O my God, thank You for the first campout of the season! Thank You for the kayaking. The biking. The hiking. But OMG, thank You for being home again, where the hike to the bathroom is just down the hall.
When our children were small, I maintained a camping list as complicated as a theological treatise. It grew so wise and wonderful that our daughter, now taking her family camping, borrowed it. “I don’t want to forget anything.”
Ha! Campers always forget something.
I balked at handing over my ragged, penciled/inked, 25-year-old list. Part of me celebrated. No more worries about taking Scooby-Doo Band-Aids, the only kind our five-year-old would accept. But I sniffled anew over our empty nest.
I sobbed, “My camping list. …”
Hubby’s face stiffened in his familiar you’re-insane-but-I-won’t-say-it expression. He didn’t protest, “But you hate lists.” Or even, “You didn’t lose it 25 years ago?”
Still, he couldn’t comprehend how listings of bug spray and Imodium® evoked tender memories a mother could cherish.
He did offer to make a new list.
Eyes shining, he plopped beside me. “What do we want on our camping list?”
“We”? I had sort of wanted to do … anything else.
He read me. “If we collaborate, we won’t forget anything.”
We discovered — gasp! — that we define “essentials” differently.
He cannot survive without disgustingly healthy oatmeal raisin cookies. I refuse to leave the driveway without my beloved Pecan Sandies Shortbread cookies. We do agree that a hike without trail mix is like a cruise — not that we’ve taken one — without a buffet.
Hubby stood firm on one point: no melty, messy chocolate chips.
I stood firm. Trail mix without chocolate is not trail mix.
Believe it or not, we completed the list before Christmas.
In hopes of rescuing your future campouts, I include tips on camping items that should never be forgotten:
- Rain tarp. Leave behind extra clothing (who cares what you look/smell like?). But don’t forget a rain tarp, for which — at 2 a.m., with water drip-drip-dripping on your forehead and your children/grandchildren floating away — you would pay a million dollars.
- Buckets. Bailing with your spouse’s shoe will make a tenuous situation worse.
- Coffee. Overlook a drinker’s joe or means to brew it, and she may tie you to a tree and invite bears to dinner.
- Entrance rug. Leave it behind just once and you’ll sleep with a stampede of muddy footprints across your pillow.
- Pillows. You may have included enough bags of marshmallows to substitute, but you’ll share your sleeping bag with a tribe of hungry raccoons.
- Swimsuit. Bring both pieces.
- Blanky. Do not forget your child’s blanky, eyeless teddy bear or one-armed Barbie® Doll. If you do, for the sake of the entire campground, be prepared to break into a small-town Walmart at 3 a.m. to find a substitute.
- Soap. Finally, pack separate soaps. Otherwise, you might find yourself outside the men’s showers, yelling at your dearly beloved to remember your needs, then explaining them to the park ranger.
The good news: even if we’ve forgotten camping list essentials, we’re still married.
But with a new, untried list … with no Scooby-Doo Band-Aids … will we survive the next camping trip?
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What item would make the top of your list? (Hint: Room service does not count.)
Hubby and I have just returned from two weeks of camping, aka our vacation. Grateful to return with only 4,271 mosquito bites, I greet my calendar, which features a two-scene 1947 Norman Rockwell print entitled “Going and Coming.”
In the first, a grinning guy showing off a snazzy fedora and big cigar drives a station wagon topped by a boat. His smiling wife holds Little Sister on her lap. Junior and Fido hang out a window. Warm air flaps their ears and ours, and spit hits our windshields as they pass. Big Sis blows a bubble with her gum that could carry her to the lake by air. Little Bro holds his nose, giving the “You stink!” gesture that passed for rudeness during that era. Beside him, Grandma, sitting straight as a general, ignores the little heathens because of her poor eyesight.
At least, that’s the excuse we grandparents give.
In the second scene, the family returns from the beach. Dad sports only a stump of his cigar and bravado. Mom and toddler snooze. Even the boys and dog sit sedately, and Big Sis’s bubble has shrunk to earthbound size. Grandma, still ramrod straight, probably sleeps with her eyes open, a skill she’s perfected during church.
These Rockwell pictures shout their message so loud and clear even art experts can’t mess with it: “Vacation’s Over … Thank God!”
Each spring, epidemic celebrations offer a taste of summer, tantalizing as our first mouthful of strawberry shortcake. We view new territory, thumbing our noses at those less audacious, confident our bubble gum will taste good forever.
By late July, however, we surpass our quota of quality time together, especially in the car. We peel from the sun’s overfriendliness. Sand has made itself at home in cars, carpets and shorts. Kids have grown an extra epidermis comprised of sun block, Popsicle®, and dirt.
Oddly, something deep inside us craves an alarm clock — and regular bath times. We still love barbecues, but a Sunday roast with mashed potatoes and gravy sounds even better. We want our beds, our messy houses and our schedules.
Even messier because of vacations.
