Monday, June 5, 2017

Family Camping-Are We Having Fun yet?


Family Camping....what a romantic idea! Bonding—building teamwork-facing challenges together–getting close to God's creation....economical... well...

Preparations for our first camping trip as a family in 1964— destination Lake George, N.Y.— were almost as exciting as the actual trip. Very characteristic of my dad, (Mr.Sawdust) we were going to do this right! One Saturday he escorted my six brothers and me to a large Army-Navy surplus store in Manhattan, a forty minute drive from our home in Upper Montclair, NJ. These stores were equivalent in the 60's to the sports outfitters of today. Each of us was fully equipped with a comfy flannel lined sleeping bag, a denim duffel bag, a compass, a whistle and a flashlight. Every purchase was multiplied nine times-the clerk was loving it! We filed out of the store wearing matching tee shirts and white sailor caps. ...Now if that wasn't a classic scene for the makings of a great family musical!
We had collapsible canvas water buckets, even a portable toilet with a curtain for the utmost privacy. All we had to do was dig the hole.
After careful consideration, figuring how much room the nine of us (..and the dog) would need for sleeping, Dad purchased a tent that would house a circus. Tents back then were not made of lightweight nylon. They were made of heavy canvas so this tent was not only huge but weighed a ton! I remember the center pole was about nine feet tall when the two hardwood poles were assembled. But not to worry—dad and the boys had built a car top carrier that was so big it would easily transport all we had purchased that day...and much more. It extended the entire length of the top of the Dodge wagon. My dad's excitement was contagious! By the time we returned home that night I felt like I had already been on vacation.
The actual camping trip turned out to be much more exciting than that trip to the city for supplies; in fact, it was far more exciting than Dad could have possibly anticipated. That "great family musical" was about to become a hair raising drama.
Dad was always proud to have the family together, crowded into the big Dodge station wagon, along with the family dog. Our basset hound, Boots accompanied us on this trip, claiming his spot behind the driver’s seat. He’d position his stubby hind legs on the edge of the back seat and drop a paw over Dad’s shoulder. Hanging his head out the window, he’d let his long, pendulous ears flap in the breeze. He would rest his head on Dad’s shoulder when the ride became wearisome.
“How many kids have you got there?” attendants would inquire curiously as we stopped for gas. “Seven! Six boys and one girl!” he’d reply. “She must be treated like a queen,” they’d inevitably respond.
It is remarkable how many times I heard that growing up. I guess it was, in fact, true. Taking my place in the middle of six boys, with the understanding that any mistreatment of the one daughter would result in an unhappy situation, made me feel like somewhat of a princess in a strong fortress. I’m sure my “special” position was resented at times, especially on nights when Dad found an interesting movie on television. I would sit up on his lap eating popcorn, slide down from time to time and run up the stairs. “Now, you boys go to bed! We’re downstairs eating popcorn.” I’d skip eagerly back down the stairs.
They loved that, I’m sure.
Yes, we were well equipped, no doubt, but totally unprepared for the violent storm that blew up and threatened to relocate our enormous tent in the middle of the night. I can still see my Dad leaning the weight of his entire body against the massive wooden center pole, in an attempt to keep it standing. The large canvas tarp that had been attached to the pole at the peak of the tent was being hoisted by the winds. Lightning flashes revealed our frightened faces as we sat clutching pots and pans to catch the dripping water.
Thoroughly exhausted from the night, we left the soggy camp site for a site-seeing drive the following morning. The day was damp and chilly and it actually felt good to be back in the crowded station wagon—dog and all. Dad still had his sailor’s cap on, pipe in his mouth, clenched securely between his teeth. He was no doubt a bit shaken by the storm, but didn’t show it. He was still ….on vacation! We drove until lunchtime. “Well, what do you say we head back to….wait a minute—I know where we are! We’ve got to stop up ahead. We’re at the Ausable Chasm!” There was that whisper of suspense in his voice.

Note: See the USA the Easy Way put out by Reader’s Digest describes the Ausable Chasm as follows:

“Here sheer walls of rock rise some 200 feet above the rushing waters of the Ausable River. A tour of the chasm includes a 3/4 mile hike on dangling suspension bridges and winding walkways, past plunging waterfalls and raging rapids, culminating in a boat ride through the swirling waters.


We received a few instructions. I was to keep the dog on his leash, Mom had my youngest brother Chris close by her side. Bruce, Jeff, little Wally and Carl were to follow Dad. We climbed carefully down some boulders, wet and slick with moss, not an easy feat for a basset hound. We could hear the deafening roar of the mighty rapids, rushing furiously due to last nights storm. Soon we could see for ourselves why Dad had made the stop.
It was breathtaking!

This great photo of the Ausable Chasm
by Bryce Koechlin, (AddVision Studios) is as I remember it!

