As a child, and later as an adult, my fondest memories were created on family camping trips.
Our first camping adventures took place at Kenlake State Park on Kentucky Lake near the town of Murray, KY. My dad bought a pop-up camper that he named Zigeuner, which is German for “gypsies” (what the Romani people were called back then). It took about six hours to get to the park from our home near Kankakee, IL.
The campground wasn’t huge, but it was a decent size with campsites arranged in a U-shape around a grassy area in the front and the woods in the back.
Once camp was set up on the first day, my sister and I took off to find some new friends – something I learned all kids do the minute they can. While Dad built a fire in the pit and Mom got dinner prepped, we scouted around and found some girls to hang out with for the duration of our stay. One was a year older than me, very tall and had some pretty hectic curly hair. She told us she was diabetic. I had never heard of diabetes before meeting her and learned a lot from her about the disease. She was from Royal Oak, MI. Of course, I didn’t know at the time that my future included living in Michigan. I wish I knew her last name so I could look her up today.
On our first full day of camping and every day after that, we would hop in the car and head to the beach not too far away. We spent hours there, in and out of the water all day while Mom and Dad relaxed on the sand in lawn chairs.
Sometimes they came into the water and played around with us. It was all great fun, except for the sunburns. (Sun block was not a thing in those days.)
Back at camp and after dinner, we would talk around the fire, play games, roast marshmallows and tell spooky stories. Some evenings, our parents would visit with adults they befriended at neighboring campsites.
The park had a bandshell where unknown traveling musical groups would entertain on Saturday nights. It was at this bandshell that I first enjoyed a performance by Creedence Clearwater Revival. No one had ever heard of them.
After a couple of years, my folks decided to try another campground in the Missouri Ozarks. My dad, who was a very hairy guy, was eaten alive by mosquitoes that often got stuck on his chest and back. We laughed and laughed. But it was when he accidentally swallowed a whole dragon fly that he’d had enough. We packed up the next day and went back to Kentucky Lake.
A couple years after that, we went to Baraboo, WI near the Dells. After we were there for two days, the weather turned ugly and a tornado blew through the park. We sheltered safely but our swimsuits were ripped from the clothesline, never to be seen again. After a trip to Kmart for new swimwear, back to Kentucky we went.
Over the years, my husband and I enjoyed many camping trips with our own children. They are adults now and I hope their memories of those days are as fond and last a lifetime – just as mine have.