My father loved camping. And when I say he loved camping, I don’t mean RVs in campgrounds where you could hook up to electricity. No … serious camping. I was still in diapers when Dad designed our family’s tent (okay, I might have been a little older, but we had that thing forever). He found a tent maker and had the thing made and so it began.
I didn’t even know what staying in a hotel was until I was in junior high. We camped. In the tent.
As a reminder … Mom was a Boston debutante. She sacrificed a lot for that marriage.
Anyway, Dad loved camping. And he was GREAT at camping. In the early days of his ministry, the little churches didn’t have youth groups, so he took boy scouts out on adventure canoe / camping trips. When he landed in churches that had established youth programs, they were who he subjected to his love for camping. He was so organized about it. Absolutely amazing. He never forgot anything, he packed everything perfectly and made sure that no one actually suffered while camping.
He worked like a demon to make sure that everyone else had a great time. Even I had a great time. I learned to love fishing because Dad loved to go fishing. The summer he took a church group to Canada for some great fishing, I went instead of Mom. Every morning at four o’clock, he’d rap on my window and I’d pull on my cold, wet blue jeans (they hadn’t had time to fully dry) and quietly leave the cabin to meet him at the dock and we’d motor out to where he’d already identified there had to be a school of walleye waiting for us. We’d travel for about forty-five minutes in silence. Well … except for Dad talking to God about how beautiful the morning was. I sat in the front of the boat praying to come alive and quickly.
Our last family camping trip happened when I was in my twenties. Jim was still in college. Carol didn’t go – she had to work, and for heaven’s sake, we were camping. But Dad planned for months. He designed everything – down to how he packed the van. Crates were perfectly laid out with sheets of plywood atop them – and a lane down the middle of the van. Everything we needed was under that plywood – foam mattresses were laid out on top. We had several days of travel to the end of the road in Canada … yep, the end of the road. There was no one else at the campsite. The only people we saw were the Indians who came from their homes just a little north of us each morning on their way to work.
He loved to camp and made it fun for me. I always thought I loved camping.
Until I had to do those things without him.
My brother and his family met me, Max and Carol in South Dakota for a quick vacation one year. We all thought it would be fun (and less expensive) to camp. We had tents. Uh … yeah. Not Dad’s tent. And it rained. Max and I were nearly washed out of our tent. And I wanted to die because we’d managed to park it right on top of some rocks (okay, there wasn’t anything else). I didn’t sleep, I was cold, wet, miserable and grumpy. We got a hotel the next night.
Someone asked me if I wanted to go fishing once and it hit me that I really didn’t want to ever do that. Dad was the one who made it fun. He knew more about lures and fish and bait than anyone I’ve ever known and he just fed that information out so that I thought I knew what I was doing. I knew nothing. He did.
It’s strange to realize how much of my early life revolved around that tent; how many times I cooked over a fire or made sure I didn’t touch the roof of the tent in a rainstorm. The games we played on the floor of that beast, the times I helped Dad set it up and tear it down. It was so heavy that none of us could lift it. We saw a lot of the United States while spending the nights in campgrounds that were usually pretty primitive.
And then it was all over. I can’t imagine doing anything like that now. I like four solid walls, indoor plumbing, showers and free continental breakfast. I don’t really miss it. Those experiences are part of my childhood and are very sweet memories, but I think I’ll leave them filed away as memories.
What about you? Do you still like to go camping? I know an awful lot of you have wonderful RVs … and those offer quite nice four walls and enough comforts to make it fun to camp. What’s your favorite part of it all?