Fond memories of camping

Published 7:58 pm Monday, July 3, 2017

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This Fourth of July weekend brought back some pretty fond memories as John Jr., his wife Ricki and sons Parker and Bentley camped out in the backyard.

Understand that they didn’t pitch a tent. They backed their travel trailer, the one that they had towed across the country and back a couple of years ago, into a spot near the patio and set up camp for a couple of days.

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Having them here for the weekend was wonderful, but I couldn’t help but compare their camping with what John and Beth, our oldest children, experienced when they were very young.

We got the camping bug — or, if I would be honest, I probably got it more than Anne — from my cousin, Bill Galloway and his wife, Mary Anne before we had children. We were living in Richmond and were invited to camp with them at Sherando Lake in the Washington National Forest and at Grey’s Point on the Rappahannock.

I was smitten and Anne went along. We borrowed a tent from the Galloways and returned to Grey’s Point by ourselves. The air mattresses, which we also borrowed, turned out to be dry rotted. They quickly deflated and we spent a very uncomfortable night on the tent’s canvas floor.

Not discouraged, we were determined to try camping. I was stationed at the Pentagon during much of my time in the Navy, and we went to a discount store that was having a sale and bought a tent. It was one of those canvas walled affairs with an outside aluminum frame.

A two-burner Coleman stove, a Coleman lantern, a couple of air mattresses and we were in business — sort of.

Camping for a weekend meant loading the tent, which weighed a bunch, onto a car-top carrier on our old Ford Galaxy, piling the trunk full of accessories and a cooler loaded with food and drinks and putting Beth, an infant, in the back in a small play pen that fit behind the front seat. (I know, it was dangerous! But this was before the advent of infant seats. We actually stacked pillows around her to keep her safe!)

We camped that way for several years until, one eventful summer we took a trip to the Charlottesville area — by then with two small children — and stayed in a privately owned campground. Our tent didn’t have a rain fly but we’d never experienced more than a quick shower and didn’t think much of it. That week, rain set in and we spent two of the most miserable days you can imagine in a misty tent with two small, also miserable, children.

I would periodically have to dig a new trench to carry rainwater away from the outer edges of the tent.

That weekend pretty well ended our tent camping. But not long afterward, we obtained a small pop-up tent that our neighbors, the DeGrofts, had stopped using. It extended our camping experience by several more years. That was real luxury. Park the trailer, drop the corner braces to the ground, slide out the bunks and raise the top. Amazing.

Among our fondest memories of those days was a return trip to Sherando, where we camped alongside the stream below the Sherando Lake dam. John was playing in the stream when he came across a largemouth bass that had managed to get swept through the lake’s overflow and into the stream. He came back to the campsite, grabbed a plastic pan and returned to the stream. A few minutes later, he returned with the fish he had caught with a dishpan. It was a pretty small fish, but naturally, we fried it for supper.

John and his family are building memories now that are undoubtedly as lasting as those we have, but given the equipment they use to camp, they’re building memories in a lot more comfort than did we.