Reprinted from Hamilton County Herald, July 4, 2008 (with a few minor changes)
“Camping is not a date; it’s an endurance test. If you can survive camping with someone, you should marry them on the way home.” ~ Yvonne Prinz
In college back in the ’70s, camping was a popular getaway. One April weekend myself and two fraternity brothers and our girlfriends decided to take off for a night outdoors. We loaded our cars with the usual things you would expect college students to take on a camping trip. One thing we did not have, though, was a tent.
The spot we picked was on a riverbank and we parked our cars somewhere along a dirt road and began unloading, and were soon making our way through thick brush. One of us knew the way, or at least claimed he did, so the rest of us followed.
Soon we came to the river, and a low area that was easy to cross to an open field on the other side. KM, who was then my girlfriend, had never camped out before and she looked at me with distrusting eyes as we stepped along the rocks that stuck out of the cold water.
As we set up the camp one of the wiser females inquired about a tent. More than one groan was heard when we told her we would be sleeping in the open-air. We tried to calm them by promising a roaring fire throughout the night.
It was a beautiful spot, that little valley surrounded by hills, and we soon noticed a small cabin sitting at the base of one of those hills, about 500 yards away. It wasn’t long before a group of people was coming out of the cabin towards us.
It was a mother and her nine children, the oldest being nearly six feet and the baby resting in the woman’s large arms and nursing from a humongous breast. They looked very poor. “Mountain folk,” I thought to myself.
The woman asked if we had permission to be there. When we said no, that we were just looking for a place to camp out, she told us that it wasn’t her land but that she and her husband worked it for the owner, and when her man returned we could speak to him about staying. The children stood close to her, quiet and unmoving, their eyes never leaving us. Then they all turned and in a line followed the matriarch back to their home.
When the husband returned, by a boat from up river, he told us to go ahead and stay, but to please take our trash with us when we left.
The girls seemed unsure – “Deliverance” fresh in their minds. But I’d seen the movie too and thought the guys should be the ones worrying.
The next morning I awoke at dawn – freezing. That promised roaring fire had departed hours before and left behind only some charred pieces of wood emitting a few puffs of smoke. There was heavy dew around us and on us. KM had moved as close to me as she could get. She was shivering. When she opened her eyes they filled with tears. I didn’t blame her. It was miserable.
Soon we were all up and rushing about to get out of there and back to the car. We picked up our trash and that was the end of camping, at least for KM and me, who has stayed with me these many years (35 this weekend) because I never asked her to go camping again.
Jay Edwards is editor-in-chief of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.