My “Funniest” Vacation

By Mari Wallace

It certainly wasn’t funny at the time, but when I think about that memorable vacation, it was more like an episode from a TV sitcom than real life.

Before I begin, let me introduce myself. I’m an American (a Northerner – sorry!). My home town bears the idyllic name of Pleasantville. But I ended up marrying an Englishman and have lived in his country for many years. The vacation experience I want to share with you took place in France…but could just as easily have happened anywhere in the countryside, away from the “madding crowds.”

One evening my husband, Alan, came home with the exciting news that we’d been invited by Bill, a work colleague, to spend 10 days in his cottage in the beautiful area of Le Lot in southwestern France. Bill had recently gotten divorced, his wife having left him for his best friend. My big-hearted husband, feeling sorry for him, invited Bill to dinner – a one-off invitation that somehow evolved into a “standing invitation” – in that Bill managed to appear with regularity, just as our evening meal was ready.

“This is Bill’s way of saying thanks,” Alan explained as he got out road maps. “He’s told me the place is rather rustic. There are only two bedrooms but Bill’s insisted that we have his bedroom, and our kids can have the other one. He’ll sleep on a cot in the main room – the salle de sejour – while we’re there.”

Full of eager anticipation, we followed Bill in convoy – a journey that took a total of about 11 hours. You can imagine how tired we all were on arrival at the cottage. Bill unlocked the door, turning on the electricity. We followed, with our suitcases.

The first thing that greeted us were Bill’s dishes, all laid out on a plank of wood, elevated off the ground by a couple of bricks. They’d been left there since Bill’s departure at the end of the previous summer. Needless to say, they were covered with a thin layer of dust. I felt my first pangs of disquietude.

“I’ll wash up some plates in a jiffy,” Bill said. “Then we can have a mini-feast,” he said, nodding in the direction of the bag of snack food we’d brought with us.

Then came the next surprise: There was no sink. Bill turned on the faucet jutting out from the wall and proceeded to fill a plastic bowl in which he “swooshed” the plates and a couple of glasses. Needless to say, this was not at all what I’d anticipated.

We sat around an oil-cloth covered table, eating our meager fare in relative silence.

After this, we were more than ready for bed. I wanted to settle the children first so Bill escorted me to their room. The mattresses to the bunk beds were also bare to the elements. Bill hastily brushed them off before I could see what had been on them.

Just then, something made me look up.

Oh my!” I exclaimed. “There’s no ceiling!”

“I keep meaning to have it boarded up but I think it’s kind of charming to have a pigeon loft in your roof.” I looked at Bill in utter disbelief, consoling myself that I’d packed sleeping bags for the children.

Next event was in our room. Bill turned on the light. There, roosting over the bed was a bat, now disturbed by the sudden “glare.” Alan rushed over to the window, opening it just in time for the bat to make its hasty departure. This mattress, too, was uncovered…except for the bat droppings scattered all over it.

“I’ll clean this up in a jiffy,” Bill said. To me, everything needed to be cleaned up. A jiffy wasn’t going to be good enough.

“I’m going to sleep in the car,” I muttered to Alan.

“Just be patient,” he whispered back to me, as Bill returned with a dust pan and brush. And sheets.

“Could we have a quick wash” Alan asked.

“Oh sure. The bathroom is through that door. There’s a toilet but no sink as yet so you’ll have to use the faucet in the kitchen. If you want hot water, I can boil some up in the kettle.”

By now I was too tired to do anything other than go to bed. Our children were already in the Land of Nod, and I was ready to go there, too.

Surprisingly, I slept really well – a combination of physical and emotional exhaustion.

Breakfast was jam on bread, plus scrambled eggs thanks to the microwave. It was then that I realized that there was no oven…no hob…only a sort of indoor barbecue that needed scouring.

“If you can wait another hour,” Bill said, after we’d finished eating, “you’ll be able to have a shower.”

“I thought there was no hot water,” said Alan.

“Come and see. I don’t mind admitting that this is ingenious.” Bill led us outside. There, basking in the morning sun, were two extra-large plastic containers with hose attachments – the kind you’d use for spraying insecticides. “The water in these containers will soon be nice and warm, and you’ll all be able to go together behind those bushes and have a good wash.”

I had never showered, naked, in front of my children. But I had no choice. My body felt sticky, my hair was greasy, and my tears were flowing. The four of us, naked, outdoors, washed as quickly as possible.

What can I tell you about the rest of our vacation? There were “positives:” a boat trip down the River Lot; buying fruit and vegetables in the village market; wandering around the medieval sites of Cahors; eating gorgeous cheeses and pate, croissants from the boulangerie; drinking local red wine.

Our children enjoyed the lack of “normal” hygiene and daily barbecues with charred food. But I was more than ready to leave Bill’s “rustic” cottage for my taken-for-granted creature comforts: endless hot water; pristine kitchen with all the amenities; a bed not shared with any “critters.”

On that ferry ride across the Channel to England, I had a perpetual smile on my face. We would soon be home…and for me that meant a long, hot, indulgent soak in a scented bubble bath.

Vacation? Hah!

About this writer

  • Mari Wallace

    Mari Wallace

    worked in publishing in New York City, then moved to London, work permit in hand. Her features have been published in many U.K. magazines – and she recently had a story in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Life Lessons from the Dog (April 2019).

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2 Responses to “My “Funniest” Vacation”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    You certainly made the best of it, and I am certain this was your most memorable trip.

  2. Rose Ann says:

    What a unique vacation! Hard to top and full of so many stories! Enjoyed your essay.

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