Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Friday, March 22, 2013

Scintilla Day 9: Lost

When I was in my early twenties, dreaming of going back to school, my hippie sister came up out of the wilds of Mendocino County, dragging her adorable kids, Chrissy 5 and Dale 6.

"You take them," she said. "You've got a job, you've got a life." And so I became a mom, arranged a babysitter, bought clothes, cooked proper meals, read good night stories, and fell in love all over again. My sister hit the road, alone.

One Saturday, I thought we should have an adventure. I'd been invited to the coast, roughly an hour's drive from Ukiah to near Fort Bragg. I loaded the kids in my car and checked the map. I could have chosen 101, the North Redwoods Highway, the road most traveled, but a thin line traced on the map led over the coastal mountains. "Let's take this back road, kids," and off we went.

Our road that at first wound through foothills and lovely, quiet woods quickly became a one-way dirt road. This old logging road, rarely used, twisted and turned back on itself as it cut through rugged hills. We sang and told stories as I maneuvered my old car past potholes at maybe 15 mph. I was lost. We had no food, no water. Feeling more scared and stupid by the minute, I gained no clues from the road or the map. I drove on. Five hours later, we arrived at the coast. We took Highway 101 home. I hoped the kids never knew how frightened I'd been.

For three months I was a mom, but then my sister swung back through town. "They're my kids," she said. "You can't have them." And then they were all gone. I moved to San Francisco, worked my way through school, and became a teacher. I heard from her occasionally, sometimes by letter, sometimes by rumor.

I never saw the kids again. My sister dropped in, sometimes asking for money, sometimes telling me of her latest boyfriend. Chrissy married at 19, and had two kids of her own. I think she's somewhere in Montana. Dale wound up in jail. Several decades later, my sister died in a crack house in Dallas, lost to us all. But I still cherish those three months of innocence and remember the day we got lost in the woods.

NOTE: I'm joining the Scintilla Project (daily writing prompts for two weeks) while on the road. Read what others have written at or jump on Twitter at #scintilla13 and read and write on!

Day 9 prompt:  Talk about where you were going the day you got lost. Were you alone? Did you ever get to where you meant to go?


  1. Wow, Beth. Sad, sad story. It never ceases to amaze me how much damage drugs and alcohol addiction do to families and everyone else involved, really. It is hard letting go, and I imagine letting go of those kids hurt to the bone. I liked how this piece covered both the physical getting lost on the car ride, but also the lifetime of getting lost for your sister. Nice post!

  2. I expect your neice and nephew remember that day with their aunt, it sounds rather a special time.

  3. Those kids are lucky to have you in their lives, if only for a short time. This story touched my heart.

  4. Poignant story, Beth, and so beautifully written. Your stories always pull me in, and I am never disappointed. Yours is a life ever examined, and we benefit.