Camping out with fond memories

Staff writer

This past weekend, my entire family came to Marion to celebrate Father’s Day with a camping trip at Marion Reservoir. The plan was to set up camp Friday evening, then fish, swim, eat, play games with the 3- and 4-year-old, eat, swim, and fish.

The trip was my dad’s idea. Over the past three months, I’ve heard of some new gadget or gear purchase from my mother or my sister when they call. New fishing poles for the kids, two family-sized tents, a screened-in eating area, a special doohickey for making omelets over a campfire (why would anybody need such a thing?), and so much more. The mountain of gear being transported from my parents’ garage in three vehicles had reached mythic proportions by the time I sat to watch it being unloaded at the lake Friday evening.

Sure enough, I could see my dad had been trying to ensure this would be a relatively comfortable and enjoyable experience for every single person. Among the newfangled contraptions I was touched to spot our old four-man tent and a special thingamajig he bought when I was a kid for making individual cherry pies over a campfire.

So, tents went up. Children and dogs ran amok. That evening Dad finally got a chance to cast a line into the water a few feet from the tents while my sister’s kids, Max and Abby, stood beside him watching, waiting. I plunked down in a folding chair next to my sister as the evening sunlight was making the three of them look etched in gold.

“Remind you of anything?” I asked her.

She nodded, “You and me and Grandpa.”

Our grandpa has been gone a long time. He died on Mother’s Day when I was 8 years old. Grandma died close to a year ago. It was hard not to feel them there among us.

All seemed idyllic at that point. But, of course, with kids and 90-degree heat and blue-green algae bloom things were bound to get more chaotic. By Saturday evening everybody but Dad was at my house in Marion, enjoying the AC and a proper shower. My sister had a migraine, my mom and my daughter never had planned to sleep outdoors, my sister’s kids had had a horrible night the night before trying to sleep outside, and all but Dad had spent the afternoon at the Marion pool because of algae issues at the lake. Dad stayed at the lake and kept fishing.

I stepped out of my shower to news that my husband, Michael, and my sister’s husband were headed to the lake to help Dad break camp, and everybody was coming to my house for the night.

I understood, really, I did. But immediately I got angry. I volunteered to go along with the guys in hopes I could talk Dad out of it. As we drove toward the reservoir I felt myself getting more and more upset. I really didn’t know why this awful heaviness was weighing on me.

I turned to Michael.

“Why am I so upset about this?”

“Well, your grandma just died. You miss your grandpa. Fishing was something your dad and grandpa passed on to you as a kid, and you really wanted to do that with Max and Abby this weekend.”

I burst into tears. He was right.

We all went about breaking things down at the campsite, fast as we could. Michael and I were pressing air out of one of the big, new, really nice tents when Dad walked over.

“Y’know,” he said, “your grandma loved ... well, came to love camping. But on a day like today, she’d be the first to tell us to get in out of the heat.”

We all laughed, even the sons-in-law who didn’t know her as well. We knew Dad was right.

We listened as dad told about how camping had been something special his mom and dad did with him as a boy because his sisters were grown and out of the house by the time he was a few years old. And I remembered camping trips with them every summer growing up. I remembered how special I felt standing on a fishing dock all day between my dad and my grandpa, waiting to be given the chance to hold a pole or bait a hook or even cast a line. Then Dad surprised us all. He pointed to the tent Michael and I were rolling up.

“Now, if I Ieft that here with you, would you use it?”

Of course we would!

Dad told us he spent what little Grandma left him when she died a year ago on all the gear for this trip. It had been his plan all along to leave things with my sister’s family and mine in hopes we’d carry on the tradition.

We all sat around my tiny dining room that evening eating pizza, recalling campouts past. It wasn’t the original plan for the weekend, but I went to sleep in my bed that night thinking my house had never felt more like a home.

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