As we stood together looking warily down into the chasm, I recall my Dad’s words, “I seriously doubt a man could fall in there and come out alive. Let’s head back.” With that, he turned to leave. Seconds later, my brother Bruce, who had been mesmerized by the water, was falling headlong down into the rapids. It was one of those moments in time when you are awakened with a jolt from a terrible dream, so relieved—but this was not a dream.
“BRUCE FELL IN!!” I screamed, straining to be heard above the water.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Dad made his way to the edge and jumped in. I could see Bruce’s arms flailing out of the water as he was tossed around and pulled under by the rapids. Within seconds, my mother made her way to the edge, jumped in and was pulled down the river as well. I grabbed as many little hands as I could and walked along the chasm, hoping to see all three, remembering all too well my Dad’s ominous words. Would they come out alive?
What a wonderful sight it was to see my Dad, sailor cap still on his head, and—I kid you not—pipe in his mouth, standing beyond the rapids in an alcove of rocks, embracing Bruce and Mom.
It was a very tearful, thankful, crowded ride back in the station wagon. Bruce cried the loudest however. Thankful, yes, he had not lost his life, but a comparable tragedy to him — he had lost his harmonica.
We sat quietly at the picnic table in the stillness of evening, humbled by the day. “Do you see this frail little mantle in this lantern?” Dad asked. We gazed in to see the delicate mantle providing the only light in the campsite. “That is how frail our life is. In one second, it can be taken away!”
We were dirty. We were tired. We were sick of being on vacation. But the following morning we filed into the nearest church we could find, just to say, “thank you” that we would all be heading home.



This picture of Boots and me was taken while swimming
in lake George-the day before the incident at the Ausable chasm.
*No wonder my teacher thought I was telling tales when I returned in the fall and turned in my “What I Did on My summer Vacation” essay....and hard to believe there would be a second family camping adventure.



Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Growing up as a kid in the 50's was..."romantic"!

...not in the sense you might think of when I say..."romantic." For example—my kindergarten teacher's name was Miss Bowers. She was up there in years but I did not know it at the time because she smiled a lot and dressed so colorfully. Our bus driver's name was "Mr.Pickle." (I assumed he was old because he was bald) At the end of second grade, Mr.Pickle asked Miss Bowers to marry him. She said "yes" and she became Mrs.Pickle—the kindergarten teacher.

...see what I mean?

But back to kindergarten...early in the spring that year, my older brother Bruce went to his Saturday Cub Scout meeting dressed in his little blue uniform, yellow scarf around his neck, held secure by a little metal ring with a wolf engraved in it— (boy was he proud of that!)

While he was there, he found an injured bird hobbling in the grass. It was a gorgeous red bird with black wings—a Scarlet Tanager. Its wing was injured and it was unable to fly—easy prey for any lurking cat.

I remember him returning home with the bird in a Buster Brown shoe box. He named the bird "Flair" and over the next month Flair became a part of our family. Each morning we would wait at the end of our driveway for the school bus. Flair sat perched on top of Bruce's head. Mr.Pickle would stop, throw open the bus door and smile from ear to ear—delighted at the sight! Flair spent the school day on Bruce's shoulder, patiently watching as he worked. Now today I'm sure there would be a dozen reasons why Flair would not be allowed in school—"fleas...bird flue...the other children do not have a bird like Flair to bring to school..." but in the 50's Flair was more than welcome!
After school Bruce sat and watched his afternoon shows—Claude Kirschner and his Terrytoon Circus-cartoon show...the Mousekateers with Annette and Cubby. Flair sat on top of the television set perched on the rabbit ear antenna until they were over.



Weeks went by. Bruce hoped Flair's wing would heal and he would be able to fly again someday —until that day actually came. Each day we would take turns running across the yard with Flair perched on our hand, to see if he would try to fly. One day my brother Jeff took his turn and Flair took off! Bruce was not happy. He wanted to be the one to see Flair off. Flair sat high in a tree top looking down at us, then up toward the sky—hesitant, as if contemplating what to do. Then he was off! Though we always looked for him, we never saw him again.

I'll bet there are a number of Baby Boomers today who remember the year a Scarlet Tanager rode the bus to school with them and attended third grade.


....now tell me that's not a romantic thought!



(my dad with Flair-we all loved him!)


Update February 7, 2017

Thought it would be interesting to post an update on the little Cub Scout-Bruce Kunkel.
From the time he could hold a pencil, we knew that he was an artist. If you Google his name "Bruce Kunkel-Gibson Guitar" you will be able to see some of the stunning guitars he has created over the years at the Gibson Custom Shop in Nashville.
Here is just one of his many creations:




Monday, January 2, 2017

....The Medicine Cabinet

(original artwork-all rights reserved)



....Most days started and ended in front of the medicine cabinet, whether it was a school day or Saturday. The medicine cabinet was the place we ran to following those cateclysmic bicycle crashes, to doctor up skinned knees with that wonderful red Merthiolate and half a dozen Band-aids. There were always one or two gruesome scabs on our knees and Mom was right—they did get better before we got married.
It was where our mom sent us when we complained of a headache or toothache or sprained ankle with the instruction, “Take an aspirin!” Our moms were wiser than even they were aware of …we’re still being told to "take an aspirin"!
And of course we could always find the Vicks-VapoRub there for when we had colds. A little Vicks rubbed on our chests, a cup of hot chocolate—and seven days later we were just about all better.
Dad kept his shaving cream and razor in the medicine cabinet and when he left for work in the morning the bathroom smelled delightful— Old Spice aftershave..
Now this was a wonderfully care free time of life but there were some disturbing thoughts that occasionally entered my mind. I knew that my dad disposed of his used razor blades in that little slot in the back of the medicine cabinet made especially for the disposal of used razor blades. You can't see it pictured here, because the door isn't opened wide enough, but it's there.

*....What was going to happen when the wall was FULL of razor blades?!


And I was not the only child haunted by that thought.

*...and that childhood fear has come to haunt us—take a look at this picture taken recently by a Fort Worth Texas home inspector!



(note: the Merthiolate bottle in the medicine cabinet above is the actual bottle that was in my neighbor's medicine cabinet when we were kids...)