Not A Perfect Fit by Jane A. Schmidt
Backyard Camping with Dad
I’m a believer that you don’t have to travel far to get away. I may have picked up this attitude from my dad. He was big on taking me camping . . . in the backyard. And although we loaded up the green station wagon and went on family adventures every summer, it’s the trips to the backyard that I recall the most fondly.
I remember the musty smell of my dad’s old green army tent. The tent was rolled up tight and neat in a dark green army bag. When we unrolled it, a skinny bag stored in the middle would fall out with a thud.
Looking back, I see that there was always an order to how things got done when my dad was doing them. Hindsight tells me this was his military training.
Before we set up the tent, my dad would mow the grass. Next, he would lay down a piece of tarp that was cut perfectly to fit under the tent. Then he’d ceremoniously roll the tent out onto the tarp. Everything lined up neatly, just the way my dad tried to get me to make my bed.
The skinny bag held all the heavy wooden poles that needed to be fitted together. Two of them went inside the tent and were responsible for holding the tent up. Once those were in place, I had to help pull out each corner of the tent so my dad could anchor it to a huge metal stake that he pounded into the ground. It took forever to set those stakes and get the tent to stand at attention. I seemed to always trip, fall, or crash into, onto, or over one of those primitive stakes or tent lines when I had to get out of the tent for anything.
The poles inside the tent were challenging to maneuver around. My dad would use the one near our heads to hang a flashlight from. Once the tent was up, we’d fill a cooler with pop for me, Pabst Blue Ribbon for my dad, and pretzel rods for the two of us. I’d put my pajamas on and crawl head first into the tent on my belly, trying not to knock out the poles and wiggling my shoes off as I went. Shoes were always left outside the tent.
Once we were both settled, we’d play endless games of Crazy Eights by flashlight. I’d always fall asleep before saying good night, which meant that our nightly ritual—a prayer followed by “Good night, alligator; after a while, crocodile”— never made it out of the house and into the tent.
I remember the thickness of the flannel-lined sleeping bags, and how they got wet when it rained (because the rain never failed to leak into the canvas tent). I also remember making a mad dash for the house when my dad gave up trying to dam up the pools of water that would collect underneath our tired bodies.
Many nights were beautiful, however, and we’d lie with our heads pointed toward the door flap so we could stare out into a star-filled sky. I remember to this day where the
Big Dipper would appear on a cloudless night: right over my pet rabbit Thumper’s cage.
Sometimes when I’m driving home from work, I find myself looking into backyards and searching for tents or for children playing. This ritual with my dad was priceless, as was playing outside with the neighborhood children. When I got older and had sleepovers, my friends and I often chose to sleep outside, and my dad would still help me set up the tent. As an adult I continue to prefer sleeping in a tent with my head on the ground.
It’s just about tent season, and I’m planning my first backpacking trip of the year. I’m hoping for less mud on the trails this May and more star-filled nights. When I crawl into my tent, I’ll be sure to be thinking of my dad and thanking him for instilling in me an appreciation of the wonders of sleeping outdoors. I’ll also be thankful that my tent doesn’t leak—or have wooden poles inside!
Jane worked for the Southwest YMCA for ten years where she was the director of strength and conditioning for their fitness center and programs. She was then hired by a private multi-facility club as the group exercise director.
Jane spent the next 15 years there. The club had a close affiliation with IHRSA (International Health, Racquet,and Sport Association), and Jane attended all their conventions, trade shows, and workshops throughout the United States.
Jane became the general manager of the club which was considered Milwaukee’s premier athletic club. The club expanded, owning and operating four more facilities. Jane was instrumental in the purchasing, remodeling, equipment updating, and start-up of the Greenfield location.
Jane became well known in the fitness industry for her creative programming and teaching style.