Archive for March, 2010

Camping with The Halpins

March 20, 2010

Camping with The Halpins

As Bonnie and I wrap up two weeks in Cabo San Lucas enjoying the waves and the whales from our patio, I got pensive thinking about how far the quality of my vacations has come.

Family vacations, even in the best of families, can be trying experiences. If the parents were well equipped to have children, and if they had a reasonable number of children, like 2 or 3, and if they tended to be pretty well-organized and adult-like, then their family vacations would most likely go off without unnecessary stress, chaos or problems.

We had some friends as children, the Levys. Their dad was a college professor in Connecticut and they came to Vicksburg for the entire summer and two weeks at Christmas every year. We spent a lot of time with them at their Grandmother’s big Victorian mansion with a cook, 2 parents, a grandmother and a great Aunt Rose to supervise us. Their dad spent the entire summer measuring their luggage and configuring the best approach to getting all of their luggage, there were 5 of them total, into the trunk of their 4-door sedan that they drove back and forth from Connecticut to Mississippi.

My dad did not put that much thought into our vacations that’s for sure. He loved to travel because he got to meet new people who had never heard his stories. He liked being in nature, as long as he didn’t have to cut the grass or trim the shrubs. He was also very cheap and once he realized that the 7 of us were too many to fit into one Holiday Inn room, he decided that the thing to do was to buy a camper. Of course, because he was so cheap, he didn’t buy a normal travel trailer. No…he bought a pop-up camper that theoretically slept 8 people. If these campers do in fact sleep 8 people, you better make sure that 2 of them are small children or dwarfs.

I was in about the 7th grade. I had a best friend and since my older sister, Harley, did not have just one best friend, I got to invite my friend, Kelly Ivey, to travel with us sometimes. She made several trips with us. We went to various State Parks around Mississippi and once our Mutha was comfortable driving our station wagon and pulling this pop up camper, we trekked off as for as Panama City and Pensacola Beach, Florida.

Our trips were highly irregular and unique, to say the least. First of all, my Mutha could not back up the station wagon with the trailer attached. Therefore, at every KOA Campground, she’d have to first find a place to park where she didn’t have to back up then go in and have a lengthy conversation with the Manager about securing a space where she could literally ‘pull through’ into the camp ground space, detach the trailer and then move the Station Wagon. There was no way she felt comfortable any other way. Sometimes, we’d arrive late in the evening (due to our lack of planning and general dis-organization) so there would not be an available space at a tip of a triangular shaped Campground. At those times, the Manager of the Campground would have to leave his dinner and family time and back our camper into the only available rental space.

Once we parked the camper, there were a number of mechanical and technical issues to deal with in order to ensure that the camper didn’t lean in one direction or the other or become unsteady once all 7or 8 of us were tucked in for the night. These issues included lowering 4 legs from the corners in order to ‘level’ the camper and unhitching the top, popping it up and securing the corners of the tent structure so that no one was crushed inside the camper inadvertently.

You can imagine that these were important tasks and should be done by someone with a high degree of mechanical ability and a sense of the importance of doing complete and thorough work.

The only one in our family who had this ability was Willie, my baby brother. If I was in the 7th grade, Willie was in the 2nd or 3rd grade. He’d been in charge of all mechanical functions at home for some time. It’s just that he was such a little fellow at this time, really just a runt of a kid. It was so amusing for the other camp ground occupants to be watching as 3 older kids and 2 parents took their directions and orders from Willie as he orchestrated the entire operation.

It really is misleading to think that there were 2 parents involved in this operation. As soon as the car stopped at the front desk, Jack was out of the car, lighting his pipe and sauntering around the entire campground introducing himself to the other campers. We might not see him again for hours; he’d be so busy entertaining folks from all over the US with his stories about Vicksburg and all the characters that lived there.

One story that was one of his favorites was about an Italian woman who’s family owned a prominent restaurant and dress shop. This woman, a spinster sister, never did anything but cut the grass on her riding lawn more at their ‘place’ on Eagle Lake. She went to Europe one time and when she returned to Vicksburg, someone asked her if she’d seen the Pope. What they meant was had she been able to secure access to an audience with thousands of other people or had she been in the Square when he came out on his balcony once or twice a week to greet the tourists. What this woman reported, in her broken English, was that she and the Pope had actually met privately and he asked her where she was from by saying, “Girl, where you from?” Jack loved to tell this story and no matter how many times in one day he would tell this same story, he would laugh and laugh as if this was the very first time he had ever told the story.

He had lots of other stories about Crazy Bonelli, a woman in Vicksburg who sent her dog to the Grocery Store with a basket, a note and the cash to buy her groceries and left, as a tip for her paper boy, a banana peel.

Once Willie had secured the pop up part of the pop up trailer, Mutha started to prepare our supper on the campground grill. We were just not trustworthy enough to travel with our own grill; it would not have been safe. She rarely tried to clean these grills but would load them up with charcoal briquettes, douse them with the lighter fluid type material and throw a match into the fire. We’d have BBQ chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, whatever appealed to her. However, regardless of what she prepared, everything always had a thin coat of sand on it, whether we were in a State Park in MS or a KOA Campground on the beach in Florida, everything was sandy. Every piece of meat always had a nice charred taste too. And every bite involved battling a mosquito. Some of these mosqitos were the size of small birds. We would be overwhelmed by the mosquitos and dealing with our bites.

Getting 7 or 8 people into the camper, into their respective beds, and asleep was no small thing. Jack like to travel with a little travel size TV and would keep that on late at night. We’d all have to trek off into the night at various time to use the campground bathrooms. Once one person had to get up, it was a domino effect, everyone had to move over, move sideways, or stand up to let that person our of the camper.

Since there was so much of a ‘hassle factor’ in getting to a campground, getting parked, and getting the camper set up, you would think that we would have stayed put. That was not the case. Jack and Mary Lou would plan trips that did not factor in this hassel factor. We’d be 3 days in one campground, 2 days in another campground and then 1-2 nights in a final campground on the way home. It was ghastly.

Not one of us, regardless of our spouses’ interests or our love of nature, has ever been interested in camping as an adult. We shudder to think about recreating these bad memories, even in our minds.

We have a policy. We either can afford to travel well or we stay home. There is nothing in between for the 5 of us.

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