A’ Tenting We Will Go, A’ Tenting We Will Go

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Weather is hot in the Midwest today.  We have a heat index of 103 degrees Fahrenheit in Wisconsin for the Fourth of July holiday.  People are sitting outside in sweltering heat watching parades and fireworks.  Makes grown men and women scurry for any place that is air-conditioned.  I am very glad that we camped last weekend and left Monday for home.

We got a call last week from my daughter.  “Hey, mom” her cheery voice said.  “We’re coming to the family reunion this weekend.  The doctor just gave me the ok.  We bought a tent.  And we bought one for you too – let’s camp for the weekend!

Now, I tented plenty in my younger years.  My family spent summers camping on one lake or another, fishing and enjoying the outdoors.  We kids put up the tent and stayed there while our parents slept in a small travel trailer.  We loved it.  We told ghost stories late into the night, usually sending my little brother crying into the trailer to snuggle between mom and dad.  Then we three girls had the tent all to ourselves.  We giggled and talked girl talk until the wee hours of the morning, but we were always the first ones up and ready to go when the sun rose.  Days were spent swimming, helping mom cook over an open campfire, fishing and riding bikes.  Nights were special, as dad pulled out his guitar and we sang songs he taught us.  Generally, most of the campground joined our campfire and sang along.  Camping holds a special place in my heart.

When my children were young we had a travel trailer, but the kids wanted a tent, so we bought them one and they did the same thing.  They were adept at getting the tent put up in record time so they could jump on their bikes and ride around the campground making new friends.  I never so much as lifted a tie down stake for a few years.  Then came the first time we decided to take the boat for a weekend to a new campground.  The boys were both at a sports camp for the weekend and my daughter wanted to stay with a friend.  Hubby and I got out of work, hooked up the boat and headed for the lake.  It must have been eight or nine o’clock when we finally arrived at the site, and there was little daylight left.  We unhooked the boat and unpacked the tent.  We found a level place and laid it out.  He looked at me.

“Which pole goes here?” he asked.

“I thought you knew,” I moaned.  “Haven’t you watched the kids put it up?”

“No, are there directions?” he offered hopefully.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

“The tent is ten years old.  You don’t think I would still have directions do you?”

“Well, it can’t be that hard.”  He began fitting poles together.

We worked for a few minutes, each on the thing we thought most important.  When we were finished he had a stack of poles and I had stakes and tie downs in a pile.  We began slowly to insert the poles in the canvas.  After a little while the tent looked like a giant spider that has been flattened by a tank.

“Ready to put her up?” hubby asked.  “Hold that stake and I’ll put this side together.”

I held my side all right, but it was to keep from peeing my pants as I laughed hilariously.  As he lifted the giant spider leg the poles came apart and toppled to the ground.  Undaunted, he re-inserted the poles and began again.

After two or three tries I took over.  “Hold this pole while I attach this piece” I ordered.  I got one side up before everything fell again.  “Hmm, there must be something we are missing,” I said.  We proceeded to check every pole but couldn’t seem to find the problem.  We tried again.  The tent caved in for a third time.

There is nothing worse than pulling into a campground and feeling a hundred or so invisible eyes watching you make a total fool of yourself.  We knew they were out there, even if we couldn’t exactly see them.  I looked across the site and saw a man laughing silently, trying to wipe away the tears coursing down his face as he watched two complete nincompoops trying to set up a tent, for gosh sakes!  The easiest thing in the world, right?

By now it was dusk and we were working with a flashlight.  Even harder than before, but we were determined to build our weekend house alone and not ask anyone for help.  If the kids could do it we could do it, right?  We started from scratch.  Not only was it worse, we started arguing, now frustrated with our incompetence.  We just wanted to get the darn thing up!

We took a break and sat on the canvas.  What a picture we must have made. A 30-something couple sitting in the middle of a canvas tent, surrounded by poles, stakes and twine.  We started laughing, unable to stop.

“You two need some help?”  The man I had seen wiping the tears off his face earlier approached us.

We gave him our best sheepish looks.  “It sure looks like it,” I said.  We have three teenagers and they can put this up in minutes.  We’ve been a couple of hours now and aren’t getting any closer.  You see……” and I proceeded to tell him about the kids staying home, getting out of work late, bringing the boat instead of the travel trailer, etc.

