Wednesday, May 15, 2013

In-Tents Vacations

Many of my vacation memories revolve around the New Jersey shore, but before that became our habitual winding-down spot, we spent a lot of summers camping.

I remember visiting Kentucky, which included a day trip to the state capital, Frankfort. I remember visiting Caledonia State Park in south-western Pa. And a campsite served as our accommodations when we saw Niagara Falls.

KOA Campgrounds was our mecca, and I recall many hours in-transit, scanning the highways for those bright yellow signs with the tipi-shaped logo.

Family or extended family often came with us, and there was never a lack of cousins to find adventure (read: trouble) with. Days were filled visiting touristy sites or, if we were lucky to have pitched our tent in a camp with a pool, swimming. Evenings were wiled away in almost stereotypical fashion, lazing by the crackling fire, sometimes singing, sometimes just talking. The hiss of a Coleman lantern blended with the song of the cicadas, and the combined music was often just the thing to lull me to sleep.

We usually stayed in a tent and slept in sleeping bags, but I believe it was on the Kentucky trip that we rented an onsite pop-up trailer. This was the coolest thing ever: No rocks in the small of the back while trying to sleep; no wet clothes from teeming rains; no bugs in the food. Nirvana!

I remember the campground advertising an evening of cartoons, and to my pre-teen mind, this was the most exciting thing I could ever imagine.

Woody Woodpecker in the woods!

The night of the showing, the camp staff dragged a gigantic 16 mm projector into a small glen, connected it to a loud generator, draped a big screen between two pines, laid a fire for roasting marshmallows, and waited until dark.

The wait seemed interminable. But eventually, the projector roared to life and the colorful logo of the Warner Brother's Studio filled the screen.

I was in heaven.

Until the darkness of the woods somehow got even darker.

A sense of foreboding crept into the camp, and before the Road Runner could zip toward the horizon at warp speed, the black sky was split by a jagged bolt of lightning that shook the forest floor.


The movie was cancelled immediately, the equipment was stowed, and the audience fled. We watched the raindrops from inside our camper.

Disappointing, yes, but memorable nonetheless.

As was the trip where my mother "helped" herself to corn from a nearby cornfield one evening for our dinner. We'd been eying this crop our entire stay. The succulent, golden kernels peeping out from a spray of fine silk. You could almost taste it as it grew heavy and droopy on the stalks.

Who would miss five ears of corn?

We gathered around the firepit, watching our cauldron of corn bubble away, salivating over what was to come.

Once slathered in butter and properly salted, we dug in.

And experienced the worst corn in memory.

Turns out the savvy farmer planted horse corn at the outer edges of his fields, the ones that bordered public access points like a commercial campground. The ears weren't fit for human consumption but, rather, were designated for his livestock.

We were certainly horse-faced with embarrassment that night.

And finally, one trip where cousins invited us to a square dance that the campground was hosting. My dad, certainly not known for his ability to trip the light fantastic, turned the event upside down by missing steps, veering left when he should have turned right, and continuing to do-si-do his way onto the feet of his square.

It was all met with good humor, though, especially when he gave up completely and contented himself doing the Ralph Kramden dance -- "The Hucklebuck" -- from the old Honeymooners TV show. 

I'm in the photo below, by the way, with a gaggle of cousins. Front row; second from the left; arms folded. As usual, we all look cold and wet.

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