I loved and still love to go camping. All the things I could do on a camping trip were left to my imagination. Camping had a way of helping me get rid of a lot of nervous energy. The nervous energy that kept me awake the night before a camping trip or wouldn’t allow me to fall asleep on the drive to the campsite. As much as I loved to fish it wouldn’t be until I was grown up that I would be able to sit still while fishing. Even at that to be still while fishing can either be meditative or end up with me just being my fidgety self. For me there is nothing like the smell of a morning campfire or the fresh cent of pine. The fact that there is so much to explore was a real help with the nervous energy that I seem to always have plenty of. I remember a great many of our camping trips. This one was particularly memorable to me not only because my Grandparents went with us but also because my parents did what the do best Welcome those around them even when they didn’t know them.
Pots pans and spoons for everyone
By R.E. Bertlow
I tell my memories as I remember and have experienced them. I was ten (10) years old at the time and had no idea what an indelible memory this would become. This camping trip would only serve to show me how lucky I was to have been. adopted by the two people I call mom and dad.
We always got and early start when going camping. My father and his best friend Bob would get everything packed up the night before and both families the Ford and Bertlow would be on the road to which ever camp site we were going to by 4:30 a.m. . As kids we were always raring and ready to go. It was difficult to get to sleep the night before a camping trip. It was like trying to fall asleep on Christmas eve for us. My brothers and I loved to fish and hike and be out doors. Usually by the time we were half way there my brothers had fallen sound asleep Me I was wide awake. Afraid I would miss something or maybe it was just being hyper active. I would crash pretty hard though the first night of camping. As we got older we managed to get to sleep easier and stay awake during the trip there. We were also expected to help pack as we got older. I remember one trip were I got to ride in the camper of my Uncle Franks truck with his daughters. I remember them putting eyeliner on me and thinking it was interesting. ( they never would have gotten away with this with my brothers. My parents should have figured it out then.) Our trips were always two weeks long. I sure my mom was ready to get back home and take a hot bath after being in the woods for two weeks.
I must have been about nine or ten years of age. It was the summer of 69 or 70 and this was the first time my grandparents went with us. I was excited as I had a very close relationship with my grand parents, after all they were the ones who hid me and my brother out when our biological mother tried to get custody (our legal guardians the ones we called mom and dad hid us at their home while they sorted it out.).
We were headed to Gerle creek. Despite it’s name it actually had a lake. I remember riding in my grandparents car. I was excited to be going and even more excited that my grandparents were joining us. It took a while to get there but thankfully my grandparents listened to the same music as I did at the time pop music. After a few hundred “are we there yet’s” and “How much longer’s”
we arrived at the campground, after we checked in and got camp set up, we kids headed down to the lake following behind my Dad, Granddad and Bob Ford. Six kid all in tow, our dads taking us off our mom’s hands so they could get a little more set up and prepared for the two weeks ahead of no breaks from six kids.
I remember that there was this rock Island in the lake. It wasn’t very big but as a kid it seemed huge to me as far as rock islands go. I also remember how crystal clear the lake was. You could see almost all the way to the bottom which was great for catching fish. As we stood by the water I remember thinking I want to go for a swim. We kids raced down to the edge of the water and stuck our toes in the water only to find the water very, very cold. We retracted our toes almost in unison from the frigid water. How is the water my father called out to us, cold we said, it will get warmer as a little later, Bob assured us.
We headed back to to the camp sites where our dads sat down and had there first beers of the trip as we kids had Grape, Orange, Cherry, Ginger Ale and other assorted varieties of Shasta soda.(we were only allowed Sodas on camping trips. Once we were done our parents sent us out to collect wood for the campfire while my dad, grandad and Bob collected some larger pieces that they would chop up. We scattered out looking. We usually paired off. An older kid with a younger kid. Jenny and my brother Rob, my brother Cliff and Mike. Becky and I were both the middle kids and good friends. My mother, grandmother and Bev had started making lunch. My dad had also given us further instruction to find our marsh mellow sticks. Finding the right marsh mellow was very important. The wrong stick and the marsh mellows won’t fit or worse yet you could end up with a stick that just breaks. Either way you are left trying to find a new stick in the dark. Not something I was particular fond of doing. I learned in pretty short order how to pick the right stick.
