “If they knock her out she’ll be very well rested.”

Baby Nug just cried.

On the way to the dentist, Jane was wound up like a clockwork monkey and just as scary-looking.

“Mommy, Daddy said you’re gonna go to jail on account of the drugs,” said Hal, who never missed a chance to chuck his old man under the bus.

“What are you telling these children?” spat Jane.

“Terrible things. Better make it quick in there. I’ll have all morning to corrupt them.”

“No sweets!” she said. “Or they’ll need expensive dental work like Mommy!”


It was too much trouble to take the kids back home and unstrap them from their various harnesses, so Henry drove them to the DoNut King Drive Thru and got sugared breakfast for everyone. They ate in the parking lot. After that, Hal was wide awake and his brother and sister were asleep. It was too early to go anywhere, so Henry drove out to the local beach, which was dirty and deserted and covered with rocks and seaweed. Just as they got there it started to rain.

“What’s dis?” asked Phoebe blearily.

“The Summer of Adventure,” said Henry.

“We gonna look for bad guys on the beach?” said Hal, who seemed to have latched on to a Crime and Punishment theme and was reluctant to let it go.

“Yeah, let’s do that,” said Henry. “Right after we—urk—change your brother.”

He hoped he would remember to get the dirty diaper out of the trunk before a week went by. Not like last time.

Jane was a little dopey when she called. Henry loaded the damp children back into the car—no bad guys caught—and returned to the dentist. Fearing Jane would be too woozy to walk unaided, Henry left Hal in charge and ran inside.

“I’m fine,” said Jane, although her cheek was swollen and discolored. She looked like she’d hit the mat in the first round and stayed there. “Where’re the kids?”

“Driving around. Let’s flag them down.”

“Henry!” said Norma, Dr. Smythe’s receptionist. “When are you coming in? It’s been—hmm—the computer days it’s been two years since your last checkup!”

“Well, yeah, I’ve been so busy flossing that I haven’t been able to call, so—”

“Why don’t we set you up right now?”

Henry turned to Jane for an excuse to bolt, but Jane had already run outside to find her unattended children.

The rest of the day Jane spent rotating ice packs in and out of the freezer and explaining the elements of childcare to her husband.


So it was a relieved Henry that left on his two-night trip to the home office the following Wednesday. This was the only business trip he ever made, going to the annual sales conference with everyone else who was part of the Talent. They met with clients whom they normally would only speak to electronically, and were told that they were doing a fantastic job and should try to do better going forward. Henry was traveling with his boss, Geoff Silverman.

He had not mentioned to Jane that Cass was coming along this time.

Cass Brown was young and gorgeous. Henry had not hired her, but at his last promotion found that he had become her manager. She was tall, with flowing brown hair, unlike Jane who was tiny and blond. When Cass was dolled up it almost hurt to look at her, like she was some higher order of being. She was a lousy copywriter too, but Geoff was determined to help her along. Henry was willing to help too.

Jane had met Cass at the last company Christmas party and hated her with more hate than Henry would have thought could fit in a five-foot-tall body.

Henry may have been relieved to have a breather from home, but he become more nervous when he saw Cass looking awesome at the airport. She wore tight zebra-striped pants, about which he thought Not many people could pull that off and then his inner thirteen-year-old added But I’d like to, huh huh huh. Then he saw Geoff and his immature self shut down. Geoff, as it turned out, was to make him even more nervous.


Please return tomorrow for our second thrilling chapter! 

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