Each year as we approach the 4th of July, I am reminded of our camping years…..I guess maybe I’m just at an age where I’m becoming nostalgic about certain past events and times.
My wife’s family was a weekend camping family, and so she grew up with frequent trips to Hueston Woods as a kid. I didn’t. Camping in my family meant a blanket-tent hung off of the upper bunk bed on the weekend and maybe, just maybe a flashlight (and hopefully no wetting the bed).
I had my first exposure to the trailer camping experience with Kim when we were dating. I liked it. I liked all of it; the getting away from the regular routine, the no phone calls, (there were no cell phones yet), the grilling out, the hiking and creeking and the nighttime s’more making. For my first couple of camping trips with Kim’s family, I would sleep in a spare tent they brought along while everyone else slept in the trailer. (Shh….don’t tell her parents that she snuck out of the trailer).
After we were married, we bought a full sized Chevy van from my dad. Since it was fully equipped with a bed and ice box, our primary objective was to use it for camping. These were the days when owning a big gas guzzling customized van was actually kinda cool.
Other than a very loud throw-out bearing, we really liked that van. It was customized and functional and we felt safe. Blue paint and awesome Cragar chrome wheels on the outside, the inside sported thin wood paneling on the walls, blue carpeting on the floor, a vinyl covered soft bed in the rear that opened up for storage, a built-in ice box, a small fan on the large dash, (no AC), and a built-in 12 to 120 volt electricity converter.
BC, (before children), we used that van a few times for camping and it worked out great. Otherwise, I drove it to work. Kim and I both slept comfortably as it was just wide enough for me to lay prone. My most vivid camping memory was one where I recall Kim and I both laying on the bed, watching a huge storm out the back window as the winds ripped through the campground. No tent or awning was safe that morning. The safest place that day ended up being a Chevy van.
Eventually we ditched the van and bought a pop up camper which we pulled with a Mazda SUV. Our little family had grown to 4 and our little pop up became our new best weekend friend. Our first pop up had a giant spring on each side. We’d unclip the snaps and push up on the sides. The springs would help push up the top and then we could pull out the bed. The table then could be let down also to allow the seat cushions to form more sleeping room. It was perfect for our little family, (and perfect for taking off a finger if you weren’t careful around those springs). Give the Stavi wave!
About 1-2 weekends out of the month we’d drive up to Hueston Woods, ‘A’ camp, pick a spot and hop out. Immediately, little 3-year old Corey would hightail it for a water fountain. That would keep him busy while we set up camp. If we had had recent rains, we might head on down to ‘the falls’ after getting all set up.
The Falls wasn’t really a true waterfall in the sense of the word. It was more of just a short drop off of maybe a foot or two, down at the local creek. If the rains had been very hard over the past few days or weeks, the water flow at the creek would be strong and we could enjoy the falls and the waterhole just beneath. At times the waterhole was deep and large enough to allow maybe a dozen of us to swim and cool off from the hot and humid Ohio summers. And yes, the local snakes seemed to love the falls too.
But snake-buddies weren’t the only relationships that were forged at Hueston Woods. One day Traci, (Kim’s sister), decided to go on a manhunt in the B section camping area. She ended up getting chased out by a raccoon family but yes, she was successful…..38 years, (I think), of marriage and counting, (to a man, not a raccoon).
If we were lucky, we’d get a nice spot in the A section, somewhere either close to the showers or up on the high ground section of A in case of heavy rains. On one occasion we were late getting up there and not so lucky. The first spot we set up on was not so close to Kim’s parents. This didn’t seem like a big deal to me because the section was really not that large but when a spot next to Kim’s parents opened up the next morning, Kim, (in her glorious wisdom), thought we should move our camper. I didn’t want to move it since it was already set up so she moved it herself while it was still erect.
The camper had a larger sized bed on one end. Kim and I slept there with our little toddler Timmy – Timmy would be against the very inside so he didn’t roll off the bed at night. Immediately below that bed was a table that converted to a bed. Corey would sleep there and then Mitch would sleep on the other side of the camper in the smaller bed.
Well…everything would have been fine except for the fact that Kim didn’t tell me she had unloosened the straps underneath each of the beds. This might be ok for an adult, but for a little boy who has a tendency to squirm around in his sleep, this created an ‘issue’. You see, those straps ensured the bed ends stayed closed and secure. Around 2am that night, we’re all tucked in snug as bugs…..except for little Timmy that is. He had fallen out of the end of the camper, onto the ground. Kim was first to awaken to the muffled sounds of baby cry outside of the camper…
TIMMY FELL OUT OF THE CAMPER!
Huh, what? (Me, dazed and confused)….
GET UP, TIMMY FELL OUT OF THE CAMPER!
And sure enough, he had rolled right out and landed on the pavement. It’s a minor miracle that he didn’t land on his head, but he was fine, albeit a bit baby-traumatized.
Timmy couldn’t even talk yet, but despite a lack of speech, he told everyone the story the next day in baby sign language, complete with a head nod and fake crying. I think this was the first time we got to experience his fantastic childhood memory.
We camped maybe every other weekend in the years from ’78 to ’89 before moving to Louisiana. We sold the camper soon after moving but when we moved back to Ohio in ’94, camping was back on the menu. All and all, we had a nice couple of decades of camping and hopefully our children have cushy, feel-good camping memories.
For me, whether it was the S’mores, the ‘Mel and Sam fish fry’s’, the creeking, or the raccoons getting into the coolers at night looking for eggs, or the occasional wild storms or just staying up to the late hours, all huddled around a nighttime fire burning painted wood, (tribute reference to Sam…RIP), and talking about anything that crossed our minds…..our camping years represent a few of our fondest days of family. I’m not sure I’d do it again today in this time of my life, but I’m terribly glad we shared those times together….it wasn’t Prytania, but we all grew up a little bit more in the camping years.