Yesterday, the calendar officially flipped to “summer.” Today, the Chicks reminisce about camp and family vacations. Long, long road trips, overstuffed cars, and desperate attempts to make it home. Fun in the sun vs. sunbathing rattlesnakes. Fireflies, campfires and, on the flip side, coerced arts and crafts and cranky camp counselors. Follow us down memory lane.
So, I was never a happy camper at summer camp. As hard as it may be to believe, I’m not the outdoorsy, athletic type. I remember slipping away from tetherball, retrieving a book from my suitcase and finding a shady spot to read. A testy camp counselor found me, confiscated my book, and made me go to the arts and crafts pavilion where, no lie, they had me paint a rock. I remember thinking, “Why do they hate me?” and “Why aren’t we allowed to read?” Much happier summer memories were the family road tripping down to visit my grandparents after they retired to Florida, about an hour from Orlando. Of course, I loved trips to the beach and to Disney World. But the memories that sweetly linger are sensory— sleeping on the screened porch with the sultry breezes, the aroma of bacon frying and fresh-from-the-garden sliced cantaloupe, and holding my grandmother’s hand as we walked along sandy roads. A whiff of cantaloupe still makes me smile. And bacon. Bacon makes me happy.
I don’t come from camping people. My aunt took us a couple of times as a kid. I don’t remember much about it. Perhaps I blocked it out. So all my summer memories involve road trips. There’s one I remember most and it’s partly because of a book! My mom and aunt played the audio version of Terry McMillan’s iconic WAITING TO EXHALE during our 10 hour drive to see her fam in Michigan. It was love at first listen! There was one other memorable thing about the trip. To put lightly, my mom was a bit of an overpacker. In her quest to make sure we had everything we needed, she packed practically the entire house. There were four of us and the only person who had any room was the driver. My brother and I could barely see each other over the cooler sitting between us in the backseat. And my poor aunt’s passenger side front seat was so far up that her knees were practically in her chest. Did it ever occur to my mom to take some stuff out? Nope.
When I was a kid, my parents got out of sending me to camp or taking me on vacations by sending me to my grandparents’ ranch for the summer. Not that I was complaining! I spent most of the summer riding horses, grooming horses, petting horses, and feeding horses — although there was also some time left over for helping my grandmother snap green beans, picking blackberries, and chasing fireflies around the yard. (Lest that sound too idyllic, I also ended up with a horrible breakout of poison ivy at least once per summer.) As an adult, though, summer vacations almost always include a road trip — the longer the better. Vermont to Texas, Texas to Los Angeles, the Bay Area to British Columbia… I still to this day have a serious case of wanderlust that makes me want to jump into a car and just drive. (Excuse me, I think it’s time to go gas up the car!)
My first (and luckily not last) trip with my future husband, an avid fly fisherman, was camping in Montana. I thought I was well-prepared after all those sleep-away summers in Maine (in cushy cabins). Nope. After the plane trip out, with brave smoke jumpers heading to fight wildfires near Missoula, I lay awake in our tent every night, bracing myself for the hungry, prowling bears promised by the posted signs. My boyfriend had his pistol nearby, but…what if it went off by accident? And what if the crazy lightning struck our tent? Fortunately, I didn’t feel sleepy at all in the mornings, thanks to those hasty dips in the super-frosty stream. While Rich fished, I’d sit on a rock to read, after checking for any coiled, sunbathing rattlesnakes. And then there was the lovely hike through a clearing where I had to pass a huge, snorting bull, who luckily didn’t charge but never took his eyes off me. I’m afraid now my camping trips are limited to writing in a virtual cabin at Camp NaNoWriMo.
My most memorable trip, though, was to California with my parents when I was about eight. Beforehand, my dad kept telling me I needed to keep a travel journal so I’d remember things. I stubbornly refused, sure I’d recall every detail without writing anything down. And I did, because my dad quizzed me each night after we got back for years. It became a family joke. So go ahead, ask me where we stayed the second night in Carmel. (The Dolphin. )
I was NOT a camp person. I once spent an entire summer at an “arts” sleepaway camp and the only class I enjoyed was “Exploring,” where all we did was get in one of the counselor’s giant 1970s boat of a car and drive around Massachusetts. I was so miserable at camp, I tried to walk home – through a stream. I recently found part of a letter to my parents where I told them I’d done this, probably in the hopes that they’d rescue me. They didn’t.
To be honest, unless I’m hiking, I’m not really an outdoors person, so summer is wasted on me. On Father’s Day, my husband asked if we could sit outside in our unused backyard for ten minutes. That’s how bad I am – the poor man literally asked for it as a Father’s Day present. We have almost no bugs in SoCal, so I couldn’t use mosquitoes as an excuse. I have to admit, it was lovely – for five minutes. Then my ADD kicked in, and I found an excuse to go back inside and onto the computer.
Too many summer trips to choose from (my parents were teachers, so we usually went on a road trip during summertime), so I’ll go with Onanda, a picturesque camp nestled in the trees on the edge of Canandaigua Lake. We sailed and hiked and and canoed and swam, went horseback riding and glen sliding, did archery as well as arts and craft, put on skits and sang around the campfire. It was different every year but always special. Though I still wonder what the “bug juice” was made of…it was like drinking sugary sap! 🙂
What are some of your favorite, or less than favorite, memories of summer vacations, camps, or travels? Please share in comments.
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