Past Tents (See What I Did There?)

Given that I’ve already posted about Girl Guide Camp and a book called Five in a Tent, I’m risking getting pegged (hee) as tent-obsessed with this one, but I have been VERY BAD at generating ideas for this blog (witness Nicole having to bail me out last week), so I’m going with this one.

My parents liked camping. Given that my mom grew up on a farm in rural Saskatchewan and my dad grew up in a shack in Saskatchewan so north it was almost the Yukon, you would think that once they bought an actual house they wouldn’t be eager to go back to ‘roughing it’, or, as they called it, ‘childhood’, but they bought a trailer and a boat when I was little and never looked back. When my sister and I were small, we all slept in the trailer – my parents in the double bed that the table folded down into, me in a single at the other end of the trailer, and my sister in a bunk bed above my parents – it was a thing that she would eat a cold baked potato from the night before in her bunk bed every morning. But when we got older, my parents got a tent for us to sleep in while they slept in a trailer.

When I was a young teenager, we started camping every summer at Halfway Lake Provincial Park. It was a really nice place – good beaches, nice comfort stations, beautiful walking trails…. and junior rangers. Along with the baked potato tradition and my-dad-playing-the-banjo-around-the-campfire tradition and the feeding-the-chipmunks tradition, there was now the tradition of Sneaking Out of the Tent to Meet Boys.

I don’t even remember how we met them, or how we decided that we would meet them after dark, but I remember ostentatiously getting ready for bed, getting into the tent, waiting for my parents to fall asleep and then the slow, laborious task of opening the tent zipper oh-so-slowly-and-quietly, slipping out of the tent without too much rustling (“It feels like being born”, my friend Danielle whispered) and trying not to trip over a marshmallow fork or stub a toe on the picnic table as we crept across the dark campsite. When my sister was younger and I had a friend with me, my parents would just go to bed, we would all go to the comfort station, then my sister would go back to the campsite, make a bunch of noise getting into the tent and call goodnight to my parents in three different voices. Later on, she snuck out with me so we had to wait until they were good and asleep.

The plan met with varying degrees of success on various nights. Sometimes it all went swimmingly and we snuck back in the wee hours of the morning, flushed with success and debauchery. Once my friend and I ran into a less junior ranger who had foiled the boys’ plans to sneak out, and he regaled us with tales of how he and his friends used to sneak out, build a tower of picnic tables, then sit at the top and try to finish a beer and a cigarette before Security arrived.

Once my sister and I snuck out, left the tent open, had our illicit rendezvous, then snuck back in and were congratulating ourselves on being Totally Badass, when I said “could you please stop playing with your sleeping bag zipper? and she said “I’m not”, and when I turned on the flashlight, the scraping sound was a MOUSE ON THE INSIDE WALL OF THE TENT RIGHT ABOVE MY HEAD.

I thought for sure the jig was up – we were both fully dressed and if my dad came out to assist we would be totally busted. Fortunately, although we didn’t know it at the time, my dad really, really hated mice (probably because in the aforementioned shack he occasionally had one end up in his sleeping bag with him) so while we were shrieking, my sister was on top of the picnic table and I was trying to step on the tent flap so the fucking thing could run out, my mom was saying “Ian, go out and help them!”, and he was saying “Allison has it under control” (“there would have been mouse blood and brains everywhere if I had come out there” he said later).

We got older, and finally one night, my parents sat drinking around the fire for so long that my friend and I just flounced out of the tent in exasperation and huffed that we were going for a damned walk. They waved at us with the bottle. When we found the J.R.s, it turned out that they’d been lying under the trees across the road waiting for us – they marveled at my mom and dad’s tolerance for alcohol and agreed that it didn’t sound like their friend Nancy was ever going to change her ways.

Years later, after suppressing our giggles every time my mom talked about how sensitive she was to every sound we made when we were in the tent and she was in the trailer – “I hear every time they roll over”, she said, “If they get up to go to the washroom I can’t fall back asleep until they come back” – we confessed. Since we never got arrested or pregnant, she forgave us.

When we go camping, we all sleep in the same tent, and I really DO hear every time they roll over. I don’t know, though. Do I really want to deprive my kids of this rite of passage? How will they learn resourcefulness and guile? What will we laugh about when they’re grown?

Plus, if we go the same route as my parents, I get to sleep in a trailer.

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3 thoughts on “Past Tents (See What I Did There?)

  1. Oh my gosh, good times. I love that your parents eventually just waved a liquor bottle at you as you sauntered out all ticked off after waiting for them to go to bed already. But I just don’t know if I could mack down an entire cold baked potato. Were there condiments? Salt, at least?!

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