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.