The individuals who had to be there – my own family, my birth family, my Mother-in-Law and Sister-in-Law, and one friend family – will have differing recollections from these various “adventures.” Hopefully, the retrospective improves on the actual experiences.
First, a disclaimer: The original text of this post was written several years ago for family memorabilia. Hence, “Dad” refers to me. My use of the term “camping” is a slight misnomer, often used loosely as overnight stops on the way to somewhere else, primarily for budget preservation; or tenting at family bonfires in my back yard. Only a few involve staying in tents in one place for outdoor recreation and/or sightseeing.
- Mom, Dad, Mary (6-months), and nine siblings and MawMaw and PawPaw from my Texas birth family – at San Antonio Worlds’ Fair, 1969, with one pop-up trailer camper and a couple of side tents for accommodations. Evidence is in volume 4 of the original family picture albums.
- Mom, Dad, Mary, Dan (7-months), and Aunt Elaine – driving to Texas, 1970. We load up the Chevy in Stoughton, with Mom and Mary in the front seat, and Dan in a crib in the back seat, with Elaine squeezed in next to the crib (pre-seat belt days). We’re doing a night drive, 640 miles to Uncle Al’s in Virginia. Dan has never stood up at this point. Starting the trip from the driveway, I put the car in reverse, and Dan stands up in the crib, with a proud, “Look at me, everyone” smile. We reach Uncle Al’s, sleep, visit at the fire station, and take off at night for Atlanta, 450 miles, through heavy rain. We set up the tent at Stone Mountain, then go tour Atlanta, where I had done ten weeks of intro IBM training. When we get back to camp, I learn all about capillary action – the cot was touching the tent, and brought all the rain in. Even the paper towels were soaked. I don’t know how we slept through that night. Video evidence in our “Mom and Me” video tapes.
- Mom, Dad, Mary, Dan, and a full Texas birth family van and pop-up camper, probably 1971 – Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada. PawPaw was on a five-year visit-all-the-remote-kids schedule, and brought everyone from Uncle Bob down to Uncle Tommy, hoping to make it to Grand Pré, Nova Scotia, where his ancestors were expelled in the “Grand Derangement,” which Longfellow wrote about in Evangeline. Unfortunately, I took us all to Horse Neck Beach before we left for Nova Scotia, and I got a terrible sunburn, and we had to delay the trip one or two days for me to recover. Unfortunately #2, then I said we needed to go via the only recreation spot I knew in New Hampshire – the Kancamagus Highway, and swim in the Swift River (evidence somewhere in “Mom and Me” video). That was a slow drive, and was followed by a slower drive up Route 1 in Maine, our two-van caravan following enormous, filled-to-the-brim logging trucks, at safe distance. We arrived late at Bay of Fundy Campground in New Brunswick – this is the bay with the largest tides in the world, about twenty feet in two hours (I’m guessing, didn’t look it up or remember). We had to camp in the overflow spots, not in the main campground. The weather was rainy, and everyone was tired from the journey, so PawPaw decided we should turn back the next day, and we didn’t make it to Nova Scotia and his homeland heritage. On return, we camped near Acadia National Park, and had the most delicious lobsters ever, boiled in salt water at one of the roadside cauldrons on Route 1. (When PawPaw and MawMaw were visiting sometime around 1990, and they were in their early 70’s, they did make the trip to Grand Pré, with Gram, and they stayed at Aunt Elaine’s Mother-in-Law’s house in Church Point, right near Comeauville, about an hour away from Grand Pré.)
- Mom, Dad, Mary, Dan, Chris (~4-months), Gram, and Aunt Patti (Chris’s godmother, who had been visiting and helping babysit), 1972 – on top of cornfields in Iowa, then with Texas clan near Hannibal, Missouri. We had our new, three room monster tent. The first night, I hadn’t driven the stakes in far enough, and a fifteen minute heavy rainstorm blasted the tent. Gram, in her very first camping trip ever, needed to use the bathroom. We had a portable camping jobbie, and she could have a privacy room. The tent collapsed, and I had to go outside to drive the stakes deeper and reclaim the shelter. (Apparently Gram wasn’t thrilled with this initiation ritual – after this trip, she never camped again.) The next night, the same fifteen minute rain hit, and the tent was staked in well enough. The family video has a great scene at Trail of Tears State Park on the Mississippi River in Missouri, with our tent and the pop-up trailer tent, and a barge in the river, with a train between us and the river, and three-year-old Dan standing on top of the back of a bench, gathering his courage to jump down, finally jumping, falling, and getting up to dust himself off. (I didn’t know the significance of the “Trail of Tears” at that time, but later learned it was the Cherokee equivalent of the Grand Derangement – a deportation-to-clear-the-way-for-gold-seeking-settlers long march from Georgia and vicinity to the reservations in dryasdust Oklahoma, begun during the first and concluded during the second separated terms of Georgia governor George Gilmer.)
- Mom, Dad, Mary, and Dan – Quebec, September, 1973 or ‘74. Before anyone was in school, we went to Canada, where Mom and I had honeymooned, only this time we pulled the seats out of our white Ford van, and slept in the van. We had the campground almost all to ourselves. Only part-folly was the cold. We reinforced the van with an ill-advised catalytic heater, requiring some windows open for venting. Video evidence of our horse-and-buggy ride along the Plains of Abraham in “Mom and Me” videos.