We had finished collecting kindling and were told lunch was ready so we sat down and had lunch and we all had sandwiches and each of us kids was a lot to have a soda. We finished as fast as we could so we could go play. We were not indoor kids, we loved to be outside. Once lunch was done my dad asked ,”Who wants to go fishing. I loved to fish the problem was I couldn’t sit still long enough to catch one. My hyperactive little brain would start my feet to thumping against what ever rock or log I might be sitting on. My father did his best to try and Quell my movement and get me to sit still. He was no more successful then my teachers most times. He had a nick name for me Nervous Norvis. I don’t know where he got it from but my dad had nick names for almost every one. Some of us had more then one nick name as well. My brothers and I headed out to go fishing with my granddad, dad, Bob and Bobs son Mike. We got down to the lake and got our fishing poles bated and cast. The clunkety clunk of my tennies banging against the rock I was sitting on. My father trying to keep his feet still. By the time my grandma, mom, Bev and her daughters got down to the lake we had already caught a few fish. As much as we loved to catch fish we really as kids didn’t care to eat them much. We much preferred fish sticks. As soon as I saw my grandmother arrive I was done with fishing. I am sure my dad felt a little relief. With enough fish caught he poles were taken out of the water and we got in instead. We waded and same in the water that had warmed up enough for us kids. The grown ups sat on the shore keeping an eye on us making sure we were safe and didn’t go out to far. My mother occasionally having to call my older brother back closer to shore. We eventually headed back to camp as it was time for my older brother and I to take our Medications ( for Hyper Activity) Ritalin and Mellaril. After we took our pills we went right back to hiking and playing. We were told not to wonder to far off as dinner would be soon. Soon enough it was dinner time and then our favorite time of night. Marsh mellow roasting time. We got our sticks out that we had so carefully picked and my dad got out his guitar. Our moms doled out the marsh mellows as my dad played the guitar and we all sang songs and roasted marsh mellows. Every once in a while my dad would stop and request that one of us kids would roast him a marsh mellow. At the close of the evening the campfire would be doused so that any wood unburned could be used for the next nights fire. We always slept well when we went camping.
We were having a blast camping. For me it was one of my favorite things to do. I loved being out in nature. I was the flower child of the family who would much rather be outdoors in indoors. I looked forward to the annual camping trip every summers. Even though I had a hard time sitting still to fish, I would always try to, my hyper active self was just a very fidgety kid so it made it hard to sit still, even at that I managed to catch fish (As I got older I would become less fidgety.). I loved to fish Years later it would become somewhat meditative for me. My two favorite things to do on a camping trip where fishing and hiking.
The morning of the fifth day arrived and my dad and Bob started the morning campfire as my mom and Bev started breakfast. There is nothing like the smell of a campfire and frying eggs and bacon on the camp stove. Bob , my dad and granddad had cups off coffee sat around the campfire stoking it. We kids sat around the campfire waiting for breakfast. When it was ready we were called to the picnic table and served on paper plates that would become part of the mornings campfire. After breakfast we were sent off to play for a bit. My dad told us that we would go fishing a little later but to stay close by, as he and the rest of the grown ups cleaned up after breakfast and enjoyed a little more coffee.
We finally headed down to the lakes and started to fish There was a small fishing boat out on the lake in it were a man and two boys about 14 and 15 years of age. They like us were fishing . We didn’t think to much about as I recall we just kept fishing. What are they doing over there ? I heard my dad say, his attention becoming more focused on the people in the boat then fishing. Pretty soon Bob Ford was distracted as well. What the hell’s going on over there Bob asked my dad. My dad said it look like the guy was jumping in and of out of the water . My father wasn’t big on horse play around boats. He felt that it was unsafe. I got a bit my brother yelled out my father instructing him on what to do to real it in. Pretty soon another one of us had caught a fish and what ever had been going on in the boat seem to quite down, I heard my mother grandparents and Bev approaching us from behind with Becky and Jenny in tow. Whats going on over there my mother said as the came up on us, She pointed towards the boat. That guy has been horse’n around, jumping in the water. The boy in the boat was getting a bit loader asking his dad to stop. Finally we gave up fishing as the activity on the boat had not only consumed our attention but captured the attention of many others on shore. Even though they were a ways away the boy could be clearly heard asking his dad to stop. The boys friend was not saying much. The boy was now yelling at his father to stop messing around followed By Dad! Dad!! Dad!! and Help!!. People on the shore closer to them started to swim out to them as they were out that far. Before we knew it there was an ambulance and medics going out on a boat to where the boys where. There was no sign of the boys father either. We all headed over to check out was going on. Only to discover that the man had drown. My mother, Bev and grandmother and grandfather quickly ushered us away from the scene. We would later learn from my dad and Bob the the man was easily visible at 20 feet down as the water was so much clearer at that distance from shore. It took a few hours to bring him up from the bottom of the lake where he lay upon some underwater boulders. We were already safely back at the camp site were we didn’t have to witness anymore than we already had.
