Tolerating the inconveniences

Published: July 13, 2004
The 24th Donald F. Whitacre Reunion was held by the Mohican River last weekend. Many of us camped for the weekend, while noncampers came for the main gathering on Saturday afternoon. Conditions at the campground made me wonder if it was worth it.
The campsites by the river were damp and muddy, bathrooms were either disgusting pit toilets across a field — one camper, not with our group, must have thought he was at a rock concert Sunday morning, because he used the floor instead of the pit — or flush toilets and showers that were distant enough to require driving to reach quickly. The humidity was the highest it’s been this summer, and I had only to walk to cause the sweat to run.
We could go for only one night because we both worked Friday night, but we had to pack as much stuff for one night as for a week. With six people in our group, it took two cars with trunks packed to the lids to get there. Of course, my two mandolins got a back seat and a seat belt and were covered with a blanket to protect them from the sun.
It sounds like too much work for a short trip, and it was, but the motivation was the family gathering and the evening around the campfire, with traditional tunes and songs until midnight. Cousin Donald plays guitar and sings many old country and folk songs, cousin Dave plays Appalachian clawhammer banjo, his wife Debbie plays guitar and sings, and two others play guitar but didn’t join — one had a broken string, and the other was exhausted from long hours with beef cattle.
Vacations are like the reunion. We sacrifice the conveniences of home to go places and do things we can’t in a normal week. We always camp, and often I’ve had to root around in the back seat for some little thing, looking under blankets or behind the cooler, sometimes having to throw everything in the front seat. Every day we have to buy ice, find the next campground and look for food. We often don’t stay in one place because we like to see different things, so that adds to the work, requiring daily striking and setting up of the tent.
In the early ’90s we cooked, which required washing dishes in tubs on the picnic tables, often by flashlight. One day I realized that we were working and running more than when at home, so we decided to eliminate the cooking. Now we ask at the campgrounds about good local restaurants and always find excellent food, avoiding fast food as much as possible.
In 1993, we drove a Geo Metro not much bigger than a riding mower and camped in an old canvas tent with long aluminum poles that ran from the back hatch up between the front seats. We alternated days driving, and I had to pack according to who was driving since I put the seat back farther. When we stayed at the Shenandoah KOA near Staunton, Va., we camped along the river, a small waterfall nearby. Because it was late September, we were alone in our part of the campground, and it was creepy at night, especially since that waterfall, so enchanting by day, could mask the sound of some psycho sneaking up on us. In Quebec in 1998, we were driving along the south shore of the St. Laurent, approaching Trois Rivieres, dusk was approaching, and light rain was falling. We found a dilapidated campground north of the city and set up in the rain. Showers were rusty and full of cobwebs, and old grills sat about. Most campgrounds have been taken over by mobile homes, and tent campers get shafted when it comes to bathrooms.
By midway through a trip, I sorely miss the many conveniences of home — a bathroom close by, the refrigerator, electric lights, pulling clothes out of a drawer instead of a bag in the back seat — and I miss my desk, my cats, my goat, and the feeling of being grounded provided by my home and contact with family. But camping forces me to be outdoors when it would be easier, at home, to sit inside; to enjoy candlelight and fires rather than DVDs and lights by GE; and by the end of vacation, I have a head full of new memories, my senses are refreshed by time outdoors, and I feel sad that a special time is about to conclude.
This year’s Whitacre Reunion is over, and my mind echoes with the faces and voices of cousins, uncles and aunts whom I think of often and see too rarely. Our family ties are strengthened by time together, and I hold close the voices of Donald and Debbie singing the old Carter Family song: “Will the circle be unbroken, by and by Lord, by and by …”

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