Camping is a great setting for creating memories…
When I was a kid my parents bought all new camping gear in one swell foop. The 9′ x 12′ canvas tent had plenty of headroom – the ridge pole must have been 7′ high. When folded up, the tent was so big and heavy that one person could barely carry it. That first purchase also included a toilet seat mounted on a collapsible frame – like a folding camp stool. Underneath the seat were some hooks with which to attach plastic bags with drawstrings. Somebody was thinkin’.
For some reason we took my grandmother with us on our first camping trip. That either speaks very well of her spirit of adventure, or very poorly of our understanding of ‘fun things to do with Grandma.’ Our campsite was kind of out in the open so there wasn’t much privacy for our portable privvy. In fact there wasn’t any. Maybe that stinking outhouse all the way across the campground wasn’t so bad after all… But at night it would be awfully handy to have facilities closer to the tent, and darkness would take care of privacy.
In the middle of the night we were awakened by a sudden crash. A bear? No – a bear doesn’t cuss and swear like that. Apparently for even greater convenience, the collapsible toilet had been brought inside our commodious (intended) tent. While Grandma was using it – no doubt taking care not to wake anyone – it collapsed. She and my Dad cracked heads, and who can remember if or how Grandma finished her business or what happened to the bag under the seat. It was a long time ago, and there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since, so to speak…
That was the last time we used that gizmo. It was also the last time Grandma went camping with us.
In those same early days of family camping, my parents sometimes slept inside the canopy that enclosed the back of Dad’s Chevy pickup. Mom and my sisters and I all had those eight or ten pound sleeping bags from the big initial purchase of camping gear. Dad had an old Army surplus sleeping bag filled with chicken feathers (perhaps predating the discovery of goose down).
One morning I was the first to wake up. Like any teen, my thoughts turned to the family and what I could do to get breakfast started. Needing something out of the back of the truck, I swung open the tailgate. A few things like dandelion spores flew in my face. Ptooie. Where’d those come from?
Had it snowed in the back of the truck? Wait a second – those are chicken feathers. Then my Dad moved slightly and his bag issued a little puff of feathers. Ah ha.
When they emerged from the truck, Mom and Dad looked like they’d spent the night in a chicken coop. If I’d known anything about raising chickens, the sight might have prompted me to look for eggs. My Dad had feathers in his hair, his beard, his ears, his eyelashes and eyebrows. Big Bird wasn’t around yet, but that’s what he looked like. And just like in nature, my Mom’s plumage wasn’t as dramatic – but she was easily identifiable as the same species. As I recall, they laughed as hard as we did when they saw themselves in a mirror.
You never know what might happen sitting around an evening campfire. Sometimes we find ourselves just staring into the flames. On one occasion four of us were relaxing and talking when we were suddenly taken hostage and held at stickpoint by our kids.
The first time we camped with Chris and Katie and their kids, Chris and I had a contest to see who could stuff the most marshmallows into our mouths. Don’t try this without a video camera. The first few marshmallows are no big deal, but then the cheeks start bulging in a way that can completely change the stuffee’s face. I’ll never forget watching a friend undergo this transformation in front of a church camp. He’s a very smart, highly competent attorney who suddenly looked for all the world like a squirrel. I’ve never laughed harder.
Chris slowed down at about nine or ten marshmallows, but my head and mouth are bigger, so I had an unfair advantage. A couple of things start happening when the mouth gets this full: 1) the gag reflex can be triggered in a big way; and 2) the salivary glands kick into high gear. I found myself herking and drooling unbelievably with 14 marshmallows crammed into my mouth. I think Chris topped out at 11, but his form and control were superior. I won for sheer volume, but I’d give it to him for artistry.
This is not a good thing to attempt for those who have a cold or difficulty breathing through the nose. Definitely don’t want to breathe through the mouth in a situation like this. It’s also important to have ‘discard’ bags handy. Audience sensitivities should dictate whether the bags are clear or opaque.
Susan’s family also had a big canvas tent when she was a kid. Her brother and a cousin woke up in the middle of the night with no time to find their way to the campground’s ‘comfort station.’ With parental instructions to walk a discreet distance away, they set out. Imagine the surprise of the family members still in their sleeping bags when they heard the distinctive sound of two little boys peeing against the outside of the tent.
Decades later we inherited that old canvas tent, and it still bore the evidence of that very short midnight walk in the woods.