We sat back at the camp site shocked by what had happened. The grown up felling sorry for the two boys who had to witness this tragedy. Shaking there heads I’m sure it brought back memories for my dad of his dad locking himself in the living room of the home he grew up in and pulling the trigger on his 22 ending it all. My dad was a grown man just out of the army when his own dad took his life. My dad felt for this young boy who had just witnessed his own fathers death. I think it angered my dad a bit as well because he saw this as a needless death. It didn’t have to happen. If he hadn’t been horsing around it wouldn’t have happened.
Later that day after the Ambulance and coroner had come and gone and I’m sure the boys returned home to family my folks and Bev and Bob Ford put out the word that that we would be having a big campfire and all were welcome to join in. Many of the campsites had emptied out but there were still a great many camp sites that were occupied. We had our dinner with the days events hanging heavy on our parents and grandparents minds. We as kids took our lead from our parents who felt they should shield us as much as possible which, wasn’t much as we had seen most of went on and had heard the rest right down to the siren of the Ambulance
After dinner my father asked us go go out and find some extra marsh mellow sticks so that everyone of the kids had one. We gathered as many sturdy sticks as we could fined and brought them back to the camp site. Then headed back out to get some more kindling. After we brought back the kindling Bob and my dad started the campfire. With the campfire started my dad pulled out his guitar and tuned it up so that he would be ready to play when it was time to sing campfire songs. Our mothers and Grandmother got the marsh mellows ready for roasting. A bag had been bought for every night so there were 3 bags left. They hoped this would be enough and warned us kids that we should go easy on them and let the other kids have some.
It was starting to get dark and the campfire was going pretty good so my father pulled out his guitar and started playing. My father new all the great camp songs and never cared if he had to sing them twice or even three times. As my father played his guitar campers from other camp sites started showing up. They would thank us for hosting the campfire as they arrived at our camp site and the kids where told where the marsh mellow sticks where at. Before we knew it the circle around the campfire had grown to three times it size. My mother Grandmother and Bev gathered up every pot, pan and spoon and made sure that every kid had something to make noise and music with as they sang the camp songs my dad was leading everyone in. Campers came to our camp site that night shell shocked from the days events. The tragedy that had occurred not only left campers feeling angry as it was completely preventable but also a bit numb. As more and more families arrived my mother and Bev found what every the could that was left for kids to make music with. We ran out of marsh mellow sticks so we took turns with them. We sang and Sang. “Mrs O’Leary”, “Frog on a Log”, “Sipping Cider through a straw” and many other songs. As the night went on we ended up with about sixty people in our site including some of the park rangers. For a little while we had managed to forget about the days horrible events as we roasted marsh mellows and sang camp songs. It was way past our bed time but my father kept singing and playing late into the evening. The evening finally came to an end and everyone was grateful for the temporary distraction of music and marsh mellows.. The campfire was put out and we all headed to our tents to try and sleep as best we could. In the morning our folks would decide whether we would leave or stay. We had paid for one more night so I was hoping we would stay.
Morning came and camp site after camp site emptied out. For many the events of the previous day were just to much. As much as they had appreciated what my folks, the Fords and My grandparents tried to do to light the mood and get there minds off the horrible event, there vacation were not salvageable. I was keeping my fingers crossed that ours was, as were my brothers and the Fords kids. At breakfast they informed us that we would be staying our last night and leave the next day as planned. We finished breakfast and I asked if I could go for a walk. I was told I could but I had to stay on the road and not to be gone to long. I headed out for a walk and saw camp site after camp site either empty or preparing to be emptied as camper after camper headed home the previous days events just to much. By night fall we were one of the few sites that still had campers in it. We sang songs once again and roasted marsh mellows then it was off to bed at a more reasonable hour. The next morning we packed everything up and policed the area to make sure we left no garbage behind then headed out and home.
I will always remember this camping trip not because of the terrible tragedy that occurred but because my parents showed me once again their incredible ability to put others before them. There ultimate need to be care givers. What they did that night around the campfire was to care for everyone else and to try and give everyone a happy memory to take home with them, hopefully one that would ultimately replace the tragic one they were taking home as well. That’s just who my parents were.