When Henry David Thoreau said, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…,” he probably didn’t have a traditional yearly weekend camping event with friends in mind but oddly enough the English teacher in me can make the leap. I won’t detail the hows and whys of that right now.
Suffice it to say that one of my favorite summer traditions, our annual camping weekend in Wisconsin with dear friends, always makes me smile. In this blog post, entitled ‘Louis Vuitton Bag Camping’, I will try to capture the essence of my happy thoughtfulness into word pictures so you can see this elegant, extravagant, beautiful, quirky event in all its unique glory.
Little Claire, age two, sits at rapt attention on the top of a picnic table, mesmerized, watching fashionista, Cheryl, put on her makeup. Claire totally enjoyed her first camping beauty lesson that fine morning. Over time she observed and absorbed other valuables from these vibrant special friends who know how to live life with gusto and grace.
Our camping adventures began modestly with a weekend group of friends gathered at a KOA near Cannon Falls. We were a motley crew. Friends sporting off-brands: a ragtag assemblage of Goodwill variety camping stuff blended together with garage sale finds, secondhand tents, and worn campers.
No Airstream trailers here.
Our children were small. Claire still fit in one of those Walker thingies with wheels that kept her out of the mud mostly and provided a tray for Cheerios and s’mores and whatever else she could pick up off of the muddy ground.
Our adventures were modest, too, like shopping the rather primitive KOA
Campground store. Surprising Donna made a spectacular find while we were there: multi-colored Tiki string lights which that evening illuminated more than the Adams’ camper with a warm, almost fanciful, campfire glow. I have a suspicion this was when Donna’s ‘strings of lights’ vision was born and ‘ let there be light’ became her mantra thereafter.
In fact, Donna later found a cheap craft kit somewhere that she lovingly and painstakingly assembled until the unique plastic multicolored string of funky, chunky lamps was born and fashioned to hang on their camper awning just outside the door. For over 30 years now that string of lights reigns on Steve and Donna’s camper kind of like a symbol of our longevity.
In those early days the kids were willing to create our evening entertainment providing us with original, wonderful, crazy skits to enjoy. Also it was at one of these early campouts that Uncle Roy invented ‘Slinky Stinks’. Each evening with flashlights in hand the kids would go hunting and find ‘Slinky Stinks’ and have stories to tell with Uncle Roy’s help.
Also in the early days we got rained on and didn’t like being wet, or having our toddlers playing with mud, so one of our people, Doug, who is gifted with ‘practical genius’, crafted the Mother of all Tarps. Not only was the size massive, it required a massive group of friends to engineer the positioning and then execute the placing of the Tarp to ensure dry and happy campers.
In fact, one year when everyone else was leaving the campground slimy, soggy, and exhausted from fighting the rain, our amusement was to line our camp chairs up in a row snug, smug, and dry under our Tarp to smile as we waved the other wimpy campers ‘goodbye’.
This Mother of all Tarps became an excellent frame for Donna’s ever-growing strings-of-lights display. Donna began to collect strings of lights to the point that she had to catalogue her boxes of lights; she had so many. Of course, the fact that she is a librarian and English teacher in real life helps immensely when it comes to organizing boxes of string lights, and we are not talking ‘little white lights’. We are talking pink flamingos, beer bottles, fish, Teddy bears, sail boats, champagne glasses, hot dogs, dinosaurs. The variety is endless and that’s not all.
Our much loved ‘ambience director’ Cheryl, selects the theme of the campout for that week end and brings the props necessary to transform our picnic tables into designer displays of that theme. Centerpieces, tablecloths, napkins, and some times even clothes tie to the theme. In the picture at left, for example, “Dîner en Blanc” was the theme for our Saturday night dinner in 2012.
Also, each member, or family, as the case may be, is responsible to bring the camp shirt with the unique logo designed by Petra and the ‘fish bottle’ with the dollar store quality candelabra stuck in its neck. How the fish bottles were procured is legendary story in its own right.
In fact, the picture below right has all the mementos of a great time: Cheryl’s magnificent centerpiece, lighted tulips, fish bottle candles, cd player, Donna’s colored theme lights, & even my “graduation retirement” bell that we used to call the events.
Our ‘music director’, Steve, selects and brings the music to go with the theme. Cheryl shares that theme with Donna, who then dreams up a story and selects the lights she wants to display that go with the story. Sometimes the story relates directly to the theme or it could instead relate of an important event in the past year for someone in the group. When Donna tells the story she’s usually standing on a camp chair, if she hasn’t had too many happy hour happies, and the rest of us are to guess the theme of her story; kind of like Charades with a twist.
Over the years our little camping group has acquired either by truth or embellishment a legendary status. No only do we have the Mother of all Tarps, we have the Mother of all Light Displays, an Ambience Director, and a Music Director, we have among us one whom we with fond affection have christened ‘General Jeanne’ who guides us all in our Pre-Campout Planning Meeting to agree upon the Mother of all Event Timeline/Duties Grid which gives details as to the location, event times, menus, individual duties, assignments, and cell phone numbers.
So our weekend is filled with just the right amount of predictability and spontaneity to make it fun for all. Saturday evening dinner is predictably grilled BYO steak, with all the trimmings, including baked potatoes wrapped in foil by Anne. Mary and Sue make the salad. Andre, Steve, Roy rotate the duty of being the ‘Gentlemen: Start-your-grills’ guy, the VIP point person for setting and enforcing grill duties. Roy got the VIP job of turning on the coffee because he is an ‘early riser’. So the smells of fresh coffee mingled with the bacon frying and Ginny’s breakfast potatoes cooking greet us as we await our community breakfast on Saturday morning.
This is what I call Louis Vuitton bag camping. Elegant. Extravagant. Beautiful. Quirky.
And when we gather in one big camp chair circle on Saturday night, just after the 4 O’clock Happy Hour and before the 7:00 O’clock Steak Dinner, to do the 5 O’clock News, we all with reverence listen as each person in what is now lst, 2nd, and 3d generation camper group recounts the important happenings for them in the previous year. We catch up with each other’s lives, and we remember, and like Robert Burns of long ago, we are thankful.
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup ‘o kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
4 July 2017
Burns, Robert. “Auld Lang Syne.” Robert Burns Country: Auld Lang Syne:. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 July 2017. <http://www.robertburns.org/works/236.shtml>.
Thoreau, Henry David. “Excerpt from Walden – Henry David Thoreau.” AntiRomantic.com. N.p., 22 Dec. 2009. Web. 04 July 2017. <http://www.antiromantic.com/walden/>.