Silhouettes Dancing Against A Poorly Pitched Tent

My father always liked the “idea” of camping

My father always liked the “idea” of camping, which was bewildering to me. My folks were not outdoor enthusiasts by any stretch of the imagination. They were hobby-less homebodies; more comfortable camped out in front of the TV than any raging campfire. The family recreational portrait was void of wild wilderness scenes: no snapshots of Dad with a leg up on the back of a surprised bull moose, surrounded by mugging sons with rifles raised above our heads; no sing-a-long moments around the campfire with Ma and sis in buckskin frying up a batch of freshly caught trout. Strangely, every summer when we traveled, it was the camping route we took. Our sedate and pampered lifestyle was suddenly abandoned in favor of a dust-bowl family adventure with a carload of clothes, food, clanging pots and pans and squalling kids. It was like we’d dropped out of suburbia and impulsively joined the circus. This camping impulse may have come from my father’s WWII days of trudging around Europe and roughing it in a real life and death survival mode. Perhaps he wanted to give us all a taste of what it was like to endure some form of hardship, such as camping away from the civilized crowd and a flushing toilet. In reality, it may have been that a tent was a lot cheaper than a hotel when toting around a family of six. My father purchased a good-sized one for these occasions. It was a framed work of art, the heavy canvas shellacked with a clear varnish that turned a brownish- pocked stain when it rained. Sometimes it looked like a monochromatic Jackson Pollack painting; other times as if gibbons with fluid fecal evacuations had let loose upon it. We were all part of this painting also; crudely drawn silhouettes rushing to set up a campsite as the sky darkened overhead. ‘Boy’s Rapidly Pounding Stakes’ or ‘Family Next To A Highway’ would have been appropriate titles for such a painting. ‘Silhouettes Dancing Against A Poorly Pitched Tent’ would have been perfect. It’s amazing our whole family slept in the damn thing, boxed in like a pack of cigarettes, four sleeping bags lined up vertically across the back of the tent and two horizontal at the door like smokes that had fallen over. The tent was sprayed with some form of a DDT defoliant to kill off the mosquitoes and you’d be either high as a kite or unconscious within minutes in the hot-bong sleeping chamber. There was only one chance to pee before you were zipped in for the night so with flashlight in hand, we’d seek out the campground’s outhouse that was never hard to find because of the damp path that led up to and circled it. Most of the time, we’d pee in the bushes close by and avoid going in it all together.
Once settled in and snug in our sleeping bags, we’d listen to the cars and big rig trucks thundering by just a few hundred yards away from the little COA rest stop. I used to think how easy it could have been to have our entire family wiped out in one fell swoop by some pill popping sleep-deprived trucker.
“Go to sleep,” my mother said from the front of the tent, her face not more than a foot away from your foot.
“I’m not tired,” someone would say, “what time is it?”
“It’s eight-thirty,” from my father, “now get to sleep!”
The constant hum of the highway eventually sent you off and then promptly woke you in the morning. Poking your head out into the fresh cold air, you were greeted with my mother cooking up runny eggs and Spam on a Coleman gas stove and my father shaving out of a metal bowl.
Yes, the folks may have been cheap and the accommodations inexpensive but all those memories were surely priceless.


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