As the mother of seven children ranging in age from one and a half to thirteen, I found the prospect of camping rather daunting. Living outdoors without all the amenities needed to keep a lively household clean, fed, and happy was a challenge I was not ready to tackle. My head was going back and forth—(no, no)—while Bob and the children's were going up and down—(yes,yes.)
Bob and the family were so enthusiastic about spending a week camping that I, despite serious misgivings, acquiesced. My twenty-something sister begged to join us for this exciting adventure.
Our decision would find ten of us living in a canvas shelter for a week. We bought a huge tent, sleeping bags, cots, a Coleman lantern, and a Coleman cook stove. When we assembled all of this gear plus clothing, pillows, blankets, coolers, and food, we realized that our ten-passenger station wagon was big enough for all the equipment OR all the people, but not both. So, the next purchase was a trailer hitch with the necessary trailer attached. The challenging chores of packing, loading the trailer, covering it with a tarp in case (God forbid!) it should rain, and arranging ten people comfortably in the car was duly accomplished. Off we went—the DeJoys and one auntie blazing the trail to the place of natural wonders that promised untold delights!
The July weather was blissfully warm. The sun beamed bright in an azure sky as we, having arrived at our destination, set up the tent and the portable crib for the baby, unfolded the cots, placed pillows and sleeping bags carefully on each one, unpacked clothing and coolers, and stored food away. Chores accomplished, we donned bathing suits, grabbed beach towels and blankets, and headed for the beach where we swam, built sand castles, searched for shells, and soaked up the sun. What a glorious day! Dinner time was interesting. Preparing a meal for ten using a Coleman stove and a small grill would have challenged the organizational skills of a congressional committee, but we soldiered on and managed to present an edible meal to the troops. After baby Dan was asleep, we all assembled on the beach outside the tent where we sat cozily around a blazing bonfire toasting marshmallows and enjoying pleasant camaraderie with our friends from the nearby cottage. Soon, the combination of a busy day and the heat of the bonfire made us all drowsy; we welcomed the shelter of our tent and were soon dreaming contentedly.
A brilliant sun poked its way into the mesh windows of the tent rousing us in anticipation of another joyous day. And joyous it was—fishing, swimming, boating, frolicking, and fun. We made the most of every minute, and the smiles on the faces of my family began to convince me that camping WAS a most pleasant experience. The children were ecstatic, my sister was happily working on her tan, and Bob and I were relaxed and content.
But wait! Our luck was about to change. Toward evening, the air began to cool; we donned sweatshirts and pants. At bedtime, the air was even chillier; we piled blankets on our sleeping bags. A cold front blew in, and the temperature dropped to thirty-six degrees. (The friends who had encouraged us to camp were snugly ensconced in a warm, breeze-free cottage.) We survived the night by pushing cots close and huddling together to keep warm. Little Dan woke up in the morning looking like a fat-cheeked chipmunk. He had come down with mumps overnight, was running a temperature, and was sick and cranky.
The day wore on; children and husband found activities to keep them occupied, but I was stuck in the tent with a sick baby. About five o'clock, my sister started coughing and running a fever. She made a self-diagnosis—bronchitis, an ailment to which she was susceptible. I wanted desperately to return home. “The baby is so sick,” I wailed. My sister, who had just joined the world again after having been in a convent of Catholic nuns for nine years, was getting sicker. “Bob,” I said, “if Ginny dies, my father will kill me, and then you will be a widower with seven children.”
The upshot was this—I took the car, Dan, and my sister, and went home while Bob and the kids opted to stay. The weather report seemed to be more favorable, and they looked forward to finishing out the week. When I returned at the end of the week to collect my spouse and kiddies, Bob unhappily pointed out that, in some ways, it had been a difficult week. Grocery supplies had run low; the nearest store was a mile away, and it wasn't so easy managing the children and meals by himself. He was feeling a little testy. We avoided one another's eyes as we packed for the trip home. Biting my tongue kept me from saying, “I told you so.”
Several mornings after our return, a want ad (composed by Bob) appeared in the local paper. The ad read—to wit: “Tent for sale, sleeps ten. Coleman stove and lantern barely used and in excellent condition.”
All the gear was purchased by a man, who, in the innocence of the untried, was looking forward to a camping experience for himself and his family. He must have heard the call of the loon.