Tuesday, March 16, 2010
"What are you talking about?" he asked. "You hated camping, always griping about the weather, the bugs, setting up the tent . . . "
I'm sure he's right, but now that I'm older, I've really come to appreciate the chilly nights in the wilderness, eating cold Dinty Moore beef stew, burning marshmallows on an open fire, and spraying each other with industrial-strength OFF! to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
We did a lot of camping at local state parks in Jersey, Voorhees and Hacklebarney in particular, but it was our two-week summer trips that provided the memories that have lasted a lifetime. Here are a few of my favorites.
ZION NATIONAL PARK, UTAH
As the sun broke through the clouds that fine Utah morning, my eight year-old brother Eric and I were sitting at the picnic table doing Mad Libs.
"Okay, I need an adjective," I said.
"That's a noun. An adjective's a describing word, like 'big' or 'little'."
"Well, that's just an example, you can pick a funnier one if you want."
"Okay, good." I wrote it down in the Mad Libs book. As I was writing, Eric reached into the Dunkin' Donuts box that had been left on the table overnight. He grabbed a jelly-filled (his favorite), and took a bite. As he chewed, I noticed a strange expression creep across his face, a combination of confusion and panic. He looked at me, then down at the donut he was holding.
That's when it hit him.
Crawling out of the jelly hole came a swarm of tiny red fire ants. In the meantime, their semi-chewed comrades scurried around inside my brother's mouth looking for an escape route, which Eric provided for them in the form of horrified gagging, spitting, and puking.
"Okay," I said, "Now I need a plural noun."
MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK, COLORADO
a story of mine involving the game Simon, my father is not a bluffer. He did not make idle threats. When he said, "If I have to come up there one more time, someone's not going to be sitting down for a week," we knew he meant business and we shut the hell up and went to sleep. So anyway, one summer we were camping at Mesa Verde National Park, and Mom and Dad decided to take us across the campground to listen to an Indian guide tell stories by the fire. Eric, however, wasn't all that excited about going so he basically whined the whole way. Before long, Dad said, "Eric, if you don't quit complaining I'm going to pull the van over and you can walk back to the campsite."
Well, Eric didn't quit complaining.
As advertised, Dad pulled the van over to the side of the road and waited, presumably for Eric to say something like, "I'm sorry, dear father, I will never again express my reluctance to join the family for a fun-filled evening of Indian stories."
But that's not what happened. What happened was, Eric decided to call Dad's bluff. When the van came to a stop, Eric simply opened the sliding door, hopped out, and headed back to the campsite. Actually, he was going the wrong way, but that became a moot point almost immediately.
I don't know how he did it, but in one fluid motion, Dad shut off the engine, climbed out of the driver's seat, circled the van, removed his belt, and served Eric a healthy portion of attitude adjustment.
We then proceeded to the campfire and listened to the Indians' fascinating legends. Most of us sat on wooden benches, but Eric decided he'd rather stand.
This was the year my youngest brother Bobby had really long, curly blond hair. My Dad got so tired of people saying, "What a cute little girl you have," that he actually spelled out the words I AM A BOY in black electrical tape on the back of Bobby's jacket. A haircut might've been more practical, but I wasn't going to tell my Dad that.
HIGH POINT STATE PARK, NEW JERSEY
Our campsite that year was beautiful, lots of trees and it was set right on a lake. We spent a lot of time fishing, mostly catching and releasing the same five sunfish. One of those stupid bastards had about thirty-five holes in his upper lip. But there was one fish, who we dubbed "Tuffy", that wouldn't go for the bait. We tried everything; worms, bread, Kraft American Cheese. Eventually, Eric was able to catch him by snagging the hook in his gills.
VARIOUS POINTS IN NEW ENGLAND AND EASTERN CANADA
The trip up to Nova Scotia was by far the most memorable of our family camping expeditions, and by "memorable" I of course mean "left deep scars that will probably never heal." To begin with, it rained every day. Now, most of the time when someone makes a statement like that, what they really mean is "it rained an awful lot." It's an exaggeration, like when you say, "Diane is such a slut she nailed every guy in Kappa Gamma Phi," you just mean she's a whore who slept with a lot of guys, not literally everyone. But rest assured, when I say "it rained every day," I mean that it rained every single fucking day. For two weeks.
Rainy weather and camping don't really mix well. You can't build a fire, and the muddy terrain leaves the tent stakes clinging desperately for some sort of stability. It's too wet to do anything fun other than sit around in the tent playing checkers and doing more Mad Libs which gets really damn old after, oh, three hours.
There were other problems. Somewhere in a town called (and I'm not making this up) Pugwash, we had car problems. So Dad took me on a "side excursion" to the Pugwash Pep Boys to pick up a couple air shocks. We watched in amusement as Dad installed the new shocks in the pouring rain. I think that was also the night my parents finally said "the hell with it" and booked us a room at a motel, which was really a series of cabins. Here's some irony for you -- the cabins did not have running water.
Finally, around Day 12, the rain stopped for a couple hours and the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. Naturally, my brothers and I begged our parents to let us go swimming in the lake. My mom started to talk us out of it (the temperature was in the low 50's), but after we bitched and whined for fifteen minutes, my dad said something like, "ah, the hell with it, let 'em go in."
So we put on our swim trunks and waded in. It was when I got in up to my knees that I realized that the water was about 33 degrees. I immediately walked back to the gravelly beach, and it felt like my ankles were broken. My brothers didn't last any longer. My dad, however, was convinced that his sons were just a bunch of wimps, so he said something like, "you guys are just a bunch of wimps" and ran into the water.
Here's the beauty of the situation. Since Dad had just called us wimps, he couldn't just dart back out of the water, although the look on his face indicated that he wanted to do just that. He declared, "It's r-r-r-r-realy not s-s-s-s-so bad once y-y-you get used t-t-t-to it."
I've never seen my mom look so smug.
So Dad toughed it out for a couple minutes, and just before hypothermia set in he came ashore, having acquired a bright pink hue. He quickly toweled off and wrapped himself in a warm blanket.
It immediately started raining again.