- Mom, Dad, and I don’t know who else, returning from Texas – Skyline Drive, I don’t remember when. We took the great scenic route up the Blue Ridge Mountains to Skyline Drive. I had forgotten we could only drive 40 miles per hour through the scenery, sometimes less, so we arrived at the campground and set up the tent at 2 a.m. Maybe on this same trip, the night before, we camped at the “L’il Ponderosa” campground in the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. I chose the campground from a triple A book because it advertised 40 campsites on 250 acres, ponies, fishing, and a swimming pool. The 40 campsites were on 2 acres; 248 acres were all hills. The ponies hadn’t been tended to, and their hooves (which are like our toenails) were curled up, and they walked funny. The fishing pond said 20 cents per ounce, and you had to throw them back. And the pool was a weird bowl-shaped, with green water, all algae’d up. We didn’t fish, we didn’t ride ponies, and we didn’t give the pool a second look.
- Mom, Dad, Mary, Dan, Chris, Annie, Tim (2 years old) – Acadia National Park, sometime around 1979, with friends Buzz and Roni and their five offspring. Memorable horseback adventure will be part of next memoir post. Our fourteen person entourage set out to climb the novice trail up Cadillac Mountain to see a gorgeous sunset. Problem was, we parked at the wrong place, and started up the wrong trail. We finally saw a lone hiker on the next hill, and asked him where we were, and he said we were on an expert trail, nowhere near Cadillac Mountain. It was closing in on dusk, and our flashlights were weakening, just as in the t.v. ad, as we hiked down the mountain, the adults showing no fear so the kids wouldn’t get worried. I was holding Tim’s hand, and he wanted to jump down to every boulder he saw. When we finally reached the parking lot, as dark set in, there were hugs all around. The next day, Buzz and I took whoever showed interest on the hike up Cadillac Mountain – we were way too late for sunrise, but we did capture the hill. Roni predicted that next time we camp, we’d each have six children. We never camped together again, but we both had six children within the next few years.
- Mom, Dad, Mary, Dan, Chris, Annie, Tim – driving to Disneyworld, then impromptu on to Louisiana, bittersweet recreation in the middle of two painful events, 1980. Pain #1 was physical – the trip was a return to Disney World four years after Chris at age four had suffered his arm caught in an escalator on the first floor of the Contemporary Hotel, as we had just arrived and were heading to the monorail and the park. We were returning for a legal deposition. (The Disney property was indemnified by the elevator company. The deposition featured a classic, heavy-set, mustachioed attorney trying to intimidate eight-year-old Chris into saying he had stuck his ticket into the return belt and reached his arm into the escalator to retrieve it; Chris calmly answered, “No.” Poignant details in a future post?) We spent the time around the deposition in the park. I changed the round trip plan and decided that we would return via a trip west on Interstate 10 to visit my Grandmother in the hospital near the family farm in Louisiana. Busch Gardens Florida was on the route, and we would have time for morning-only recreation there. The kids lobbied to stay for the whole afternoon, and I agreed, if they would camp to preserve finances. The van had fold-down seats, so the women-folk would sleep in the van, and the men-folk under the stars. We arrived at some sleeping campground after 1 a.m., pulled into an empty spot, and carried out the camping strategy, deferring check-in until the next morning. Wake up call was first light when squirrels on the tree above us bombarded the guys with acorns. We continued to Louisiana to see Grandma Bess, who was 89, and had hosted my most memorable Tom Sawyer years vacations at the farm (another future post). We motel’ed on our return trip, and received news the next week that Grandma had died. The impromptu decision had been a special blessing for me.
- Best one ever – Mom, Dad, Mary and husband Chris, Dan and fianceé Jill, (son) Chris and future wife Marie, Annie, Tim, Sarah, and Susie – Shenandoah National Park, July, 1993 – the first ever family bonfire. Dan and Jill came from Maryland, Chris and Marie and maybe one or two others crammed into Mary and Chris’s car (along with sore throats). We were staying in cabins, and randomly caught the Mountain Heritage Festival – first time I ever heard “Rocky Top.” Mom wanted to camp out, and we had bought two two-person pup tents. Sarah and Susie opened theirs and had it set up, without reading instructions, before Mom and I had ours set up. But someone welched during the night, and Mom and I had to split up so we’d have an adult in each tent. Two large, stunning deer zigzagged through our campsite, and were gone before we hardly knew they were there. We had another memorable horseback adventure – totally placid, compared to the previous one (next post). Nobody else camped out, but we did have a bonfire, all hands present, nice photos. I remember Sarah moaning about being the shortest on her soccer team, and me trying to console her that the signal from brain to foot was much shorter for her, and she could turn like a deer, quicker against more giraffy opponents, and she could see almost eye-level with the ball, so she really had the advantage. (Her experiences in later years included three state championships and college tuition assistance. The Patriots used similar deer-vs.-giraffe attributes to win this year’s Super Bowl.)
- Dad, Adam, Lauren, and Kevin – backyard, don’t remember when. This was to give Dan and Jill a break. I set up a cabin tent in the back yard and “camped” with Grandchildren. Not everyone made it through the night, but I don’t remember which ones.
- Tim’s graduation party bonfire, an all-nighter for some – backyard, with extended family and friends. I’m not sure where everyone slept, and some didn’t.
- Sus’s 21st birthday party bonfire – three tents in backyard at 6 Brookside. The campers were Susie’s college classmates. I had recently retired, and retired while this bonfire was still roaring.
Residual effects of these adventures are mostly positive. All offspring enjoy strenuous outdoor activities. Only one seems to have sworn off camping. My tent awaits its next assignment, after a thirteen-year sabbatical.
Best memories ever . . . wish I had been there!