One Friday morning in August of ‘65, we packed all our clothes and gear into the Plymouth station wagon to head off to Thurmont, Maryland, and a camping area in the mountains called Crow’s Nest Lodge.
Mom – setting civilized rules from the get go – declared dried fruit as the official family snack food for the weekend. Oh, great. Flatulence City. Steadily munching on dried apricots in a vehicle that had no air conditioning would be suicide.
Well, ha! Talk about eating her words. Mom barfed all her dried fruit snacks only an hour into the drive.
By the time we’d set up our gear at the site, I’d already begun to see what it meant to live in the wild outdoors.
With camping, Mom now had the beauty of nature in which to feed the family, do the dishes, pick things up, and take care of the kids. Similarly, Dad could set up the tent and go straight to reading the newspaper to the sound of bucolic bees and whippoorwill. It was beautiful to watch both my parents unwind in the out-of-doors, particularly Mom, who got away from unnecessary modern conveniences like pillows, clothes washers, chairs with backs, and flush toilets to become one with our forefather’s bygone days of outhouse living.
Dad was a natural in the outdoors with his talent for knowing just how to erect the two-hundred-twenty pound quarter-inch-thick canvas army-style six-man box tent that when fully constructed looked strikingly like a cinder block.
And I noticed how Mom brought the same cooking skills with her from home to the campsite. At dinner Friday night, her meals cooked over the Coleman camp stove were as brittle and overdone as ones charred on our electric range at home. I picked at my food, trying to separate the blackened parts from areas that still retained some semblance of color.
To truly scar my first camping experience, I discovered I was a high maintenance sleeper who repelled a sleeping bag at night – I actually woke up Saturday morning bound by rope. What? Maybe I did wiggle a bit, but rope? I was too sleepy to remember this rodeo, but come daylight, the memory of Dad sloughing it off by saying it was all part of roughing it in the wild rang a little hollow.
Then, after Saturday night’s dinner of Mom’s Crow’s Nest special of very baked beans and scorched franks, I filled up on real food – Jiffy Pop. It was not only satisfying, but shaking the aluminum encased platter of corn kernels over an open flame was a metaphysical experience for me. By ten o’clock, I was still there, igniting everything short of the picnic table. Eventually, with all wood articles incinerated, I burned wax, Play-Doh, foil and anything I could get my hands on, all as if I could burn my varied anxieties away.
Sunday morning, loosening myself from rope once more, I heard raindrops hit the tent roof. Scrambling to get out of the tent as fast as I could, I saw how the entire campsite had been protected from soggy wetness by a huge tarp that completely covered it.
Hallelujah. I knew Dad had to be good for something someday.
As the rain fell harder, the tarp began to leak. Drops of water plopped into the bowl of milk that had already drenched my cornflake breakfast. Everyone ate, but no one talked. Just plop, plop, dink, plop, plop.
When my sister, Cathy, couldn’t take the silence anymore, she turned on her transistor radio. As Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” screamed out, Mom frantically spun the dial for relief, finding the only other audible, stable voice – the local weatherman.
“The National Weather Service has just announced a severe weather bulletin for Thurmont and the surrounding area…. ”
Mom flipped off the radio and, along with Dad, decided it was time we pack up all of our belongings into the Plymouth and head home.
During the long, lackluster drive back, I reminisced the weekend experience.
Camping wasn’t fun. I hated rain. I hated commodes. And I hated our tent, the biggest six ring circus on Earth. Not only was there my rope fiasco, but the tent had been too small for everyone’s sleeping bags, blow-up mattresses, and clothes left strewn all over the musty floor. The only thing that was remarkable about the weekend was how each of us tiptoed through every one of these articles and managed to never touch them or another Andberg for two entire days.
I felt an inexplicable but strong urge to strike back, as if to swing in the air at everything but hit nothing. That’s because there was nothing solid to hit. Everything lurked somewhere below the surface in my world. In venturing out into the wilds of dangerous woodland with basically only tents, flashlights and Jiffy Pop, I’d been afraid of change. As it turned out, camping wasn’t any different than being at home. In fact, the saddest thing of all was that there was no change.