Summer Camping

The campsite was laid out in our usual Sears family way. The tent had been set up on the highest piece of ground my Dad could find in the rented campsite, far enough away from the fire area that no one had to worry about embers hitting the tent and far enough under trees as to provide much needed shade. My Dad would always bring extra stakes and ropes to secure the tent and rain canopy –  experiences of camping in heavy rains had apparently taught him to do this – which created a ready made obstacle course for my two brothers and me.

It was my birthday, but I don’t remember which one. Truth of the matter is that Dad’s vacation fell on my birthday so often in my early years that I thought camping was something you were required to do on your birthday. That is, until I realized that we were always home in February and October for my brother’s birthday celebrations. But this was normal for me.

It was still light out but we had eaten dinner and even a cake of some sort and were really just relaxing for the evening. My younger brother was making use of the obstacle course. Mom, my older brother and I were sitting at the picnic table playing a game of “Sorry!”. Why we took board games on camping trips was beyond me at that time. I’m guessing it cut down on the number of times Mom had to yell at us for chasing one another around the tent or fire. It was also a good time waster. Dad was working on getting a fire ready for the evening.

I don’t recall what we were snacking on, probably chips or pretzels, and soft drinks. It was my turn to move in the game and my older brother was getting impatient but my attention had turned to a squirrel in one of the trees near us. I had been watching a lot of squirrels simply because I was hoping to see a “flying squirrel”. To that point, I’d just seen a lot of acrobatic ones. Still my attention was in the trees when my Mom suddenly began slamming the table, knocking the “Sorry!” game pieces all over the place and spilling her bright pink can of TaB. She wasn’t really making any noise but it looked like she was coughing. Truthfully, I had no idea what was going on at the time.

Now, just to put this in it’s proper historical time, this was taking place before the widespread implementation of the Heimlich Maneuver. Heck, it might have even been before the maneuver itself was introduced. I don’t recall the exact birthday but it had to be around 1975. I might have been ten years old, but I doubt it.

So, here we are, a family of five, with one in obvious distress at picnic table in some state park in WV. One boy running around a tent and jumping over and crawling under the various sets of ropes holding down a tent and rain canopy. Two other boys looking stunned, glancing back and forth between a ruined board game, a dripping diet soda, and a mother acting very strange. And a father getting a campfire ready for roasting marshmallows.

My Dad stepped away from the fire building, walked up behind my Mom and said, “Do you need a hit?” and then without even waiting for answer, hauls off and smacks her in the back with the flat of his hand with so much force that she went sprawling across the table, the Sorry! board, and the spilled TaB. I don’t know if the pretzels fell victim to the sprawl or not.

Mom came up from the “hit” with just about the same force she had taken – proof to my young mind that every action has an opposite and equal reaction – and screamed at my Dad, “Well, what did you ask me for if you weren’t going to wait for an answer!”

Somehow, the whole thing became outrageously funny at that moment and both Mom and Dad began laughing and the rest of us stunned observers, who were still not sure what had happened joined in.

The evening went on. I got to have the first S’more of the night because it was my birthday. We sat around the campfire as always and were told “once, if not a thousand times” not to get so close to the fire. We laughed and sang and sometimes just got quiet. But every once in a while the breeze would snatch up enough smoke and billow it towards someone that they would cough. Inevitably someone else would say, “Do you need a hit?” and the coughing person would yell “NO!” and everyone would crack up.

In fact, it became such a joke in our family that I can remember my Dad, coughing in a hospital bed during his last week of life, smiling and shaking his head “no” when I asked him, “Do you need a hit?”

That little phrase seemed to carry us back to the woods, the tent, the sticky s’mores the squirrels, the wood smoke, and the fun.

Some words are like that. They evoke such powerful memory that they take us back to something that is more than just a memory, more than just a fading thought. They evoke time, place, event, with such Gemüt that reality itself is evoked anew.

In my family, “Do you need a hit?” still does that.

My other family, the one that I journey with towards that “home” we do not know yet, has a few too.

“This is the body…broken…”

“I was glad when they said to me…”

“Peace be with you.”

“He is risen…”

“In the beginning…”

And I thought it was just going to be another summer camping trip taking place around my birthday. Who knew?

TBT – Honey Bees and Root Beer Powder

I stood in the back yard of our little home on Bluestone Road feeling the dampness of the new mown grass tickle my barefoot toes. Normally, I would not venture into the yard barefoot. There were so many honey bees collecting pollen from the enormous amount of clover that grew there that it just wasn’t always bee on clovercomfortable to be barefoot. On more than one occasion I would hobble into the house with a stinger protruding from a toe, or heel and seek the medical attention of Dr. Mom.

Of course, after a while I thought I could handle it on my own and reached down and grabbed the stinger on my own and yanked it out. I soon learned how wrong I was. My foot would swell much worse than when Dr. Mom removed them and then I noticed that she never pulled, she scraped. And thus I learned the secret of removing a honey bee stinger without releasing all the venom into my system.

This day, I didn’t have to worry about honey bees. The clover got cut with the grass and part of me hated that. I had grown accustomed enough to the bees and their stings that I would often chase them and catch them in a jar. (And yes, I would sometimes wait until dark and put some lightning bugs in the same jar hoping for some sort of fight. Alas, they were insect pacifists!)

I walked into the house, leaving a small trail of grass clippings on the tile in our kitchen. I made my way to the counter where we kept all the Kool-Aid® drink mixes and searched around until I found that novelty of 1970’s, “Aunt Wick’s Root Beer Powder.” Aunt WicksThis powder made a passable non-carbonated version of a root beer tasting drink, but I thought its brown and yellow package contained magical botanical powers. I can’t remember why I first tried this, but one day I sprinkled a package or two on the fresh mowed grass and in the morning there was a whole new crop of clover just waiting for the bees. Several times I tried this trick and every time it worked. Of course, I never thought to run a control or two and not sprinkle it on the grass and see what happened. My guess is that the powder did nothing to the clover, however, the added sugar didn’t hurt in attracting bees.

I mow my own yard these days. I live in one of those neighborhood where many people have lawns and they care for them meticulously each and every week. I have a yard. It gets mowed every week but that is about it. This year, I was thrilled to see that clover had taken over a good portion of the back and side yards. I didn’t remember it sprouting up the previous two summers. (I can also rest assured that no one has been spreading Aunt Wick’s on my yard too. Jel Sert quit making it some time ago.) I was thrilled because I thought I would get a great chance to dodge some honey bees while I mowed or just watch them dance around on a summer afternoon.

The first time I mowed the clover, I saw one single honey bee. One bee.

How sad. I had heard that something was happening to our bee hives. I had seen the prices of honey go up. But I never knew the effect it might have on how I got to view the clover in my yard. Since that first clover cutting, I have seen several more bees, but never more than three at a time. They aren’t dancing around the clover like they did in the seventies. I’d go barefoot anytime in that clover.

I don’t know what has made the honey bees go away. I don’t know what made Aunt Wick’s Root Beer Powder go away.

But on this “Throw-Back-Thursday”, I wish they were both here.