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Frye: Wonderful kind of misery

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Saturday, May 18, 2013, 11:21 p.m.

Anyone who's ever taken a child camping knows the experience can involve crying, whining, conniptions, hissy fits, misery, woe and even pestilence.

But don't be naive. Things don't always go that well.

Sometimes it's the kids who get cranky.

Unless, that is, they're on their own. Left to themselves, kids can endure all kinds of hardship without realizing they're not supposed to be having fun.

With camping season near, I've been thinking about the adventures some cousins and I willingly suffered as kids. Freed from the pimply prison known as junior high, we'd gather our gear — sufficient in weight and volume to supply three boys for a few days or one Mongolian horde for an extended campaign of looting and pillaging — and head out the door. After a few looks back at the fast-retreating house, Chip would start toeing the ground.

“I don't know, but this seems nice and soft for a tent. No roots or rocks or anything,” he'd say.

“No horse manure either,” his brother Dougie would note, looking to the pasture encircled by electric fence still a good 100 yards away.

“And I can barely feel the heat from the porch light all the way out here,” I'd add.

That settled, we'd begin “making camp.” It wasn't easy. Back then, tent poles weren't connected with elastic cords like now. They were 12 or 16 individual pieces of plastic that you threaded through the sleeves on your tent. As you started bending everything into shape, one pole would become disjointed from the rest. You'd lower the tent, reconnect everything by feel and start over.

Still, we eventually got good enough that we could set up our tent in no more time than it would have taken a quality contractor to build a cabin on the same site.

Dinner would follow. That meant charred hot dogs on charred buns, with a side of charred beans.

At some point Uncle Vern would be sent out to check on us.

“What are you burning?” he'd ask, waving his hands to part smoke thick as a stage curtain. “Smells like wet leaves and cat hair.”

“It's dinner,” Chip would say, looking up from a scene of culinary devastation as impressive as it was startling.

Uncle Vern would pause for a minute, rub his chin with what I now know to be a pensive look, then spin slowly and walk away, mumbling.

“I'm not taking the fall for this,” he'd say. “Your mothers. …”

“Parents, huh? Weird,” Dougie would say.

Later, with night breathtaking in its darkness approaching, we'd go to bed, whereupon three bellies full of beans would swell the stitching on our tent.

“Must be skunks,” Chip would say.

“Mmrphm aagh gurrk,” I'd say, my face buried in a pillow.

We'd go a week at a time like that, breaking only on Saturdays, when I had to go home and clean up for church. Then we'd start over.

I'll bet kids today, even in our always-plugged-in world, would still enjoy that kind of fun.

Just tell them to pack a pillow.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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