My family has pictures of my mother, pregnant with me, camping with her mother and step-father (I’ll refer to them as my grandparents from here on out — I only knew him as my grandfather). They had a mobile home, nowadays seemingly more properly called a “park model”, parked at a place called “Wilson’s Lake” in New Jersey. There was no electricity, no water of sewage, and any gas/propane had to be gotten from outside. There was no lodge, and no one taking care of the “sites”.
This is where my love of kerosene hurricane lamps was born. And where I spent time in an outhouse.
My parents bought our first camper when I was 6 or 7. A 17′ Shasta. We did a lot of things in it, and being 6 to 8 or 9, I don’t have a clear memory of the time lines involved.
We spent a week or two during two summers at Dingman’s Falls where my dad’s parents had their own mobile home. I learned to shoot a BB-gun, there was fishing, and we payed a bunch of card games. It was where I really came to admire the black-capped chickadees and cardinals. The beginning of my extremely amateur bird-watching and life list. I believe it was our second time there that my grandfather had his fatal heart attack. I remember him standing up from his chair, then falling down. Sadly, it is my only memory of my paternal grandfather.
We spent at least one weekend, and I think more but I can’t be sure, in my aunt’s driveway in our camper. My dad’s sister is older and she has 4 kids before my parents had their two. It was strangely perhaps, in my aunt’s driveway that I learned to play Yahtzee and Crazy 8’s, games that to this day remain the quintessential games for camping.
My mom’s family camped, but my dad’s family were outdoors-people. Hunting, camping, and fishing were common place in my dad’s family. Many had farms until I was entering my teens. My grandfather was given an acknowledgment in a book called “To Hell With Fishing”. They used to have a line of folks cleaning game during hunting season.
We spent two summers at Wilson’s Lake, each time after our time in Dingman’s Falls. At Wilson’s Lake, I learned to row a boat, how to swim, most of my lake fishing, and how to have a campfire. It was also at a bar near Wilson’s Lake that I first played Pong. Pong. Yeah, I said Pong. Sometimes I feel old, and sometimes I feel proud. Most times, I feel both.
Even as these summer escapades were happening, we traveled during the spring and fall to various campgrounds. I learned a lot of my camping etiquette during these trips. Don’t go on other people’s sites. Keep the noise down early and late. And some chores — help set up the camper and unload the car.
There was one place that caught my parents’ attention. It was at the time just under an hour’s drive from home, remote, and yet still close to civilization.
Hockey Puck Campground
I remember pinball machines, a quarter for 3 games, 5 balls a game. What a luxury.
I remember thinking that it would only be two years until I could go to the pool by myself, the first year the pool was put in. For some reason, my mom ended up working the store in the lodge while we were summer seasonals. “Can you fill in for meals? Can you work at this time? Can you work this schedule?”
Then there was a change of ownership.
Colonial Woods Family Camping Resort
The campground became quite popular. I spent weekends and summers there. When we first started there, my father’s teacher’s salary wasn’t paid over the summer, so we usually had a lean August. I still can’t eat bologna due to one of those summers. The learning of the death of Elvis is also stuck in my head. I made a lot of good friends there.
Camping included electricity, emptying of holding tanks, refilling of propane tanks. But it wasn’t being home.