September 04, 2017

Camping For Six Full, Crazy Long Weeks

(A story about a hilarious-odd-a little bit bloody six week family camping trip is below, but first, THANK YOU Andrea Peskind Katz for hosting me on Great Thoughts Great Readers!)

When I was eight, my parents took my two sisters, my brother, me, and two poorly behaved dogs on a six week camping vacation in a tent.

Honestly now. Who does that?

Six weeks of camping? With four young kids and two dogs? One of our dogs bit people. The other dog bit dogs. They were very bad and not the sort of personalities you want to go on vacation with.

My father had a sabbatical from a stressful job with a mind numbing commute to Los Angeles from Huntington Beach and my parents wanted out of city living.

They wanted clean air, trees, nature. In addition, I had allergies and would often wheeze like a stuck whistle from the smog. They wanted me to breathe right.

We were all dumped in our clunky, long black Ford one morning and headed out, the bad dogs barking. A few neighbors waved and laughed as we left.

We drove all the way up the coast from Huntington Beach to Oregon, camping along the way in this big blue tent that sagged in the middle.

It was fun, for the most part. I remember campfires and s’mores, hiking on beaches and forest trails, seeing the Redwoods in Jedidiah Smith State Park and in Prairie Creek.

I remember seeing deer and elk, raccoons and squirrels, none of which wandered into our backyard in the city. I breathed right, too, always a plus.

There were some problems.

A plastic lantern dropped on my younger sister’s head and we had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night for stitches. She promptly fell in a pond the next day and got her stitches wet. Because of my allergies, we regularly had to drop by hospitals and clinics for my twice a week allergy shots.

My siblings who drank lake water were sick all night once. Yes, in our big blue tent. This wasn’t fun, nor was it fun when the dogs started losing their cookies, too, as if in human-canine sympathy.

Bad Dog Number One, predictably, tried to bite people and Bad Dog Number Two, predictably, strained on his leash to bite all other dogs within ten miles, which did not endear us to others.

My mother endured hypothermia one night and told my father, when she wasn’t blue anymore, that she would, “Never sleep in a tent again.”

My father, a man who flew jets for the Navy and at one point seriously thought about becoming a priest, nodded his head.

When we got home, he threw out the offensive big blue tent, and bought my mother a tent trailer.

It was a six week trip to remember. We were all quite glad to get home.

But my favorite memory, by far, was listening to my mother read us this one miraculous story, only one chapter a night, about four courageous kids, a goblin, magic, adventures, a huge white pearl, and rescuing each other.

I wish I could remember the title, but what I do remember is how that book lit my imagination on fire. I absolutely loved it and couldn’t wait until we were all in our sleeping bags at night to listen to it, the stars sparkling.

I can look at different books in my childhood that turned me into a lifelong reader: The Narnia Chronicles. Beezus and Ramona. (I related to Beezus. Poor Beezus. Ramona got all the attention.) Judy Blume’s books. (Even the naughty ones.)

But that one book, that my mother read, holding a flashlight, in a sagging blue tent, out in the middle of the woods, was special. It was as if a hundred lanterns were glowing around me. I never forgot it.

I think that books, no more how old we are, no matter how much we’ve experienced in life, no matter what we’re going through, from the happy events to the terrible times that have us face down on the ground, are a gift.

I cannot imagine not having books, not having a library growing up, not having stories in my life.

I am wishing, for all of you, books that take you away this summer.

Books that light your imagination on fire.

Books that are so good you want to get a flashlight out and read them in the dark.

Books that you will always remember.


Cathy Lamb’s No Place I’d Rather Be

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Cathy Lamb
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