Camping With the Griffiths: Part 1—Brazil, Indiana

griffith 1962I’m sure you’ve heard the adage, “All it takes is one song to bring back a thousand memories.” That’s exactly what happened to me just a few days ago. My husband and I were watching a Johnny Cash bio on A&E. During the video for Ring of Fire, I was transported back to 1963—Brazil, Indiana—to the first Griffith family camping trip.

The Griffith and Brunes families decided that an abandoned strip-mine, turned recreation area was the perfect spot for our first outing. So we loaded the vehicles for the weekend. There were five kids—ranging in age from 2 to 8, clothes and bathing suits, bug spray and Coppertone suntan oil—no sunscreen back then, air mattresses, sleeping bags, folding aluminum lawn chairs, food and kitchen gear, a Coleman stove and lanterns—everything necessary for a successful camping trip. Or so we thought….

We headed southwest to Brazil—Dad and Ed thoroughly enjoyed the confused looks as others momentarily thought we were going to South America. The Griffiths were going to sleep on air mattresses in the bed of dad’s mid-‘50s pickup. It was outfitted with a camper shell and a canvas structure, for ventilation, covering the camper door and tailgate opening. The Brunes family had borrowed an ancient Army-surplus tarpaulin tent.

We got to the lake in the late morning on Saturday, set up camp, and headed to the beach. I loved swimming with my dad. He’d wade out into the water and stand chest-deep. Then he’d tell us to swim out to him and hang onto his shoulders. Once we were there, he’d tell us to get ready, and one-by-one with our arms out in front like we were diving and our feet on his knees, he’d push us back toward shore so that we’d be close enough to touch bottom again. We giggled and screamed and sometimes took in too much water—then we’d cough and spit and laugh some more—and do it all over again and again. During this first camping trip Dori was only 2, so she pretty much stayed close to shore while Mom and Joan tanned on air mattresses nearby. But I know in later years, Dad taught her to swim in the same way.

As the first day drew to a close—after supper and camp-fire watching—we kids were told to go get ready for bed. That was the night I learned never to change clothes, back-lit by lantern light, in a tent. I was mortified and wanted to crawl under a rock!

I’m not sure why or how or when, but sometime during that weekend camping trip, in the midst of a downpour, both families ended up trying to sleep in the Army-surplus tent. I say trying because sleeping was next to impossible. Several facts you might not know about tarpaulin tents: they are stinky and hot, even with the vents open—mosquitos have no problem finding their way in— rainwater tends to collect on the roof, forming a heavy, sagging bubble that creeps closer and closer to the floor as it fills—and waxed-canvas remains waterproof unless it’s touched.

So our dilemma—how to keep nine people, cramped in a tiny space, from touching the walls—how to pacify five kids who are being eaten by mosquitos in a hot, stinky place—how to escape the drip-drip-drip from handprints left after you’ve pushed the water bubble up off the roof—and also at one point during the night, Mom was trying to get up from a folding lawn chair—it collapsed on Ed’s head! All he said was, “Oh. Ow.” The whole experience was hilarious once we got home….

And how did hearing that particular song bring back all of these memories? Well… The jukebox inside the snack bar at the lake was hooked up to a loudspeaker on the beach. I swear every button between A1 and K10 selected the same 45rpm record. Ring of Fire played over and over and over and over—the whole weekend. Frankly, I overheard conspiracy rumors about the loudspeaker, the jukebox, and the idiot who kept feeding it quarters ending up at the bottom of the lake!

Stay tuned for more Camping With the Griffiths stories. We had such a good time on the first one, we just couldn’t wait to try it again and again!

It’s been nice chatting with you all. I look forward to hearing from you soon—Over the Back Fence. Tell me your ideas about turning your memories into keepsakes. I’d love to help!