Many of my childhood vacations with Mom involved sleeping on the ground. In a tent. With no electricity or modern conveniences. None of that sissy cabin stuff for us; we were rugged women.
After Flash and I married, I wanted to make our own campout memories.
“It will be fun,” I told Flash.
He’d never been much of a camper, so we decided to do a trial run with just the two of us before taking Mario and Zelda, my stepkids, on an excursion to the woods. Of course, because everybody has a rehearsal before actually taking their kids camping.
I was excited; it would be romantic.
Flash borrowed a tent from a friend. Having watched Mom pack for our trips for years, I remembered what kinds of food and supplies we’d need. Soon we were on our way to brave the elements, right after a quick drive through McDonald's for our last taste of civilization.
We found our reserved campsite in Livingston State Park, and decided to pitch the tent before rustling up some grub for supper.
"Do you know how to put up this tent?" Being a newlywed at the time; it hadn’t occurred to me to ask this question before we left home.
“Yeah, it’s just a pup tent,” Flash assured me.
“Okay.” The stars in my eyes blinded me to his furrowed brow.
My Grizzly Adams laid out the tent and surveyed the area. I could hear the wheels turning. We got a couple of poles in the right places, but something was wrong.
“Why don’t you look at the instructions,” I naively suggested.
“There are no instructions.”
“He didn’t give you instructions?”
Hesitation was followed by, “No, I didn’t think about it.” That nasty directions-phobic Y chromosome had worked its magic.
“Why don’t we ask the park ranger?”
“I don’t need to ask the park ranger! There are lots of tents up like this one; I’ll drive around and look at them.”
He came back from his reconnaissance mission none the wiser. No words were needed between us.
Then it started raining, and Grizzly added some flavor to his vocabulary. He surveyed the flat tent on the ground, went inside it to look around, and came out.
“There’s a pole missing! I saw it earlier! Where did it go?” His accusing eyes bored through me as he entered the tent a second time. Again, he exited empty-handed.
I tried to stop laughing.
He turned around and went back into the tent for a third time. In less than a minute, he came out holding a pole.
“What was this doing inside the tent?!”
“Oh, my family’s tent had poles on the inside. I must’ve left it in there earlier.”
We had all the poles, but we still couldn’t get the tent to stand up. So I put on my big-girl-pioneer panties and came up with an idea.
“We need a third person to pull one end of the tent up so we can push the last poles all the way through,” I explained as I tied off one side of the tent to stakes in the ground, since there was no way Flash would ask a third person for help. The tent was up in two minutes; I had redeemed myself.
Night fell quickly as I started frying potatoes over the fire Flash had made. But every mosquito in the county flocked to my nearby lantern and feasted on me while I cooked our feast. I sat there for over an hour, with a citronella candle between my feet, to no avail; I threw the still-raw potatoes into the garbage. Later I learned that Mom fried them on a Coleman stove. Cheater.
By 8 p.m., we were exhausted. I looked forward to an evening of pillow talk as crickets serenaded us. But Flash was too busy worrying about contracting malaria. Instead of hearing smooching sounds from our tent, all that was heard was the slap, slap, slapping sounds of his killing thousands of mosquitoes that had amorous feelings for his hemoglobin.
That was our first and last campout. We never took the kids. Hotel rooms replaced tents, and restaurants replaced cold, oily potato slices. And because hotels are the only places we watch cable television, Flash surfs channels to find what we never knew we were missing. Last summer, I walked back into our hotel room to see Flash mesmerized, perched on the edge of the bed.
I glanced at the TV and saw a show with lots of brown in it. I hate brown shows and movies. All I remember about Waterworld is how brown it was. Everyone looks dirty, and I want to send them to the shower.
“Ugh. What are you watching?”
“Oh, it’s great!” His detailed description consisted of, “Blah, blah, blah, dirt, blah, blah, blah, trees, blah, blah, blah, make fire.”
I’d never seen Flash this animated about outdoorsy shows. “What’s it called?”
"Fat Guys in the Woods.”
“Fat Guys in the Woods? That’s the name? What a horrible title. And it’s so brown.”
Two hours later, while Cowboy was sleeping, I woke for a brief moment. Flash was still watching. All I heard for the next three days were sentences that began with "Those fat guys in the woods..." Since I never use the F word (“fat”), I kept glancing around to make sure no overweight people of either gender were around to hear my quite enthusiastic husband.
When we got home from the hotel, we decided to extend our vacation into a staycation. Flash announced, “We’ll have a trial-run campout in the backyard before we take Cowboy to the real woods.”
We'd recently loaned our never-used tent to our friends Rosebud and Captain for their trip to Garner State Park. Since they’d said, "It was super easy to put up," I was hopeful.
Flash and Cowboy laid out the tent and surveyed the area.
"There aren't any directions," Flash reported. He was looking for directions; that was progress.
“No missing poles this time; none inside the tent. That’s a good sign,” I quipped.
Then Flash began guessing where everything went. He walked around the tent several times, deep in thought, then started clipping poles onto the tent, willy nilly.
"Flash! I found the directions in the storage bag!" I waved them over my head as if I’d struck gold.
As I read steps aloud, Flash unclipped poles. It was an important moment for our family; we were teaching Cowboy how to put up a tent and, more importantly, that males and written instructions can live together in harmony.
Finally, it was up. And we were all still speaking to each other. I grabbed sheets, pillows, a flashlight, and a deck of cards. We were ready to commune with nature. But before camping began, Flash and Cowboy opted for the hot tub, because, of course, that’s what you do in the wilderness. I laid on the tent floor, listening to the cicadas. I played a game of solitaire and remembered the smell of the canvas tent we used when I was a kid.
I went in the house for a cold drink from the fridge, one of the benefits of suburban campouts. When I returned, Flash was sharpening the end of a long stick.
"What are you doing? Are you making a spear?" I had visions of barbequed opossum or squirrel for dinner.
"Yep," Grizzly answered.
He put the spear point-down on a piece of wood. In his other hand was a large stick, as thick as a broomstick, strung similarly to an archery bow, but with two strings. In the middle of the strings was the top of the spear. When Flash moved the bow, the spear spun back and forth with its tip twirling on the wood on the ground.
“What are you doing now?”
"Trying to make fire," he said.
"Make fire?" Obviously the 118-degree heat index had affected him, and he'd lost his way home, to the 21st century.
"Not make a fire, but make fire?"
"So now you're a caveman, dropping articles like "a," "an," and "the" out of sentences?"
Og was not distracted in his task. For that he was focused; any other time he's so distracted that he walks down the hall to go to the bathroom and ends up adding on a room.
“Where did you learn to make fire, Neanderthal Man?”
"It was on Fat Guys..."
Of course it was.
Soon Cowboy fell asleep in the tent, but Flash was back in the living room watching TV by 9 p.m., after briefly evacuating the tent to kill a roach. Imagining more bugs, and bats, and coyotes, and bears, I joined him an hour later. I woke peaceful Cowboy around midnight, led him into the house, and tucked him into his bed.
Every fall, we talk about taking Cowboy on his first camping trip. “Only if we get a cabin,” Flash insists, “I’m too old now to sleep on the ground.”
I caught Flash watching reruns of Little House on the Prairie while taking notes last night. He’s already ordered an inflatable hot tub for the occasion. There’s no denying it; we are, and forevermore shall be, sissy cabin people.