Notice: This campground is full

Categorized as 06/15/09 Goshen News column

I think it hit two zip codes. At least, that’s how it looked from my spot by the fire. The front bumper was squarely in ours, but the back one was definitely hanging over into Baugo township.

Two days after school let out, my parents arrived, pulling a fifth-wheel trailer with a big, red Ford diesel filled with two nieces and two nephews. So began a solid week of Grandma and Grandpa Day (and Night) Camp.

Their arrival effectively doubled the population here on the reservation, and when they proceeded to unpack and set up their equipment, our three acres were instantly transformed into a KOA campground. To our tire swings, fire pit, swing set, picnic table, gas grill, tent, and lawn chairs, they added a canopy, a trailer, an outdoor cooker, a charcoal grill, a collapsible trash can, and a plethora of lawn chairs. Throw in the four cousins and two creative grandparents, and it was a recipe for a week of not much sleep, but a whole lot of fun.

In no time ate all, Grandma had voted herself into two positions – camp director and head cook with Grandpa as chief griller, entertainer, and overall assistant. The skill and efficiency with which they organized the proceedings made them look like positive Boy Scouts. Oh, and a girl one, too.

In the “How to Run a Camp With Such Military Precision That Even the Pentagon is Jealous” manual, it states that the job of camp director includes directing activities. That’s exactly what Mom did.

Spotting a trampoline-shaped hole in our entertainment lineup, they moved to fix it. In no time at all, thanks to Grandpa and Daddy, a brand-new one had been assembled and was ready for its inaugural bounce. Immediately, it filled with happy legs, and the shrieks and laughter that floated across the lawn assured the campground management that it was money well spent.

During the day, they would break out the yard games, including bocce ball, ladder ball, and Kubb. Then, Grandpa would call a movie interval. The yard would empty and the house would fill with little moviegoers. When the credits rolled, it was back outside for more jumping or yard games.

Occasionally, he would declare a field trip, and off we would head to some of our favorite local spots. We landed at the Main Street Coffee House where I go to write. They took a day trip to Shipshe for their famous pretzels. We charged up to Mishawaka in pursuit of some Mexican food, and one day our brood introduced them to LePeep’s for brunch. Finally, we managed to fit in an Essenhaus buffet before they hit the road.

It’s a Scout axiom that where there’s a camp, there must be a fire. And, indeed, we had fire. Almost nightly, to be exact. As darkness fell, the circle around the fire pit would fill up with chilly campers, huddling by its warmth. Occasionally, a local aunt and uncle would join us, tucking their own lawn chairs into the circle, and we would laugh and talk into the night.

At shouts of, “Time for s’mores,” the trampoline would empty, and the hungry minions would storm the roasting sticks. After tales from Grandpa of practical jokes and wild things that scratch in the night, the circle, too, would empty out, and tents, trailers, and beds would fill up with tired campers.

The next morning, The Mister and I would tiptoe around, getting ready for work as the rest of the camp slumbered. Around 10 a.m., the reservation would come to life as sleepy outdoorsmen would come looking for Grandma’s skillet.

And was there ever food in Grandma’s skillet. Once, it was biscuits and gravy. Another day, it was scrambled egg casserole cooked over charcoal in the cast-iron skillet. Yet another morning, we had omelettes in a bag.

They held nothing back. There were campfire potatoes cooked over the coals. We had pork loins and burgers. Mom made chicken from a family recipe, frying it outdoors and then baking it.

At night, Dad took over. One night, he grilled mozzarella sticks. Then, it was Texas toast with a smoky tang, toasted over the fire. The most popular treat, however, was the doughnuts. Cranking up the cooker, he heated oil in the skillet. From buttermilk biscuits in a tube with holes poked in the middle, he then fried them to a golden brown before rolling them in sugar. The bowl would fill, then empty in a trice.

These were brought back for an encore the night they turned the back 40 into Cape Canaveral. Launching Grandpa’s rocket, they would watch the sky, eager to see if the parachute had deployed and where it had landed. Returning to camp, they would fortify themselves with doughnuts before trundling off to forage through the trees and brush in search of the rocket.

Now that they’ve gone, our yard looks empty. The trampoline is a bit quieter now, and the tent has fewer dwellers. The memory banks of the campers are full, though, and will likely be shared around many campfires down the road. We’ll laugh and say, “Remember when…?”

Oh, yeah. “And pass the doughnuts.”

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