I am going through a long and sentimental (bordering on mawkish) ending of sorts that involves a 20-year-old Coleman pop-up camper.
My wife and I bought it new just after we were married, well before we had the twins, well before I ever dreamed that was on the horizon. It’s old and worn now, ravaged by time and memory, many miles and many backyard sleepovers. I am trying to figure what to do with it as it’s barely roadworthy.
We were so delightfully young and naive when we were purchasing it. We spent weeks looking at floor plans, considering size and amenities, finally deciding on a smaller sized one that could be towed by my six-cylinder Chevy S-10. A smaller size would also made it a little easier to back up and, truth be told — ‘cause I suck at backing a trailer — could actually be hand pushed into a space when necessary. It never really occurred to us that we might be camping with twin toddlers or giant teenagers, so we based our needs on just us: no toilet and an interior set up to accommodate two newlyweds and a guitar.
The camper’s been in the backyard for sometime now. The boys like to hang out in it as the WiFi reaches that far. I’ve got to put it down before … well, I can’t.
You see, at the same time we bought the camper, I purchased a very nice leather-bound journal. I put it in a drawer inside the camper and vowed to write a bit about every night we would spend in it. And I did. The writing is not very good, few metaphors or deep insights, but the years are covered, each trip dutifully noted. Through the pages, the boys grow up, I age, the relationship with my wife deepens and a continuity and connection is established. Over the years, it has held the stories and hopes of a young family growing up together. Stories of thunderstorms and frightened toddlers, scraped knees and sleepless nights; hopes for the future in the young minds of 6-year-olds and my own hopes for their lives moving forward.
I am very glad I bought that journal. It sits to my left as I am writing this right now.
I spent a couple of recent evenings in the old camper, looking through what was in it when I came across the journal. I, of course, knew it was in there, but with a curious urgency — fueled perhaps by the beers — I put it with the pile of things to take into the house along with a nice bag of ropes and twine and three fire-starter type lighters — you know, the long ones.
Here’s the thing, the “ending” of that old camper is a new “beginning” for that journal. It is done with its long present and now can begin to show me my past: a past where I hoped for my boys’ future. It is so strange how, as one writes in diaries and personal journals, how prescient we can be. There’s an entry from 2011, written of an early morning at a state park in central Ohio, where I say: “The boys are getting along surprisingly well. They rarely fight or bicker and are good friends, it seems. Who knows how long that’ll last, but I really hope it does.”
How could I know then that, nine years later, they’d still be best friends?
Or, that at the time I was watching the beginnings of what I think will be a lifelong friendship?
How, perhaps, would I know that camping and close proximity and bonding in the close quarters of that little camper would help that along?
And how, perhaps I had helped it through sheer happenstance and in a leather-bound journal I’d noted it and can now look back upon it?
Recently, a fellow father and writer on this website purchased a used camper and solicited advice from a social media group we are in. I typed a long answer — advice on gear and the such — but I deleted it. The real advice I had for him was too ethereal and came from a place I’m at now, a place he’ll get to, a place he already is. Camping, like so many other family adventures and hobbies, are about memory making. Their worth can only be revealed later, but, at the time you’re making them, you still somehow know that even if you don’t realize it then.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill Peebles left a 30-year career in the restaurant business to become a stay-at-home dad to twin boys. He writes a blog, I Hope I Win a Toaster, that makes little sense. He coaches sometimes, volunteers at the schools, plays guitar, and is a damn good homemaker. He believes in hope, dreams, and love … but not computers.