All of this excitement surrounding the purchase of our North Carolina mountain property has caused a renewed interest within me for camping. My husband grew up hunting, camping, and fishing. I did not. My experience with camping was largely limited to tents made out of old quilts and the dining room chairs.
Still a valid option, if you ask me.
I wasn’t a girl scout. I never went to summer camp. I didn’t have a tent pitched in the back yard. As a child, I camped only twice. One night in a tiny cabin—just a short run from the main house on my Aunt’s farm—and one night in a state park during a brief stint as a member of a 4H group. Both occurred before I was twelve years old.
Fast forward to a few years ago when our (former) neighbors invited us to spend a weekend camping with them in the Chattahoochee National Forest.
We packed up the truck with tents, and chairs, and sleeping bags…enough food and water to survive a natural disaster…and off to the woods we went—with both of our teenage girls, and my niece.
It took what seemed like an eternity to find the campsite as we drove up the winding mountain roads in the dark. When we finally arrived, we realized that our neighbors had invited more than just us.
There were our neighbors (Mr. and Mrs. Lifeoftheparty and their two young children), Mrs. Lifeoftheparty’s nymphomaniac younger sister and her two young children, Mr. Lifeoftheparty’s stick in the mud older brother and a former army buddy…and the five of us. All on one campsite.
It would seem as if there were too many people in one campsite and according to the camp “police”, there were. The group was cautioned to keep the noise down or leave. This, after driving nearly four hours to the site!
We quietly put up our tents and set up our camp chairs around the raging fire. The neighbors and their little group had started drinking hours before we arrived. Mrs. Lifeoftheparty, despite her love of a nice glass of wine, kept her drinking in check that evening due to the presence of small children. No one else in her extended family followed her lead. With the exception of the children, they were all well on their way to cirrhosis of the liver.
Before long, the younger children were all tucked into their sleeping bags, and Mrs. Lifeoftheparty (my only friend at this little soirée) took her leave of the rambunctious band of drinkers. My teenagers (including my niece) set up camp in their own little tent, with a nice supply of purloined marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers for midnight s’mores.
That left Mike and me to sit around the fire with Mr. Lifeoftheparty and the rest of his drunken crew.
I didn’t sit with them for long. Mr. Lifeoftheparty was loudly lamenting that his wife “hated” him, and wanted to divorce him. Something she had not said, but he was certain nonetheless.
I retreated to our tent for the night, while Mike had a few drinks by the fire.
I couldn’t sleep. Instead, I lay awake, listening to the fireside conversations get out of hand. Mrs. Lifeoftheparty’s married sister was flirting quite brazenly with Mr. Lifeoftheparty’s brother and his army buddy. The men were clearly convinced that they had a chance, and were competing for her attentions. The laughter carried over the night air like the cackling of a coven of witches around a burning caldron, making me uncomfortable.
My husband finally dragged himself away from the raucous party and climbed into our tent…but not before telling Mrs. Lifeoftheparty’s sister to shut up. She said something rude, and probably deserved the retort, but she didn’t take it well. She wondered out loud what we were doing on their family camping trip.
After Mike zipped us into the tent, the hysterical laughter around the fire got louder, and the fire spiked into a raging inferno as the four adults that remained proceeded to throw things into the flames that have no business in a camp fire.
Mike toyed with the idea of leaving in the middle of the night—something I was dead set against, as it had been nearly impossible to find our way into the forest, let alone back out again.
In time, the sounds faded away…either because they wandered off or because they passed out…I wasn’t sure.
The light of morning brought silence from all four of the late party goers. I did discover that Mr. Lifeoftheparty had wandered off and fallen into the nearby river, almost drowning as the current took him down river several hundred feet before the others fished him out.
Morning also found one of Mike’s shoes among the missing. He had left them right outside our tent when he came to bed, but they were conspicuously missing when he went to put them on. Mr. Lifeoftheparty lent him a pair of sandals (perhaps due to a guilty conscience, as we found out much later that he and the crazed bunch around the fire had thrown Mike’s shoe in to watch it burn).
Despite Mike’s desire to “get the hell out of there” we spent a few hours fishing, and exploring the river with the girls. They didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary, and actually had a pretty good time. Mike even caught and cooked a lonely little fish while we were there.
We were invited to spend a second night, but under the circumstances, we declined. Instead we drove home and set up the tent in our own back yard where the girls spent the next night…camping close to home. It wasn’t the same, I suppose, but that was fine with me. I was ready to sleep in my very own bed…where I wouldn’t hear wicked laughter…or smell burning shoes. I think I might rather pull out an old quilt and stretch it over the dining room chairs next time I want to camp.
Ironically, Mr. and Mrs. Lifeoftheparty were divorced not long after the infamous camping trip, and they no longer live in the neighborhood. We almost miss them…
Until the next time…I’ll be planning our next camping trip to our own little piece of paradise!