Something quite spectacular happened yesterday.
I spent Memorial Day this year writing an essay for the Coleman Camping Heritage Essay Contest. I had discovered the contest on the Internet and became inspired to write about my love of camping, and of Coleman gear, and how that had encouraged me to get my son back to nature.
I didn't grow up with a camping family. My dad is a no-nonsense farmer and we already lived in the country. He spent long days in the fields during the summer. I suspect that what he most cherished when he got home after dark was a soft bed and a good night's sleep. I can still hear him my head "If you want to get closer to nature, we can just move your bed out to the cornfield.".
That's not to say my dad isn't an outdoorsman. He's an avid hunter and in his retirement, has probably spent as many nights in the wild and hiked as many miles as I have. When you walk into my parents' living room, you are greeted with a gigantic elk head, a trophy from one of his more challenging hunts. So while I probably inherited a sense of adventure and a love of nature from him, it was not something that we shared together.
My real camping adventures began in Girl Scouts. with Brenda Harriman and Peggy Burfeind as our fearless leaders. Every year, they and twenty or thirty girls set up camp in the woods behind the Burfeind farm and spent two weeks living in the "wild." Despite being within a few hundred yards of electricity and indoor plumbing, we set up a full camp, built fires and dug latrines. That's where I learned to make cowboy stew, and dump cake, probably my first Dutch Oven recipe and one I still love to make (and eat!). Beyond that magical two weeks, we took numerous trips throughout the year. Maybe my memory has embellished a bit, but it seems like it always rained when we took our trips. I remember girls shrieking "Don't touch the walls" of the tent, the sole nugget of wisdom that prevented us from becoming hopelessly soggy. According to legend, any spot where a hand found itself would open up to the downpour, (Truth be told, on the wetter nights, one prayed to be one of the lucky girls to first stake a spot in the back of the Harriman's old station wagon.)
We spent the non-camping season working on our merit badges, to be awarded during the final night of camp, Family Night. I will never forget my mother laughing from the crowd when I was given the Housekeeping Badge. She was right to be amused; I still don't merit one of those!
Without Peggy and Brenda, I would not be the camper I am today. They taught me to make a fire, to tie knots, to stake a tent and, of course, to cook outdoors. My love of the outdoors grew from the love they shared with us. The precious time they devoted is priceless, a shining example of the community spirit that made my small town of Malta Bend, Missouri, such a wonderful place to grow up. For their dedication (and that of all the parents who devoted time to making sure we country kids were never bored), I will be eternally grateful. They are my inspiration.
So, back to the contest. Yesterday I was notified that I won, and will be rewarded with more gear than I may be able to fit into my car. (A little irony, I told someone just last week that camping was sure a lot easier when I just had a tent and sleeping bag to take with me. Of course I was joking; one can never have too much Coleman stuff!) As Caleb so perfectly stated when I read him the list of prizes: "Mom, we're rich with camping gear!" I see a beautiful future with Caleb and my old friend Coleman.