Summer is for Camping

imagesMy preference for a sheeted bed in a pleasantly cool room with a readily available flush toilet showed up in my life about the same time as my senior discounts. When younger, I loved camping.

My siblings and I used to beg to camp out on the back lawn where we listened to water dripping from the irrigation tank and smelled the earthy odor of cow manure drifting from the pasture.

Our proximity to Utah Lake with its hordes of voracious mosquitoes added to our fun. We slept among mosquito clouds so thick we sometimes inhaled little whining bodies and had to gag and shriek. The next morning, when asked if the mosquitoes bothered us, we’d scratch our inflamed bites and respond, “Mosquitoes? What mosquitoes?”

During the summer of 1958, Dad went on strike with his union; worried about providing for his family, his temper soon matched the sizzling July heat. My resourceful mother suggested that a camping trip to American Fork Canyon might cool off both Dad and the thermometer.

So Mom and Dad loaded a week’s worth of basic food, camping gear, six children, and three watermelons into our bedraggled Plymouth, then tied a mattress on top — an embarrassment to their image-conscious teenagers. Mom said she didn’t mind cooking in primitive conditions, but she would not sleep on the bare ground. Dad expressed amused astonishment that he had married such a princess.

We ran wild in the mountains by day and roasted marshmallows to drink with hot chocolate at night. We slept surrounded by the smell of wood-smoke and the sound of the creek’s gurgle. We hiked to a lake so cold most of us only waded. Back at camp, we told Mom it was the best bath we’d ever had. Dad grinned, but didn’t betray us.

After six nights of asking for stories about the olden days and finding both the big and little dippers, we drove home on sun-softened asphalt to a call from Uncle Bud: the strike was settled; and, once again, Dad sang and whistled around the house.

UnknownAs a teenager at a 4-H camp, I huddled in the dark with my friends, listening to our junior leader, Janey Ann. In a menacing voice, she described a boy and girl parked on West Mountain and the girl’s uneasiness at being in an isolated place late at night after hearing frightening news on the radio: that afternoon, a murderer with a hook for a hand had escaped from the state penitentiary.

We gathered closer to Janey Ann’s flashlight-lit face as she recounted the boy’s anger at the girl’s insistence that they leave, how he abruptly popped the clutch of his Chevy, spun out of the parking area, and took her home.

“And then,” Janey Ann lowered her voice to a whisper, “when they arrived at her house… he went around to open the car door for her…and there…hanging from the door handle….A BLOODY HOOK!”

Minnie hyperventilated. Carol cried. Suzie went home with a wet sleeping bag, and the head leader, Bessie, entered the tent and threatened to fire Janey Ann on the spot. It was quite wonderful.

Much better than sleeping in my own bed.







30 thoughts on “Summer is for Camping

  1. Our family vacations were always camping outings. A distinct memory I have is all of us nestled in our sleeping bags in the family tent and my dad would turn out the lantern and I would watch it as it slowly went out. Probably slept pretty good because I didn’t have to get up to use the facilities in those days!


    • What a good memory, Cindy, It made me remember how camping lanterns slowly faded away. I agree about the facilities, especially since those in campgrounds are frequently of a dubious nature or non-existent.


  2. Our kids love to camp, but I’m with Grandma Bray, I hate to sleep on the ground. We compromise by laying our sleeping bags across inflated air mattresses. Unfortunately, since Devin or I always have a little one snuggled in close we usually wake up the next morning covered in urine.


    • Great comment, Leanna. My memory tells me that there was a similar urine experience on the camping trip I described in the post. But in the interest of family harmony, I won’t name names.


