We went camping a lot when I was a kid. Most summer vacations were weeklong trips to a KOA or a state park. There were several weekends throughout my childhood where mom had to work and since dad was a teacher with weekends off, he would throw all the gear in the back of his Suzuki Trooper and we’d head for the campground. What are you supposed to do with small children, anyway? You take them to the woods, teach them how to put up a tent, build a fire and let them run around until they’re exhausted.
As a child I loathed camping. We went a lot. I mean, a lot. And camping in Florida is maybe, a little bit, just like being in hell for an overweight child. It’s always 100 degrees in the summertime. Also, fat girls are not prone to any type of strenuous activity or really, movement of any kind. Exercise is directly correlated with sweating and fat children already sweat more than normal children just by simply standing in one spot. So, I always dreaded having to put the camp gear together because I knew it was going to be a long weekend of profuse perspiration while having to perform manual labor.
Camping is not all rainbows and sunshine, swimming in the lake, and singing Kumbaya in front of the fire while you roast marshmallows and tell ghost stories. For our family it included but was not limited to: having to stop 15 times on the way there for one of the kids to pee or dad pulling off the side of I-95 to reprimand us for pinching or kicking each other–Dad she won’t stop looking at me! Standing in the hot sun, puzzle-piecing together tent poles that are bent or missing altogether. Dad screaming: “GOD BLESS AMERICA! WHERE ARE THE STAKES! WHAT DID YOU DO WITH THEM!” for the whole campground to hear, then pulls everything out of the back of the SUV only to realize they were left on the front porch. Ants getting in the food, ticks behind your ears. Raccoons digging through the trash and having to clean it up the next morning. Discovering there are holes in the tarp during a rainstorm. Discovering there are holes in the air mattress when you wake up on the cold, hard ground. Spiders in the tent, dirt in your shoes, and dirty underwear from the previous user left on the shower floor. Roaches the size of your hand in the bathroom stall. Oh, and never forget to bring your own toilet paper. Always such a good time!
We started out tent camping but then dad got smart and we eventually upgraded to a popup camper, which wasn’t necessarily less work but it cut the set-up and breakdown time in half. We got more time to run around making friends with the other kids in the neighborhood and we definitely got to sleep in more comfortable beds. As we got older we got to invite friends to our weekend trips when mom couldn’t come and my dad had his camping buddy, Mr. Rick, who would also had a popup camper and two young kids our age.
I will admit that I have some pretty great memories from our camping trips. I learned how to ride a bicycle at Manatee Springs State Park. I saw a pelican for the first time at a campground in Key West when I was in the 3rd grade. I discovered my love for hot air balloons at Spirit of the Suwanee State Park when I was in middle school. I will never forget the hundreds of Daddy Long-Leg spiders inside the screened-in room attached to the side of the camper, during our trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. We were there for a week and I spent most of the week freaking out and crying because I refused to go in there until dad killed them all and could prove to me that they were dead. The first time I ever held a boy’s hand was at Anastasia State Park. As we walked down to the communal fire pit he grabbed my hand and asked me to be his girlfriend. I was 10. I loved going to see the Hoop-Dee-Doo Review when we stayed at the Fort Wilderness Campground at Disney World and we always got brunch our last morning there at the restaurant on site. The mini waffles in the shape of Mickey Mouse were a must.
Our enthusiasm for camping eventually died out. Mom became a store manager and dad went back to school to get his PhD. My sister, brother and I also grew up and became more involved in school and our lives. My parents sold the camper and family vacations became few and far between. But when we did go they were cruises to Mexico and Alaska, cabin rentals in the mountains and resorts on the beach. No complains from the kids and there was significantly less sweat involved for me unless I was in a bathing suit on the sand or by the pool.
There has recently been lot of talk of reliving the glory days and purchasing a new camper. One for my parents, obviously, but to be used for family excursions, as well. My parents fond memories of our camping trips consist of the kids doing all the work while they sat in their lawn chairs with their feet propped up on the icebox, reading the latest Faye Kellerman novel while slurping on a diet coke and snacking on Pringles. They forget pulling over on the side of the road, no hot water or power half the time, it being either extremely hot or extremely cold and the infamous screaming at each other to shut up, its not my fault! I didn’t do it, she did! Dad!
Alas, they’ve decided they’re getting to the age where planning for retirement is a necessity and feel the need to invest in a vehicle to fulfill their desire for adventure and relaxation. My siblings and I were hoping for a three-story vacation home on the side of a lake somewhere along the Appalachian Trail. One we could borrow for romantic getaways with our significant others. One that didn’t require assembly. But each visit home there is a new brochure laying on the coffee table for different brand of travel trailers. Now it seems their decision is set in stone and they’re just deciding between an AirStream or a Coachman.
I think they stole the idea from our neighbors who traveled to a different state each summer when they retired and became empty nesters. They would ask my sister and I to babysit their cats for them when they would go away on trips. They had magnets on their refrigerator for each state they visited. This was probably twenty years ago, and even then they were only missing a few states, which I thought was amazing. How do people have so much time to go to all the states!? One day after we fed the cats we gave ourselves a self-guided tour through their two-story house. I have never admitted that and to this day I still feel terrible to being such a sneak. We didn’t take anything, I swear.
I have to admit though; the idea of getting to go camping with the family again excites me! Yeah, my parents have their luxury suite on wheels and my siblings and I will probably be stuck putting together another tent riddled with holes but, they’re new memories that we get to build with my nieces and Chris who has never been camping a day in his life and said “your parent’s know I’m a black man, right” when he heard that the family vacation this summer was a camping trip.
A Pryor Family Vacation is never without screams of frustration and at least one: “God Bless America! Where the heck are the ______ (fill in the blank).” But, there will be memories made and hopefully funny stories to be told for many years to come. I hope my parents get to have 50 magnets to put on their fridge in the shape of the US and that we get to be along for the ride to a few of them.