“Well, looks like you have the wrong poles connected.”  He bent over and separated the poles hubby had so painstakingly put together.  “They go like this,” he continued.  Within ten minutes the tent stood proud and strong, connected to the poles and staked into the ground.

“Thank you, thank you,” we chorused as he returned to his cozy little mobile home with twinkling lights hanging from the awning.

“No problem,” he called over his shoulder.  “Glad to help a fellow camper.”

Fast-forward thirty years.  I didn’t tent again after that weekend fiasco, glad to be in my motor home with television and air conditioning.  The kids were long gone and we had upgraded the travel trailer several times.

Back to the phone call from my daughter.  “Tent?!” I said, aghast.  “I don’t think so.  I’m sure dad won’t want to.”

“Aw, come on mom, it’ll be fun,” she cajoled.  “And we’ve already bought you a tent.  At least try it this weekend.   You don’t have to buy anything, just come on up.”

Realizing I was getting nowhere I acquiesced and hung up the phone.  I turned to hubby and told him the news.  “The kids want us to tent this weekend.”

“They what?!” he replied.  “I can’t do that with my back.  I’m too old for that stuff.  Call them back and tell them no.”

“I can’t, it’s too late,” I replied.  “They’ve already bought a tent for themselves and one for us, as well.”

We agreed not to let the daughter and son-in-law down, packed a few things and headed to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

In actuality, tenting has come a long way.  The tent the kids bought was a quick-set-up by Coleman.  It practically erects itself, and you only have to stake it and tie it down.   However, just like with anything else there is a protocol to be followed.  We missed that part of the instructions.  After a few minutes of trying to figure the thing out, though, we had it up, with air mattresses and sleeping bags installed.

On to the screen house.  The son-in-law, who we dubbed he-who-has-never camped-before, decided we needed a screen house, so bought one on the way up.   It was kind of a hexagon-shaped thing, bright lime green in color.  It was like a beacon, grabbing the attention of every onlooker who strolled past. We looked like city folk who were greener than the grass we stood on.  By then hubby and my daughter were ready to bow out of the fun, so that left me and he-who-has-never camped-before to erect the screen house.  Dutifully, I followed him around the site handing stakes and rods as needed.  We proceeded to stake it out tightly, put in the poles, and pushed up.  With a minimum of effort we managed to get the thing in standing position.  We tied everything down, proud of our efforts.  Triumphantly, we carried in tables and food, chairs and coolers.  I bent to zip the door.

“Uh, there’s a problem Houston,” I said.  “This won’t zip.  There’s no way.”

He-who-has-never-camped-before looked at me in consternation.  He studied all the rods and poles.  “Guess we shouldn’t have staked it out before we raised it,” he said.  “Sorry, mom.  Do you want to take it down and start over?”

I looked at him, at my daughter, and at my husband (who was close to having a heart attack).  “No, let’s not bother,” I replied.  “Hopefully, there won’t be many mosquitoes tonight and the animals will stay out.”

So, in a Michigan State Park, underneath a full moon, had you looked closely that night, you would have seen four grown adults sitting near the blazing fire pit enjoying a balmy summer evening in a screen tent, swatting mosquitoes who came boldly in the door, attacking everything in their path.

“Isn’t this fun?” asked daughter.

“Lots,” replied hubby.

“Look at the moon,” he-who-has-never-camped-before chirped.

“Can’t help it.  It’s like daylight outside,” muttered hubby.

And so the weekend went.  We entered our respective tents and fell asleep promptly, lulled by the sound of bullfrogs and crickets and the occasional twig snapping in the forest.  A couple of hours later I heard hubby getting up.

“What are you doing?” I asked

“This damned thing is flat,” he whispered, patting the air mattress that now looked like a rug.  “And I can’t get up off the floor, and I need to pee.”  I helped him up, unzipped the tent and he wandered off in search of a bathroom.  Honestly, I didn’t know when he returned, as I fell back to sleep quickly.  I later learned that he spent the night in the truck and slept sitting up, unwilling to fill the air mattress up once more in the dead of night.

We woke the next morning and I quickly made a pot of coffee on the camp stove and turned out a pretty good breakfast – pancakes and sausage.  We chatted and relaxed for a while, then headed off to the showers.  Night quickly arrived once more.  Hubby had re-inflated his mattress, but it deflated again and he muttered, as he left for his cozy truck bed “I don’t know why I let you talk me into this.”  I fell back to sleep.