In Rockwell’s return scene, Dad will unload the car, including boat, gear, and sleeping children. Mom faces the formidable task of putting the remaining kids — freshly energized by their arrival home — to bed. (A side note: Both scenes feature children who appear entirely too clean. Mrs. Rockwell never would have painted them thus.)
We wouldn’t miss it for anything.
Today, are you coming or going?
Sixtyish adults who tent camp with grown children and grandchildren ranging from six months to age ten are certifiably insane. But my husband and I reached new levels of lunacy when we accompanied a large percentage of our family group to cave.
A forest hike would bond generations, educate little descendants, and keep them off campground roads inhabited by dinosaur-like RVs. They would view a cave like those immortalized in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
However, half the campground’s population also had braved this wilderness journey. Unlike Aladdin, we stood in line … then remembered we hadn’t brought flashlights.
Despite my Boy Scout husband’s protests, the herd crept forward with only dim illumination from our phones and a son-in-law’s small flashlight. The temperature dropped 15 degrees. Chilly water dripped down my back.
Who knew what might dwell within these cold, drippy underground walls? Injun Joe, the murderous cave-dweller who terrorized Tom Sawyer? Dragons breathed down my neck. …
“I’ll bet this cave has bunches of bats!” my grandson enthused. “I think cave spiders just crawled up my leg.”
Shades of Shelob! With The-Lord-of-the-Rings passion, I brushed him from head to toe.
Now shaking off a hundred imaginary crawlies, I fervently wished he’d kept his scientific curiosity to himself.
The ceiling dropped. Walls closed in. My hips, still inflated by Christmas fat, might wedge in a fissure forever.
Would my skinnier descendants return to camp, mourning my demise, and console themselves with the four buckets of chocolate chip cookies I had baked? Would they not bring me even one to ease my passage into the next world?
Primeval fears solidified when someone called, “Time to crawl.”
My sanity finally kicked in. “No. I’m going back.”
Others turned thumbs down. The grandchildren registered a vehement protest. Our son-in-law sided with the kids. He pressed on, taking them and the only flashlight.
Now gripping my husband’s belt — I hoped — I trailed him through the darkness. Eventually, we arrived at the cave’s mouth. Whew!
Hiking to the cave’s exit, we awaited the adventurers. Anxious minutes dragged. …
Fortunately, they appeared before we summoned the National Guard. Everyone returned to camp to celebrate survival with an appropriately unsafe hot dog roast — and cookies.
Have you ever taken your kids/grandkids spelunking?
Camping was invented when Uk the caveman said to his wife Ukette, “Honey, let’s go on vacation. We’ll sleep on the ground, roast unidentifiable meats over a campfire, drink questionable water and battle dangerous wildlife.”
“But we already do those things.”
“Yeah, but now we’re gonna pay to do it.”
This ancient tradition not only has survived, but thrived through the ages. When our children were young, my husband and I packed our tiny Plymouth Horizon to the roof. Driving while astride sleeping bags and camp stoves, drowning in water toys, and surrounded by disposable diapers and packages of hot dog buns, we escaped to state and national parks. Unfortunately, clans of mosquitoes, yellow jackets and spiders scheduled family reunions at the same time.
As did every lightning bolt in North America.
My husband and I raised metal poles to the roiling nighttime sky while the tent’s wings flapped like an angry pterodactyl’s. Finally succeeding, we religiously kept the following nightly ritual:
- Midnight: Raindrops plop through the tent roof — mass Chinese water torture.
- 1 a.m.: Children pop up in my damp sleeping bag like mushrooms.
- 2 a.m.: Family death marches commence to the nearest outdoor john.
- 3 a.m.: Steve and I share tender marital moments bailing out with Happy Meal sand buckets.
- 4 a.m.: We retreat to the car, sleeping (sort of) in pretzeled layers, periodically whanging noses on the steering wheel.
Inexplicably, our children wimped out of camping togetherness as teens: “Please let us stay home and mow the grass!”
Fearful for their sanity, we complied.
As new empty nesters, however, Steve and I reminisced about hiking through verdant, sun-dappled forests. Canoeing silvery green lakes. Snuggling near a campfire, shy stars peeking through a gossamer cloud ceiling above.
Why did we let bored kids keep us from doing what we loved? And why miss out now?
Two-adult camping would be so simple. No more potty-training sprints to mile-distant restrooms. No more explaining the behavior of amorous groundhogs to six-year-olds while wishing for more personal romance sans a tentful of little roommates. No more arranging schedules in and out of the wilderness to accommodate Little League tournaments, band camp, or a first date with Mr. Awesome.
Steve and I could camp together. Alone.
I pulled out a faithful old iron skillet and my most raggedy towels. I bought Sandies Pecan Shortbread cookies, my beloved calorie splurge from camping years past (the kids wouldn’t touch them).
Munching away, I said, “Hey, Uk, want to go camping with me?”
He dragged our ancient tent from the garage. “You got it, Ukette.”