A-Camping we will go

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

A recent “camping” trip brought back memories of camping in yesteryear, with three little girls along to liven things up. We usually chose state or natural campgrounds and paid about $5 a night when I went on a diatribe about how expensive it was and we’d never come back for that price.

We did come back, of course, and today the Corps of Engineers campground charges $22 per night. At least that is mollified somewhat by being reduced to half price for seniors.

I put the quotation marks around “camping” to express the difference between camping as we practiced it then and “camping” as we do now.

Today, as motor homes go, our 25-footer is quite small, but every cubic inch is well used at least twice. The microwave oven doubles as a fruit cabinet. The shower, rarely used for bathing, carries an extra propane tank, and fold-up bikes and whatever else is too large to tuck in elsewhere.

Talking with other campers our age we hear the same litany: First, a pup tent in the backyard, then a converted van or VW camper, a pop-up tent-trailer, a small camper, then a true RV or a motor home. That’s all for us. The 5th wheel trailers and the really big ones that look like city buses are just not “us.”
Our first camper was a VW van, new when we bought it about 1980. Its pop-up roof allowed one large adult or two skinny children to sleep up there very comfortably. Heaven help the child that needed to go to the bathhouse in the middle of the night.

The VW had a tiny fridge with a propane tank that was so awkward to light that every bit of cold air that may have been in it was long gone before being re-lit.

I’m uncertain as to the order of our acquisitions. There was the pop-up trailer that provided comfort and several inches of space between the floor and the ground. I do recall a memorable night on a hillside in Nova Scotia when it rained so hard the water came over the bottom liner of the pup tent and flooded the kids out.

We grown-ups were in the trailer, the kids in the tent, and when the 100-year rainstorm hit, one little girl braved the rain and lightning to come in and report that her sister was floating in the tent, sound asleep on her air-mattress.

Everything was soaking wet next morning, and a cloudy sky didn’t look too promising. There were no trees or poles on which to stretch clothes lines so we tied everything from one end of the camper to the other. Got the girls dressed in the least wet clothes they had. Lit off our catalytic heater, found some breakfast somewhere, went to church and then to the Alexander Graham Bell museum – at least I think we did.

It was late afternoon before we got back to the trailer, fully expecting billows of steam to emerge when we opened the door. Incredibly, the contents of the trailer and the pup tent were dry and waiting to be folded and put away.

We think the girls enjoyed our camping trips. They just roll their eyes when we ask them if they did. You’d think we’d learn in 50+ years of parenthood that you shouldn’t ask too many questions like that.

Their favorite camping trips were with a Presbyterian group that convened on Standing Indian State Park in the north Georgia mountains. There were lots of other kids, along with parents and grandparents, and everyone pitched in with cooking and cleaning up. The rest of the time was dedicated to sitting around the campfire with folding chairs, or card games on the concrete tables.

To this day our kids, and I presume the kids of our companions, start conversations with, “Do you remember our camping trips at Standing Indian?” It was such a beautiful spot, and we tried to get there on one of the leaf-peeping weekends. Alas, its beauty was our nemesis. You weren’t supposed to “save” campsites, and I believe there was no reservation system then, so we found it hard to get everyone there in time to be close together. That, and the young people growing up and going to college, and the old folks dropping out.

We may see a similar scenario playing out for a Lutheran group that gathers twice a year at Lake West Point on the Chattahoochee. That group is still on the increase. About 20 families participate, with kids of all ages, grandparents, and “just friends.”

No one tries to take over the campfire: Same fellow has brought wood, cut it, stacked it just so, and kept it burning bright for all. And on Saturday afternoon, would you believe we often have a pastor come down to lead worship and eat fish?

The campfire is the camping icon. The cooking trailer belongs to a couple who genuinely love to watch a vat of oil come to a boil. The same couple brings a sophisticated movie projector and uses the side of a neighbor’s motor home to show any of the half dozen movies he’s brought from his collection.

But do you get my point about camping and “camping”?

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