“Antonio, Antonio, Tell us a Story”
April 11, 2011 § 5 Comments
“Once there was a band of cowboys sitting around a campfire, and they said, ‘Antonio, Antonio, tell us a story.’ And he said, ‘Okay, boys. Once there was a band of cowboys sitting around a campfire, and they said, ‘Antonio, Antonio …’ ”
You get the idea. Tales around a campfire … memories of my youth.
In the summer of 1957, my first as a member of the Youth Group at Broadway Baptist in Fort Worth, my brother and I arrived home from a youth trip to Glorietta Baptist Conference Center near Santa Fe, NM, to find a living room full of camping equipment. On the tent – not standing yet, but spread out for all to see – was a note from Mother: Get ready. We’re going camping!
In less than five days the Summers clan had packed up and headed back to Glorietta for Bible Week. Dad taught the Bible study, while Mother worked in the Children’s Building. Glorietta was a regular summer destination for us – and we loved it, but we had a cabin that week as always. So where did camping fit in?
One week and several New Mexico-Mex dinners later, we left the wonderful atmosphere of cool days and cooler mountain nights at Glorietta, and headed north into the Rocky Mountains, destinations – Colorado Springs & Pike’s Peak, then on to Aspen. But our first stop would be a campground in the Cimarron National Forrest, in northern NM.
We rolled into our assigned camping spot with all the equipment we could possibly want: tent; 5 cots and assorted blankets and pillows; Coleman two-burner camp stove with butane canisters; Coleman ice chest – the heavy metal kind; a folding table with 5 folding stools; boxes of utensils, skillets, sauce pans, flashlights, food stuffs, and dominoes. We were all set. The only problem – except Dad, who had been an Eagle Scout some 40 years before – no one had any experience camping.
David and Dad had practiced putting up the tent in the backyard, so they got busy. Mom unpacked the boxes on the cement picnic table provided and organized the “kitchen”. Sarah and I explored – there had to be a bathroom somewhere, surely.
We found the outhouse a few camping spaces down the trail – a ‘two-holer’, although who would want to share the moment I didn’t know. We also found the only potable water spigot in the whole campground. Did I mention that this was a “primitive” campground? Until that moment we hadn’t realized what that meant!
We returned to camp to see an organized outdoor kitchen and a lovely green tent and five cots – unfolded and set up. However, to the consternation of all, Dad had just discovered that only three of the cumbersome things would actually fit in the tent. Two of us would have sleep outdoors.
“Dibs on outdoors,” David and I both said, leaving Sarah to sleep inside. She complained, of course, but, as the youngest, to be last in line seemed to be her lot in life.
“Mom, did you bring toilet paper?” I asked. “We’re going to need it!”
Mom had indeed brought TP – I guess she’d already read the brochure from the campground!
As the sun slid behind the mountain peaks, the air turned cool. I closed the tent flap to the outside world and put on my sox, substituted jeans for shorts, and donned my new hooded sweatshirt – the one with the hand warmer pocket on the front.
For supper, Mom had chosen a familiar and favorite meal. While she did the fried apples, I fried the pork chops then wrapped them in foil to keep them warm. I then made the country gravy – no lumps! I had four years experience in our home kitchen, after all!
David and Dad punctured each ear of fresh corn with long-handled camping forks and held them over the campfire. A bit browner than usual, but butter covers ever-so-many sins! Sarah set the table, put out the condiments and got the ingredients out for the s’mores to follow. My mouth waters even now – there’s just nothing as good as a meal cooked and served around a campfire!
After clean-up, we all trekked to the outhouse and water spigot. Dad carried a jug for extra water, too, promising to show us how to brush our teeth without running water or a sink. Finally, after several rounds of “42” – Sarah & Dad played partners since this domino game only has room for four players – we decided to turn in.
David and I wrapped up in our blankets and sacked out in the great outdoors. I’d never seen so many stars. The breeze rustled the tall pines and shorter cedars, their heady, blended perfumes ready to lull me to sleep. I twitched and rolled and pitched, but I couldn’t get comfortable.
“Daddy, I’m cold!”
We were all cold – no, we were all freezing, David and I most of all!
“I can see my breath!” I was beginning to panic. I had read a novel about the California Gold Rush that year and thoughts of the Donner Party and cannibalism suddenly brought me wide awake.
Daddy, bless him, brought newspapers and lined my cot and David’s. I never told him, but, Boy Scout training to the contrary, all those papers only served to keep me awake with all that crackling every time I moved.
I was never so glad to see the first rays of sun peeping over the mountains. That morning I learned to build a campfire from scratch, and by myself. I’d be darned if I was going to wait until Mom and Dad got up!
After breakfast, we packed up and drove on to Colorado Springs. The new campground had a shower house with hot water. The bathrooms had regular toilets and a sink for hand washing and teeth brushing! Halleluiah!
If memory serves, Dad bought blow-up mattresses for us and we all slept in the tent and on the ground from then on. By the end of that week the Summers clan had become veteran campers. Next stop, Aspen – I think Dad and David had decided to grow beards, but they didn’t last – too scratchy.
After that first trip, camping became a summer of fun for all of us – Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Grand Canyon, Glorietta Baptist Conference Center. Some of these were family trips, others just two sisters seeing the west. And then there was that trip to Big Bend National Park when a ‘norther’ swept down from Canada and blew that old tent to Mexico and gone.
But that’s another tale for another campfire!
Mary Lois, you are the first person I’ve ever known whose childhood sounds as happy as my own.
One summer my parents decided that we needed to see the country so they bought a VW camper, loaded all kinds of spiffy aluminum pots, my brother and sister and my Great Aunt Evelyn in that rolling box, and we took off, heading toward the setting sun…
Oh, my — your opener had me hooked, as our family had that same campfire tale, but not the Texas version. My dad always started it, “One dark and stormy night, three black-bearded bandits sat around a campfire telling stories. One of them said, “Joe! Tell us a story!” And he began: “One dark and stormy night…..”
I can’t believe we actually had fun dragging that one out…. What memories your story evokes!
Thanks for sharing your childhood camping adventures with us all, Mary Lois. It helped bring back some fond memories of my own family road trips when a kid!
Mary Lois, Your adventures were/are so wonderful. You’ve certainly had a full life. Our family camped quite a bit. Your story brought back fond memories. We found out how cold a person gets when the wind blows underneath a cot. That usually ends sleeping on a cot. We also learned how wet a person can get when sleeping in the Smokie Mtns. Sheets, blankets, pillows; everything picked up the moisture. Bouncing down a mountain stream on a rubber raft and diving into a pool of bone chilling, mind numbing water is an event of courage and one that I tried only once, but camping is one of the most wonderful experiences one can have in life. Thank you for bringing back those special memories. Your trips were fantastic.
Rubber rafts on the rapids – what a joy! Until it springs a leak and that’s the same mattress you were supposed to sleep on! Ever been to Sliding Rock over near Hendersonville, NC? Great place!
We seem to have had some of the same experiences in the Smokies and surround. Fun!