  3. I didn’t camp as a child. My mother thought our primative living conditions were close enough to camping for her.
    When I had my own family, we discovered camping was a way to vacation that we could afford. I loved the immersion in nature and being outside 24 hours a day.
    I have no doubt that camping from the time they were babies is the reason all my children and grandchildren camp, hike, and fish,
    I’ve noticed that adults who’ve camped complain less when the weather’s uncomfortable or gnats swirl. I think they’re a hardier group. I no longer camp but I have such wonderful memories. .
    Janet….ewww, the “bloody hook” story remains the scariest campfire story, ever. And, the “Rocky Rest” campground remains the most challenging.


  4. Isn’t it amazing how as kids we were able to sleep anywhere, and what now registers with discomfort we once viewed as fun? I enjoyed taking the trip down memory lane with you.


  5. That brings back memories. We moved almost every six months and camping was a necessity. We were broke most of the time. Once, we packed all our possessions, including my mom, dad and sister in a little Volkswagon Bug. Looked like the Grapes of Wrath, and yes, the mattress was on top along with a pile of other things.


  6. Ah camping- part of my life long as I can remember..urine was never an issue, but winter at the Peace Camp in England in a tent was my finest hour- best memory, putting on a frozen solid Bra in the middle of the night to go help a friend in trouble..don’t know why I bothered with the bra, but was prepared to die for the cause, oh the love of camping. Great post thanks Janet


  7. My family took two camping vacations when I was a child. And both could easily have been the basis for the Chevy Chase “Vacation” movies—comedies of errors.
    As a young adult I grabbed a cheap K-Mart tent and any friend who would accompany me and drove across the country several times, sleeping on roots and rocks, on sandy beaches and in swampy meadows. Those were great times.
    Now I still camp and backpack, mostly with my husband. And we have a double thermarest pad for “comfort”.
    Camping has provided me with some of my most cherished travel memories.
    Thanks for stirring up the memories. A great post!


  8. The story of the hooked hand must be as universal as mythology. Thanks for sharing these delightful camping stories. My favorite times during camping are night time around the camp fire, and early morning breakfast cooked “primitive” style.


  9. I love camping stories! As I am sure you already know. But, I enjoy your storytelling prose even more. My mother hated camping as a child but tolerated it when I was growing up. We would camp in a tent once or twice a year and I would set up a tent in our backyard on summer nights for weeks straight. My sister would find her way back into the house most nights and i would wake up, alone, with a musty heat smell smacking me in the face in the morning.
    I have loved camping for as long as I can remember, I am at peace in a tent, although, I will say my back and hips are not as amused anymore.


    • You’re right, Carrie, your comments mirror the picture I already had of you. I especially enjoyed your memory of “a musty heat smell” smacking you in the face in the morning. I remember that smell well.


  10. My first camping trip was a the age of six months. I’m quite sure my very working class dad worked fifty weeks a year so that we could have two weeks in the mountains every summer. We started in a tent, of course, but in the mid-fifties dad built a fold-out trailer from plans he got from (I think) Popular Mechanics. The main material was plywood and it fastened together with wing-nuts. It had an ice chest and a screen door. There may have been a thunder-jug, but I don’t remember. When we were first married, Don and I camped in a tent and the back of a pickup. We moved up to a VW camper then a fold-out trailer as the girls grew. A few years ago we moved up again, to a small Class C motorhome with a comfy mattress, a heater and nice flush potty.


    • Your dad sounds like a resourceful man, Lori: plywood and wing nuts! He must have been a great father. We now have a Class C motorhome as well. We enjoy it, but I sometimes think we’re cheating.


  11. Was recently told a Camp Horror Holiday story of a chap who lay down astroturf all around his motorhome, and in the morning came out with a leaf blower! clear away every pine needle, twig and bit. Perhaps he feared quiet as well as foliage?


  12. Bad neighbor Bad. Had a landlady who mowed outside my window early on my only day off, stop every few yards to get her breath and rattle my window with dirt. But camping lack of ettiquette is just not on. I am reminded of my old home Ec teacher, Mrs Heikilla who told us- “ladies do not guffaw, they titter” OF COURSE we all guffawed mightily. Janet do guffaw, it is so healthy.


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