Thursday, August 02, 2012

Under the Dumb Plum Tree

Mom on one of our camping trips in the 1970s.
by Jaime Kaufhold
(July 1991)

School has been out for a month now and the children are happy but soon will complain they have nothing to do and will be anxious to get back to class. Between now and then, many of them will go on vacation.

My daughter Nancy called this morning to ask if they could borrow some of our camping equipment. It is old, but like new since it hasn't been used too often. I'd better get out to the garage and hunt around for it all, but first I'll finish my coffee under the cool shade of my tree.

I remember well our family camping trips, usually made on the long weekends in July and August. Although it has been many years since I lit a campfire, it feels like yesterday.

For three days prior to departure, I got ready, but still always managed to forget something. Amazingly, our Pinto station wagon carried my husband and myself, our four children, two of their friends, two dogs (an overly friendly lab and a beagle that bit) and we pulled a small utility trailer behind.

This was the thing to do in the 70s. Call it what you like - camping, getting back to nature, getting away from it all, relaxation, roughing it. Once we got to our campsite, the kids got back to nature, the dogs got away from it all, my husband began to relax and things got rough for me. Everyone disappeared and I was left to organize the campsite. Surprisingly, I did quite well by myself and only needed help putting up the tents, which usually resulted in some cursing and blaming until we found the tent pegs. Wood was collected, a fire made and I can't remember why exactly, but I had a kettle of hot water boiling - we were ready to camp.

By the time supper was ready, I hadn't done any relaxing yet and the kids were back. Some dirty, others wet. The dogs were lost. And yes, we had mosquitoes in the good old days. Thankfully I never forgot the OFF.

Preparation was the key word when it came to outdoor meals. Since I was never sure how many people would show up, and at what intervals, I liked to prepare in advance. I'd bring along tupperware containers filled with homemade stew, beans and chili, warming it over the fire as needed. There is something about toasting a hamburger bun over the fire that makes it taste so much better, and I'd serve them with everything. And then of course when the 'home' food ran out, we'd eat hotdogs until they were gone.

My youngest daughter Darlene, who was eight years old, was the type of child who collected people. Usually by nightfall she found some strangers to share our campfire. We visited, toasted marshmallows, drank hot chocolate (that's why I was boiling water), passed around a bowl of chips as the wood we'd gathered quickly turned to ashes. Once the kids were fast asleep, I began thinking about what to cook for breakfast. During this particular camping trip, I had a friend who, after watching me run around all day, suggested we take a two week camping trip to the east coast. She seemed to think this would be an adventure. I called her crazy.

For two and a half days we did have fun, but then it would start to rain. Why I don't know, but we always woke up to rain on the Monday morning of the long weekend, causing us to pack up earlier than we'd planned. Grumpy, wet and hungry we'd arrive home usually before noon, to find that the skies would clear off and it would end up being a beautiful day after all. Never ready for the fun to end, the kids would groan and complain that we should have stayed longer, so we'd decide to fill the barbeque with briquettes and finish off the weekend in the backyard.

Now, it seems every weekend the highways are crammed with trailers, motor homes and vehicles full of excited campers heading to the cottage or campground. Now the equipment is state of the art - microwaves, propane bbq's, air conditioning . . . and you can let your friends know which site you're at by calling them on the cellular phone! Camping has changed, but people haven't. We all feel the same, gathered around the fire toasting marshmallows whether it's the 1970s or 1990s.

Well, I guess I'd better go find that camping equipment for Nancy. I know when she gets here she'll invite us to go along, but I will gracefully decline, wave good bye and hope that they have a good time. Maybe we'll have a barbeque with friends this long weekend and relax in the backyard. That will be nice, and certainly rough enough for me.

Happy camping!


  1. Wow, reading this brought back so-o-o many memories, Karen. Laughing a little at the timing because yesterday I reserved our favourite spot and a vehicle for the Labour Day weekend. Being a vehicle-free household,we haven't been beyond the perimeter highway for about 2 years now and are both going a little stir-crazy! And yes, camping is so much more enjoyable (sorry girls) now that there are just two of us--long, lazy days of filling out crossword puzzles and reading with no set schedule and no one screaming to go to the beach!

  2. Oh how this brings back wonderful memories! They came camping with us several times, once to Samuel De Champlain Park just north of Algonquin along the Madawaska River. We had a pop-up and they had a "Trailer built for Two". Gramma and Grampa walked, hiked, played and swam with the four girls and their friends. Of course our first campsite wasn't good enough for mom because while out for a walk one morning she spied a better campsite (recently vacated) down by the lake and in mom's fashion 'voluntold' us that we were moving now, and John had to go to the main office to get our new sticker. Since the pop-up was already up,(there was no reason to put it down....)John and Grampa moved the pop-up trailer by hand to the new site. You can just imagine what all the other campers were thiking? Here are about six kids carrying stuff like lawn chairs, coolers, dog dishes happily down the lane like it was an adventure. Then here comes a rattling trailer with noises of things crashing inside, steel poles clanking to the ground and two grown men cursing at eachother about what a stupid idea this was. At the new campsite, gramma already had the fire going and chili on for lunch. She always had a fire going and always fed anyone who passed by. At the private park where John and I vacation, friends at the park are fondly remembering Mom and Paul. They recall how Mom always loved the central campsite (go figure) so friends had no choice but to cross through to the beach just to be greeted with bacon and eggs, and fresh coffee. Their site was a gathering spot and many times between dog walking, fishing and swimming with the grandkids, they would sit peascefully and enjoy the summer day. I walk by that spot every time that we are there and perhaps its just me, but I can always smell bacon sizzling with fresh hot coffee, and I still see Mom sitting in her chair with her dog, and Grampa showing our kids how to make a fire using an electric fan. Fun times and good memories! Keep publishing the stories Karen, they are truly wonderful- I miss you and will see you soon.