family camping

Pete e-mailed me the other day asking if I could remember any details about the vacations we took with our mom and dad in the mid 70s. I’ll bet he’s sorry he asked now, because the best I could do was vomit up random fragments of memories, and I mean ‘vomit’ in the best sense of the word, like if my brain could actually vomit. My answer to him was like word puke.

Like this: The first camping trip we made was in a pull-behind camper and I think we ended up in Kentucky, but really that’s just about all I remember. Pete says we visited places like Mammoth Cave and the Smokey Mountains, Memphis and maybe Louisiana. I remember going to those places on family camping trips, but if you put a gun to my head I couldn’t say that we did it on that first trip. If it came to that, all I’d be able to say under those circumstances would be, It’s just a vacation! Why are you putting a gun to my head? But if it didn’t, if you just asked me without the gunplay, I’d have to let my brain vomit all over you, then shrug my shoulders. Best I’d be able do. Sorry. The neurons that were responsible for tying all those memories together have either died or been recorded over.

There are a couple general impressions I could manage to piece together, though. For instance, the pull-behind camper was either a rental, or my parents borrowed it from a very generous family friend. For the next trip, we bought our own camper. Not a trailer, but the kind that rides on the back of a pickup truck. It was enormous, roughly the size of a Wal-Mart. It was so large that I don’t know how the rather ordinary-sized truck that came with it could carry it without breaking in two. The camper was wider than the truck, longer than the truck, and it was so top-heavy that it should have rolled over every time dad put the key in the ignition. I still don’t know how he drove it all those years and didn’t roll it. Pete and I used to ride in the part of the camper that hung over the cab of the truck, where every buck and sway was magnified in the worst way. There were plenty of times when dad went around a corner just a little too fast, or misjudged the depth of a pothole, and I would think, ‘This is it! We’re going full-turtle this time!’ And yet somehow it remained upright.

There was this one time I watched in stunned disbelief from the sidelines while he backed the truck, with camper still on top and a boat hitched to the back, down a boat launch that was so steep I was sure one of two things would happen: 1) the brakes would fade and the whole kit and caboodle would plow straight into the lake, or 2) the turnbuckles that kept the camper fastened to the truck would snap, the camper would slide out of the truck bed as if it were greased and it would steamroller over the boat and the boat trailer, then float about twenty yards into the lake before sinking to the bottom. I felt cheated when neither one of those things happened and he successfully launched the boat in spite of my warnings that it just wasn’t physically possible for him to do that. It was like he violated at least two of Newton’s laws of physics (inertia and, I believe, conservation of energy, or suchlike).

Then there was the frozen toilet incident. The camper had a chemical toilet in the back. Pretty cool, until you had to drain it. The first time we took the camper out, I think it was the trip we made to Florida to visit Disneyworld, we filled up the toilet and discovered that a valve or a pipe somewhere in the plumbing had cracked in the icy cold of the Wisconsin winter, spilling blue-tinted toilet water all over the floor of the camper. Dad spent a long, hellish night baling that nasty stuff out of the toilet, then mopping up the mess. To add insult to injury, on the drive down to Florida he stopped at a gas station with an overhang that, luckily, cleared the roof of the camper by an inch or two but, unluckily, did not clear the plastic bubble skylight. He scraped that sucker clean off the top. Weirdly, he wasn’t very pissed about it. He was just like, “Well, that figures.”

One thought on “family camping

  1. Oh, fond memories of family vacation! I remember one trip when we had nothing but troubles with the mini motorhome. (Don’t remember if it was a rental or ours.). Mt dad, who was not a handyman, did nothing the whole trip but (try to) fix things. My most vivid memory is of him gluing his fingers to his handkerchief, and the swearing that ensued.


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