That summer we threw snowballs at each other on July 4th. We skinny dipped in the ocean and walked between steep cliffs, on quivering rope bridges, while our sister screamed in terror. But mostly, that summer, we met Arnie the O.P.
We camped all over Canada, approving of a site if the park allowed dogs and had flush toilets. That’s all the six of us teenagers wanted, anything else was icing on the cake.
After listening to us argue in the van for five hours, our slender, auburn-headed mother saw the sign for a campsite nearby. “Shut up, Kids!” she called to the back seats, “Or they’ll never let you animals in.”
We quieted and she drove up to the kiosk. Hushed voices, indecipherable, drifted to us through her window. Mom drew a hand over her hair, tucked a stray tendril behind her ear, and announced, “The ranger says we can pick out a site, and then come back and tell him.” She put the van in gear and drove into the woods.
She found a perfect spot – large and surrounded by trees. No other campers close. Our family could hoot, holler, and fight as loud as we wanted. We poured out of the van, began setting up camp and getting dinner on the table.
A few hours later, our tents were up and our bellies full. Mom went for an evening swim. The rest of us sat around a fire, throwing in pinecones or staring mesmerized at the embers. A truck drove up and stopped. Our heads turned towards the stranger, curious. We didn’t know anyone in the area and none of us had had enough time to irritate the locals. Yet.
A tall, muscular man stepped out and slowly came towards our fire. His shoulders swung from side to side, in time with his heavy step. He wore a tight shirt with an embroidered patch on each sleeve, a few trees and a mountain peak in the center, and “O.P.” underneath. His name, Arnie, was emblazoned on his chest pocket. “O.P. – Ontario Police.,” Jimmy whispered. “This guy is a cop.”
Some of us looked down while others looked away. The officer stood silently. Not one of us offered a welcoming word. The air grew heavy with our waiting. After a time, a baritone voice rumbled out of his barrel chest as he asked, “Is your mother home?”
The older of us ignored the words.
Howard said “No.”
A storm had passed. Arnie’s breath hissed from his pursed lips. His barrel chest slid down to his mid section and his shoulder dropped. Arnie was fat. Arnie was prowling for a hot chick. That hot chick was our mother. The hot chick wasn’t here and even Arnie’s voice had changed.
His thin squeak said, “Well, tell her that Arnie from the kiosk came by.” He turned and waddled back to his pick up.
He drove off. We fell apart laughing. Our mother, divorced and in her forties, was a babe. Thirty-five years later, she still hasn’t lived down the attraction she held for Arnie the O.P. and her offspring continue searching for reasons to suck in our guts, thrust out our chests, and ask that awful question.