Back when I was a kid, we did lots of camping. No, we didn’t have one of those hot shot home away from homes, we used a tent.
It was 1976 when dad bought it. Yellow walls and a green roof, and metal poles that weighed a ton and took forever to set up, but once it was set up, the thing was huge.
On the night we bought the tent, my brother and I chose to sleep outside in the backyard. Since the tent was so big, we brought stuff from our room, including our stash of comic books, flashlights, and of course, munchable goodies such as strawberry flavored hostess potato chips, pop rock candy, and root beet. My brother was six at the time, and I was thirteen.
Back then, it was okay to be a kid at thirteen. At thirteen, a kid wasn’t expected to be thinking about girls, college, or his next car. Thirteen year olds (or any kid for that matter) didn’t spend their time playing video games (they weren’t invented yet) or chatting on a cell phone (ditto), so being thirteen was a whole lot easier.
The next day, after the dew had dried up and the grass was nice and warm, Dad took the tent down (half a day’s work) and we loaded all the camping equipment into the trunk of the old Ford Falcon (Dad’s pride and joy), and the whole family headed to the nearest pond to do some camping, fishing, and whatever adventure came our way. Dad said that it would be good to get away from the neighbors for a change, and he was excited to get some fishing in. Mom was less enthusiastic, as my sister Tammy was just three at the time, and mom was pregnant with my youngest sister Cindy as well.
As we drove down the well beaten path that led to the pond, we played car games like spot the buggy. This was a time when there were plenty of VW bugs around, and seeing one allowed you to punch your brother in the shoulder, saying “buggy, free punch”. My arm was red by the time we reached the camp area.
When we finally reached the camp area that surrounded the large pond, I seen dad’s smile disappear. What we planned to be a weekend away from our neighbors turned out to be quite the opposite, as most of the community were already set up around the pond in their tents and truck campers.
Dad was never one to let himself get down, and with this, he found the best spot for the tent and proceeded to set the thing up. This time it was much easier, as a few neighbors joined in to help.
Being kids, our first task was to find other kids and see what type of trouble we could find. All fourteen of us grabbed an old Timber Jack tire tube, and headed for the pond. Mom said that she still thinks of this day with fear.
Mom told the rest of this story to me a few years back. I must have had some sort of memory loss, as the story remained a little foggy from here on out, but it explains a lot now.
Mom said that before they had a chance to set up camp, we were already on the huge inner tube, out in the middle of the pond. I was right there with the rest of the kids, none of us great swimmers. She said that complete horror struck her the next time she glanced at us, as she only seen thirteen kids on the tube, and they were all laughing at something. When she called out to me, the kids looked at each other in horror, realizing that I was not amongst them…. I had fallen through the middle of the tube, my legs entangled with theirs, and I was underwater.
The fathers of the kids, dad included swam to the tube, pulled all us kids, including the kids on top the tube and me under, to safety. Dad also performed CPR on me. Apparently, according to mom, I was not breathing, and Dad had seen someone on a soap opera on TV save a life this way. In minutes, I was coughing up pond water, but breathing again.
For some reason, I could never remember this experience, but I have always had a fear of water. I never learned to swim, and maybe this is why. Dad says that in the five years that we camped, he must have aged twenty years.
In Eighty One, dad got rid of the tent and bought an old truck. He found an old truck camper in the classifieds, and we continued camping with this, but this is another story for another time.
Despite the frights we gave our parents while camping in the old yellow tent, they still talk about all the fun we had camping. “With bad comes some good” my dad still says. He says that the tent gave us time to do fun things as a family. He is right, I have all those fun memories of the times when I was a kid. I have them stored up here in the happy, carefree part of my brain, and whenever I need to reflect on how to be a parent to my child, I can reach back to the times when I was a kid and we did family things, when we were all young and the world was not such a scary place, and I can apply some of the lessons I have learned as a child to today’s world, and to my role as a dad.