Do you remember going camping with your family, growing up? I don’t. Unless you count church camp, with its primitive ( = you’re lucky you had a toilet) cabins and its delicious dining commons food. (Said without sarcasm, by the way. This particular church camp had its food prepared by a Cadillac-driving chef, no joke at all, who volunteered his time for the week.)
But the tent thing? My mom couldn’t sleep in a tent. She had the hardest time picking out a mattress, what, eight years ago? And had to have that pillow top thing to make it comfortable. My dad, too, would probably have scared the deer for miles around with his snoring.
So the closest I got to tent-camping when I was little was the quintessential backyard parties. Sometimes we even stayed out there all night… notwithstanding the stray cat that jumped on my tent and scared one of my siblings half to death.
When folks at church mentioned they’d be at a churchwide camping weekend this fall, I got excited. Enthralled. Exhilarated. I love the outdoors and I love testing the boundaries of life – seeing how many of the “necessities” are simply the comforts we take for granted – proving that I can live without them for 45 hours straight. (Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. Hey, at least it’s more than a full day.)
I still had that blue-and-yellow two-man dome tent some relative gave me for Christmas a decade ago. My sleeping bag was in working order – no stubborn zippers to frustrate my plans – and I even had a set of camping cookware. You know, the Boy Scout metal pan and lid that turns into a bowl, hiding another little pot with a lid that can double as a plate? That thing.
So I arrived at camp little more than 45 minutes after getting off work that Friday. All by my lonesome in my loaded car, I pulled up behind an RV that stood between the campground road and a large circle of camp chairs and church members I could sort of see between camping vehicles.
I wasn’t the only tent camper there. But I was certainly the only one there on my own.
A couple generous guys put up my tent for me after dinner, and other folks repeatedly told me to let them know if I needed anything. Ever. Yep, I like these people.
Still, it was just a bit weird to be there on my own. I chaperoned more than one children’s excursion to the woods or the lake or the playground, taking care that the four-year-old twins didn’t get too tired trotting along after their teenage (or tweenage) elders. But I also stayed up half the night chatting about those very kids, or about church doctrine and other grown-up subjects, with a 39-year-old former radio DJ and some teachers and homeschoolers whose children are very few years younger than me.
I was in between worlds. Too old to be a kid, though I could jam on guitar with the older teens for an hour; too young to discuss child-rearing with any experiential take, though I could tell folks quite a bit of the latest gossip about town (not that I approve of gossip). Or, not too young, really; simply following, for now, a different course in life. Because I know at least one woman in this town who’s exactly my age and already has a kid who’s about six years old.
In the afternoons, a few of the women would sit and gab with their longtime friends. It didn’t feel right to butt in most of the time, especially since their conversations took rather intimate/personal turns that I thought would be rude to interrupt. (A bunch of the guys wandered off to the frisbee golf course at some undetermined point. I might have enjoyed myself more there, who knows.) I amused myself much of the time by keeping a two-year-old girl occupied. That girl was adorable and completely illogical.
Church campout was a fantastic trip. I’d go again, no doubt about it. But I wouldn’t mind having my own family to do it with… if only because I could talk about something besides family that way. Ironic, isn’t it?