Camptown Races

Camping season has begun.

I know this because my sister-in-law, Pat, posted on Facebook that she and my brother Jim are setting out on their first camping expedition of the season tomorrow.

My only question is why?

They are fully grown people who are not being dragged off to experience nature by a father forcing them into a nine-passenger station wagon. (Somehow, we fit 12.)

Incredibly, Dad’s wilderness spirit was passed along to Jim who likes nothing better than to hit the open road with his wife Pat and then sit around a campfire.

Granted, he travels in a bit more style nowadays. But me, I can never shake the image of that  first used wood camper my dad bought so that he could haul his large brood of children all over the state of Minnesota for a paltry sum of money. Sure, years later he graduated to a better model. But it was never good enough for me.

Jim, being the oldest boy, was the one who had to help Dad set up the camper. Which meant he endured a lot of yelling in the process because I can’t remember a time where the camper went up smoothly.

The rest of us jumped out of the station wagon and ran out around the campground like hooligans. I’m sure everybody was really glad to see us.

From a very early age, I disliked the lack of creature comforts of camping. I didn’t like the morning damp that permeated our sleeping bags. I didn’t like the primitive showers and toilet facilities.  I didn’t like the bugs. And, often, I didn’t like the family I was crammed into the camper with for too long a time.

When the family expanded to include 10 kids, my dad bought canvas cots that fit over one side of the tent. It was his version of bunk beds and we had to rotate through all the positions, the inside bottom being the worst.The night it was my turn for inside bottom, I instead roamed the campground all night. I just couldn’t crawl in there.

It seems wherever we went there was rain and storms and even tornadoes. It seemed whenever we stopped, there was shouting. It seemed whenever we traveled, Dad got wildly angry about the “Are we there yets?”

But camping became Dad’s passion, the thing he lived for all year. This was his vacation and we had all better enjoy it, by golly.

Once, long after I came to La Crosse to work at the La Crosse Tribune, I agreed to meet my parents at Whitewater State Park, their favorite camp site. I emphasized it would be only for the evening and that I would be bugging out before the camp was locked down for the night.

Dad fondly recalled his clearest memory of me at the camp site — “You’re sitting on the tailgate of the station wagon reading a book by lantern light with bugs buzzing all around you.”

No wonder I didn’t like camping. One year he actually tried to ban us from reading on “his” vacation. The second week in he broke down and let us go into town to buy books because we weren’t going to be at peace until we had reading materials.

I didn’t mind hiking. I didn’t mind accidentally tipping my father out of the canoe. I didn’t mind eating s’mores. I just wanted to go home to my own bed at night.

Now, Jim and Pat are purposely seeking out these kinds of experiences. And in keeping with the finest Parlin tradition, storms are predicted.

Dad must be smiling up in heaven.


2 thoughts on “Camptown Races

  1. Those of us who grew up on a farm see no joy in camping either. I knew one old timer who said city folks have things mixed up: They go outside to eat, and go back in the house to use the bathroom. Well, that’s a little less vulgar version of what he said. I haven’t been camping, or in a tent, since I was in basic training in the Army, which was 45 years ago. Haven’t missed it either.

    • Brekke, I was just reading your camping comment. I was thinking about camping yesterday because my brother and his wife still camp all the time. The only way I could agree to camping is if I had a cabin with indoor facilities, a kitchen and a cable TV hookup. I would agree to look out at a beautiful lake view as long as I didn’t have to fish or engage in any water sports. Mostly, I’d just read. Come to think of it, I can do that at home so why bother?

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