Bobby’s face trembled, a huge grin spread from ear to ear, and his hands shook with excitement.
“My own tent! My very own tent!”
“A sleeping bag, cool!”
As Bobby tore into Christmas presents – paper flying in all directions, bows skittering under the couch – my thoughts centered on bug spray, hungry wildlife, snakes, and general unsanitary conditions of campgrounds.
My husband and I received two small books, wrapped in red paper: Camping with Children, and Campfire Songs for the Family. In a Rudolph gift bag were hundreds of brochures outlining the finer points of every campground in Kentucky. My parents sat on the couch near the fireplace, still dressed in robes and slippers. They simply smiled.
Six months later, I reluctantly doubled-checked the packing list: sunscreen, bug spray, flashlight, extra batteries, waterproof matches, camping gear, citronella candles, first-aid kit, poison oak and ivy booklets, more booklets identifying snakes, camera, half of Wal-Mart’s film stock, more batteries, extra socks and underwear, bottled water, weather radio, yet more batteries, and a mega-size bottle of aspirin.
In four “Are-we-there-yet?” filled hours, the trusty mom-mobile pulled off the highway, tires crunching gravel, and we located the reflective sticker on a post declaring this is where we camp.
As the van engine ticked, I leaned my head back. No phones, no internet, no make-up, no civilized bathroom, no Playstation, no History channel, no cell phone reception – for an entire week!
“If Momma and Daddy did it every summer for the duration of my childhood, then I can, too,” I resolved with a sigh.
A small stream meandered along the cleared space and graceful oaks and sycamores laced the campsite with filtered sunlight. Pine trees broke the monotony of tree trunks on the gentle slope, and tiny wildflowers summoned mighty energy to hold the depth of the woods at bay. Bobby grabbed his plastic bug catcher and headed to the water bubbling over and around small, creek-bed stones. “Cool, oh, cool!” he cried with each new discovery. Robert cleared sticks and stones and exerted much energy – accompanied by grunts and sweat – over the next two hours to erect our house for a week.
Night fell slowly, star blazes punched holes in the darkening sky one by one, and fireflies blinked their obscure game of tag between tree trunks and pine needles. The voice of a whippoorwill echoed off the hills from the lake a half mile from our campsite.
We sat, allowing the fire crackle, cricket song and babbling water to soothe us - a perfect performance of nature’s symphony. Robert and Bobby sat on the striped, coarse blanket from Mexico City; leaning back on extra pillows and bunched up sleeping bags.
“There’s the Big Dipper … and that one, well, that’s the Little Dipper. Oh, and you see those three stars which seem to make a straight line, that’s Orion’s belt, see, look.”
Robert leaned forward, smoothed the dirt with his broad hand, and placed small craters with his finger for every star. Bobby nodded his head and looked up, discovery evident, as his small finger pointed toward the sky.
“Hey, Dad, do you think God camps out?”
I saw Robert struggle with a grown-up answer of God not using camping gear, and the omnipresence, which allowed our Father all access, all the time. He pressed his lips together and rubbed his hands. Then, I saw him relax. He leaned back, put his arm around Bobby and looked up at the sky.
“Yes, son, God camps out.”
“I bet He doesn’t have as much fun as us.”
“Hmm.” Robert pulled Bobby closer and our seven-year-old leaned his head against his father’s chest.
“Hey, Dad, you wanna see what I caught today?” Bobby ran to get his bug catcher and together they explored worms, bugs, colored pebbles, and assorted slimy green particles.
There, before my eyes, the barrier of Playstation cables, work-induced weariness, and the struggle to survive in our fast-paced world, simply melted away. Boy and man met in a magical place. I sighed and remembered the look that passed between Momma and Daddy at Christmas.
Robert tucked his son into the silky cocoon and safely doused the fire. I extinguished the citronella candles and zipped the bug-proofed tent. Through the mesh rectangles in the tent top, I looked at the stars.
Thank you, God, for camping out tonight.
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