The Winter Solstice has passed; we’ve turned the page from 2014 to 2015. That means spring is around the corner with summer following closely on its heels. But first, we need to make it through January and February – the dark months. Summer is especially sweet for me: as a high school English teacher, it means time to recover, to recharge my batteries, to rest up for next year. My preferred method of recharging is to get away from it all…to go camping.
I’m a camper from way back. When I was growing up, my folks bought a Starcraft pop-up camper, and we went everywhere in it. Everywhere. Camping was an affordable way for my family to travel, and we did: we camped up and down the Eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida with notable stops in Washington, Myrtle Beach, and, of course, Disney World. Oh, and Charleston. Can’t forget Charleston, but that’s another story for another time. We ventured north of the border, too. A fisherman’s mecca – Canada. We made our northern pilgrimage often because my dad was a devotee; I, his neophyte.
Some of my best memories come from these camping trips. Oh, we fought like cats and dogs; it inevitably rained when we were setting up camp or taking it down; we endured maybe a little too much togetherness. But, we were together. As a family. Experiencing and exploring, sharing and playing, laughing and crying. And yelling, lots of yelling. Together.
As an adult, with my own family, I wanted to offer the same experiences and promises of memories with my children. So, many moons ago, I convinced my husband to buy a camper. A pop-up camper. Of course. In the quiet of this cold, bleak, early January morning, my mind wandered back to our inaugural adventure in our new pop-up camper.
Being the romantic sentimentalist that I am, I wanted my mom and dad to come along with us. It was important to me that they be a part of this trip, especially. It seemed only fitting: after all, they instilled in me the wanderlust, the love of nature, the sense of family. Their presence would signal a symbolic passing of the torch, an affirmation of their awesome parenting, a hope for my own family.
So, we set out from Dublin, heading north on I-71 toward Youngstown on Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend, our pop-up camper in tow, on our way to pick-up mom and dad. I was (and remain) the tow-master. The first really important lesson I learned as tow-master was that we definitely needed the sway bars that we did not have. Our pop-up camper flipped and flopped around behind our van like a hooked fish at the end of my pole – a furious and indignant fish, desperately determined to free itself from its tether. It wasn’t just scary; it was terrifying. But, somehow, we made it to Youngstown. We loaded mom and dad, and we continued to our destination – Mosquito Lake. What an unfortunate name. Maybe it was an omen.
It was not raining when we arrived at Mosquito Lake. But it was dark. As a novice tow-master, the second really important lesson I learned was that I had seriously overestimated my trailoring abilities. I was not adept at all at backing into the campsite. Since it was the first major holiday weekend of the camping season, the campground was, of course, packed. Campers in neighboring sites were comfortably sitting around their campfires watching me try to back into the campsite. Over and over again. I could feel their eyes on me; I could imagine their smirks. The pressure was on. Over and over again. My pride was wounded. The pop-up camper wasn’t even set up, and I already felt a failure. Well, a neighboring camper was watching, but he wasn’t judging my inept manuevering skills. Campers are nice people. Really nice people. He came over and offered to back the camper in for me. I relinquished my pride and gave up the wheel to him.
Finally, the camper was set up. The beds were made, but the third really important lesson that I learned was that I seriously underestimated the number of blankets that we would need. It was cold. Really cold. We needed to turn the heater on. So, I went out, into the dark, with a small flashlight and a lighter to light the pilot light on the heater. I removed the cover over the heating element, and I flicked the lighter. I held the flame to the element…to no avail; nothing happened. No heater, no heat. I did think it was odd, though, that there was insulation visible where the pilot light should be . . . so close to the flame of my lighter. Hmmm.
I went back inside, and we all cuddled under the few blankets spread over each of the beds. I woke at one point to see the silhouette of my dad sitting up in his bed, shivering, his blanket drawn around his shoulders. He had to go, but he didn’t want to go out in the dark, in the cold, to the restroom down the lane. I nodded to him. He got up, hobbled over to the door, opened it to the cold, stood on the threshold, and peed into the weeds, baptizing our campsite. When he returned to his bed, he looked back over at me across the pop-up camper. And I learned the most important lesson. We laughed silently together; I could imagine his eyes twinkling; then we settled down to sleep.