The family camping experience

. March 20, 2013.

Ah! There is nothing like camping. On one fateful Friday the 13th weekend in July, as a prepubescent girl, I found myself in my own “Survivor” episode. Some of the more negative members of our posse would say it more closely resembled a chapter out of “Lord of the Flies.”

Three families naively headed to Pokagon State Park with the intention of having some fun and frolic. My family had a Holiday trailer, which, of course, was towed by our station wagon complete with faux wood trim. The Wrays, whose four ultra-athletic children made the rest of us kids feel like talentless freaks, set up tents with the efficiency of circus employees. The Baumann’s had a pop-up camper that Mrs. Baumann, with great diligence and determination, made downright homey.

The trailer almost tanks

After setting up camp we gathered around picnic tables for our first outdoor meal. Mrs. Wray was a lovely woman. However, we all knew that if she felt strongly about something, you better get with the program or be on the receiving end of “the face.” So it was no surprise that when we were firmly encouraged to eat our canned peaches we jumped to it. Well, all of us but Donnie Wray. Whenever his mother would look away he would throw his peaches over his shoulder toward the woods. Later that evening we discovered that skunks, unlike Mrs. Wray’s son, love peaches!

The next few hours of camping bliss produced a tag football wound, snake bite, overturned sailboat, and a bike injury. This is what you could call the “pre-game” to our major event. Our Holiday trailer was parked in a lovely spot overlooking the lake. I honestly don’t recall who was first to notice its slow descent down the hill toward the lake, but I do remember the chaos that ensued. My brother, believing he had super human powers, tried to pull off a “Superman” impersonation as he clung to the hitch of the trailer in a valiant attempt to stop its downward progression. My mom yelled for my brother to let go. He came to his senses only to have my dad jump in moments later and attempt the same feat. My dad released his grip from the hitch and helplessly watched the ascent of our camper. Astonishingly, instead of continuing down the hill and plunging into the watery depths of Lake James, it came to an abrupt stop after traveling only three feet. A little dogwood tree had saved the day.

Some fellow campers came to our aid and helped us get the trailer on level ground. I will never know if this act was out of compassion or fear that we were all about to snap! My mom was the first brave soul who stepped inside our home away from home to assess the damage. All seemed to be unscathed except all the drawers had been forced open, making it look as if we now had a poltergeist. Unfortunately, for my dad, his underwear drawer was located directly under the fridge door. The contents of the fridge, including a large pot of chili that was to be our dinner, was now in his Jockey briefs. My dad was forced to go “commando” the rest of the weekend.

A memorable trip

Things eventually simmered down to a mild mania. We settled once again at the picnic table to play Sorry and War. It was very difficult to concentrate, though, because Mrs. Baumann had been slow cooking a casserole that was emanating a wonderful aroma in our direction. Knowing that I was most likely going to be on the receiving end of chili from the underwear drawer, I set about trying to score an invite to the Baumann camp.

 I was successful in my mission. We anxiously waited at the table as Mrs. Baumann emerged from her pop-up trailer with her culinary delight. I have never seen Mrs. Baumann angry. She was the most ladylike woman I had ever met. It was quite surprising to me to hear her say an unfamiliar word when she tripped on a small rock causing noodles, chicken and cheese to take flight and land in the gravel. With bloodied knees, still clutching her spoon, she scooped up the casserole back into the Pyrex dish and proceeded toward us. She slopped big heaps of the carnage on our plates. Looking possessed by demons and refraining from eye contact she chanted over and over “Don’t say a word! I mean it girls. Don’t say a word!” My friend Kari, who was the bravest of the bunch, took a bite. Two seconds later, she spit out a small piece of gravel which caused an outburst of laughter from us kids. All I remember was seeing Mrs. Baumann stomp back into the pop-up and attempt, but not succeed, in slamming the door for affect. Those little camper doors are really not built for dramatic moments.

That night, even though many of the adults thought that we shouldn’t press our luck, we had a campfire. We burnt marshmallows as my brother sang John Denver tunes and played his guitar. As I looked around I saw three families who were in fact “bonding.” It was a weekend I shall always cherish. However, to this day, I’m not a big fan of chili or noodle casserole. 

Mary Helen Darah has an innate ability to find humor in her trials, and hopes her writing will give others comic relief and insight through the challenges of parenthood. Mary Helen can be reached c/o