Some time between the wee hours of one o’clock and four o’clock I woke to find myself on the ground, trying to find a comfortable place.  Yep, my air mattress was dead.  I’m a tough old bird, though, so I refused to give in and laid there in agony for a few hours until the sun rose.

“Isn’t it beautiful here?” asked daughter when I poked my head out of the tent.  “We slept in the car last night because he-who-has-never-camped-before got cold.

“Yes, beautiful,” I agreed, trying to stretch the kinks out of my back and legs.

“We have to leave early,” she continued.  He-who-has-never-camped-before has to be back to work in the morning.  She began dismantling their tent and packing things up while I cooked breakfast.  “We’ve had such a good time with you,” she said.  “It’s so peaceful here.”

Hubby extricated himself from the truck, gave me a hug, and headed for the bathroom.  The next thing I knew, daughter said in a horrified voice “I think dad just fell.”  And sure enough, he had.  Tripped over a small stump and went head over heels into the leaves, where he lay immobile.  Since he is diabetic, we were all concerned he had passed out or was in shock.   We got him up, took him to his chair, and put an ice pack on his knee.  (Daughter is prepared for everything – she had a fully stocked first-aid kit along, unlike her mother, who would have been running from campsite to campsite screaming for help).

Now, this is where the tale gets hinky.  I’m not so sure hubby didn’t hit his head, because the next words out of his mouth were “just because the kids are leaving doesn’t mean we have to does it?  It’s quiet here and we could stay another day.”

Without blinking I said “Of course, dear,” and returned to the camp stove, where I was frying bacon and eggs.  The kids left hubby their twin air mattress, which had an electric pump and stayed firm all night.  I was relegated to my place on the ground, but managed to get a little sleep.

The next morning found us alone and forsaken.  No kids, no instructions, and not one, but two tents to dismantle.  Yikes!  We started with the Coleman “Easy Pop-up Tent.”  What a joke.  While it might be easy for some, two 60-somethings were not up to the task.  We tried everything.  And I mean everything.  We tried under and over, up and down, flat and erect.  We could not get the silly thing folded up.  I had a bright idea.  “Let’s take all the clips off the rods,” I said.  We proceeded to do just that.  Now the thing was a lifeless form and could not be coaxed by any means to fold up on itself.  About that time a very nice man came back from the primitive bathrooms and stopped by to chat.  He was freshly shaved and showered and dressed impeccably in his native dress, which included loose-fitting pants, a long linen coat, and a beanie.  He asked if he could help and before we knew it he was on the ground re-hooking the clips.  “I have this same tent only bigger,” he said.  “It folds in like this.”

“Why hadn’t I thought of that?” I wondered, as I watched the tent fold easily onto itself and we packed it in the bag.  “Thanks so much!” I called after the man’s disappearing back.  By this time hubby was tired and close to having a nervous breakdown, so I offered to take down the screen tent while he packed more things in the truck.  And, believe it or not, it was easy!  I released the rods, took up the stakes, and sectioned it off.  Hubby helped me roll it up and voila! It was in the bag.  We headed for the showers (it was around noon by this time) pleased that we were finally packed and ready to head home.

On the way home I mentioned a music festival I have attended in the past.   “It’d sure be fun to go,” I said.

“Can’t we take the tent?” hubby asked innocently.

I nearly fell out of a truck moving at 70 mph!  “The tent?  But I thought you hated tenting?”

“Well, I guess it kind of grows on you.  I had a good time, and now we know what not to do.  Let’s call daughter and he-who-has-never camped-before and see if they’ll meet up with us in Lower Michigan that weekend.  Should be fun.”

So, the moral of the tale is this:  Getting back to the basics can be fun.  And relaxing.  And frustrating.  Old memories are good.  New ones better.  This will not be the end of my camping stories, I am sure, as we had sunny weather the entire weekend.  Stay tuned.  And Inzared?  She is probably laughing from her red and yellow Gypsy wagon as she moves on to yet another circus performance!

Check out INZARED, Queen of the Elephants here:

Amazon Link: http://tinyurl.com/7dfave4

Video Trailer:  http://youtu.be/lQHtsFQGAP0

Website:  www.lleander.com

FB Author Page:  http://facebook.com/lleanderbooks

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