I have been experiencing two things lately that could prove to be a dangerous combination. First of all, I’ve been feeling overly nostalgic, especially about my school years. And secondly, I’ve been feeling gutsy.
So a couple weeks ago, when I started thinking about the summer camp I wrote about in my book, “There’s a Tick in my Underwear,” the gutsiness kicked in… and I decided I was going to go back there and visit the current residents, even though I had no clue who they were.
My parents bought the camp – a two-room hunting cabin on a deserted dirt road that ran along a river – back in the late 1950s. It became our favorite “escape from the city” getaway until they sold it in the early 1970s. The place had no running water, indoor plumbing or electricity. Behind the camp was a narrow, winding path that led down to a wooden storage-shed and to the building I dreaded to set foot in…the outhouse. Just the sight of its weathered boards and lopsided doorway, which lacked a door, was enough to instantly induce a terminal case of constipation.
A few years after my parents sold the property, they were informed that the people who bought the camp had torn it down and built a house in its place, so I knew I wouldn’t be seeing the camp again. But I was hoping there still would be a few familiar landmarks I could recognize on the property, such as the outdoor fieldstone barbecue/fireplace one of my uncles built back in 1960.
My uncle was a perfectionist, and his penchant for perfection had become obvious during the construction of the barbecue. He’d made my poor dad spend countless hours searching for perfectly shaped rocks for the perfectly shaped barbecue.
“Too round! Too flat! Too bumpy!” my uncle would snap as he examined and then flung aside each rock my dad, sweaty and dirty from his dawn-until-dusk rock hunting, handed to him. Then came the day my uncle rejected a rock because he claimed it needed more moss on it to match the other rocks. That was when my dad finally lost his temper.
“The (insert any curse word here) rock is going to be burning in a fire!” Dad shouted. “Why the heck does it need moss on it?”
When my uncle went home that night, my father hastily mixed up some cement, grabbed a bunch of rocks and slapped them onto the barbecue. A half-hour later, he tossed down the trowel and said, “There! It’s finally done!”
Anyway, two Saturdays ago, my dogs and I headed to the camp. During the ride, I kept trying to compose what I would to say to the people who lived there so they wouldn’t think I’d just escaped from some maximum-security institution and was trying to gain access to their property so I could hide out from the authorities.
The night before, I’d managed to dig out some old black-and-white photos of my family at the camp, so I could bring them with me as proof I’d once spent my summers there. However, I was only 12 in the photos, and considering the fact I might have aged just a teeny bit in the 50-plus years since they’d been taken, I figured they probably weren’t going to help much to confirm my identity. So I also brought a copy of my book as a peace offering, hoping it might soften up the owners so they’d allow me to roam around their property.
I tried to imagine who was living in the house. A young couple with young children? A retired couple? A reclusive Grizzly Adams type? Squirrels?
When I turned on to the former dusty old road to the camp, I was surprised to see a wide, paved road lined with mansions that looked as if they each one housed a Rockefeller. There also were several new side roads running off the main road, where only thick woods previously had been.
Finally, I came to my family’s former property. I parked the car on the side of the road and got out. The house where the camp once had stood was very modest looking, especially when compared to all of the fancy places surrounding it.
I walked up the driveway and noticed that the outdoor barbecue still was there, but the top half (the half my dad had built!) had crumbled, and the rocks were lying on the ground around it.
The outhouse was gone, but the old storage shed still was there. It looked as if a good sneeze would knock it down, and it was patched with plastic tarps.
I made my way to the front door, all the while rehearsing what I was going to say to the total strangers who lived in the house. There was no sign of life anywhere as I knocked on the door. A dog barked from inside and I could see its nose in the window. But no other noses appeared.
I looked across the road and saw a man who was about to mow his lawn, so I walked over. I explained who I was and asked him who lived in the house that used to be the camp. He told me it belonged to an elderly woman who lived there alone.
“Her car’s not in the driveway, so she must be out,” he added.
Needless to say, I was disappointed. I told him how much I’d enjoyed my summers on that property – with the exception of the outhouse, that is.
“I just tore that down for her about four years ago!” he said, laughing.
I truly was amazed the outhouse had remained standing for that long, considering how rotted and full of holes – not including the main one in the seat – it had been, even 50 years ago.
“I think I’ll walk around and take some photos for my scrapbook,” I said. “So don’t call the police on me!”
I just hope I won’t end up needing someone to bail me out of jail.
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