20191024 001062 10 minutes
Camping, Memories, Princess Di’s Funeral, Skunk, Hurricane, Gilded Age Summer “Cottages”,

Sitting, eating round the campfire, reminiscing over a bottle of wine, watching the stars come up and the moon reflecting on the water……

It was their tenth anniversary at the campsite, and Julia’s seventieth birthday weekend, so celebration was in the air but that was not all that was in the air!

For their first tentative endeavor at camping Julia and her daughter, Peggy, wanted to be near water, where there was something interesting to see in the area. There had been a TV program about the “summer cottages” from the Gilded Age, which the members of the 400 Club had built to escape the heat of New York, and spend their summers partying. After due diligence Julia discovered a possible campground which intrigued her, so she hauled out the old tent, and verified it was operational. They set out for the campground, lost their way a few times, and it was just beginning to cool off and the shadows were lengthening by the time they arrived and had unloaded the car and started to work on the tent.

Across the causeway to the island, in the middle of Narragansett Bay, the almost-new campground overlooked the bay, with views across the Sound, and tent-sites right above the water. It was very natural and rustic, with little shade, just grass, rocks, water and bushes. They were very proud of themselves on their choice of campground, and it was early enough to get the tent up before dark.

While putting in tent-pegs, Julia suddenly heard a blood-curdling scream rend the peaceful stillness. She turned around, terrified. Her Army lieutenant daughter was standing on top of the picnic table, mutely pointing. A poor little skunk was waddling away into the bushes. The tent-sites were only filled on weekends, and then only from the end of May through the end of September, so the local fauna still had a proprietary interest in the place. Several skunks showed up after that, but produced less extreme reactions.

They stayed almost a week that first time and dutifully saw many of the houses. Which were truly amazing, with absolutely no expense spared in their construction which was predominantly marble and gold. The following year they repeated the performance, and saw the rest of the houses. After seeing the mansions on the Avenue, run by the Historic Preservation Society, Julia was told off for wearing a short skirt at the Astor mansion – apparently Mrs. Astor would not have approved. Luckily, she died long ago, so wasn’t there to have Julia thrown out.

The following year having earlier decided to give camping a miss, on July 4th weekend Peggy decided they should go anyway. Of course, there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting into their regular campground, let alone the campsite they had come to consider ‘theirs’. But she insisted there must be something, somewhere in the area. Indeed, one lone camp-site was available, and so they wound their way to the mysterious interior hinterland of the state.

“This isn’t like our usual campground. Too many kids and too much noise. And, where are the ocean and the skunks?” Peggy questioned.

“Oh, well. We’ll be o.k. once the tent is up. We can hide from the turmoil inside the tent.”

“Here’s the tent box – let’s get started.”

“Tent poles first,” while tipping them out onto the ground. “Where’s the tent? Is there another box? This one’s empty now.”

“I only saw one box. I’ll look in the trunk…. No, there’s nothing here. Are you sure it’s not under the sleeping bags?”

“No, I thought everything was in the one box. I had no idea the poles and tent weren’t together. What are we going to do now? Of course, there’s always the big tarp. Thank heavens I brought that.”

Luckily, the BIG tarp did cover the tent poles. It was noisy – tarps aren’t renowned for their quietness – and very hot – tarps don’t breathe. It looked extremely funny, but it rescued the weekend for them. Julia was in the dog-‘ouse for many a moon, but it made for one of their more spectacular memories.

After that exciting experience we were all screamed out by the kids and decided in future to camp before school was out and after it started again in the Fall.

The year of the hurricane Julia suggested that, because of the lousy weather forecast, maybe it would be wise to wait until Fall and give the June camping a miss. Heavy rain and winds were forecast for Saturday and Sunday and although their usual camp-site had the most fantastic view, it always was extremely windy even at the best of times. Her camping partner was not renowned for backing down in the face of opposition. Tough it out was her prevailing sentiment. Common sense was seldom known to prevail. They left as usual on Friday, with wind and wet weather gear ladening them down. They put up the tent, being careful to batten it down securely, slept the night, and went into town on Saturday. By afternoon the bad weather had arrived. Although they had already brought foul weather gear, they bought real black rubber rain coats and knee-high rubber boots, they decided to have a good dinner – there would be no campfire that night – and headed back to the tent, well wined and dined. Or to what had been the tent.

It was on the ground. They hitched it back up, battened it down thoroughly again, and crawled inside. Neither of them slept much that night. At one time Julia woke up with a very wet tent lying on her – their sleeping bags were covered with large garbage bags, soshe was relatively dry, but the wind was so strong the tent just lay down before it. Then it got up again and rallied for the next onslaught. By morning the floor of the tent was awash. They thanked God for lots of large garbage bags! Most everything was inside one and dry.

In the morning a couple of drowned rats made their way to the local coffee shop (an extremely important commodity when camping, as is a good Pizza parlor,) dried off and, with hot coffee and good food fortifying them, they returned to the tent. The sky had been clear for a little while so the tent was almost dry by the time everything was packed up, so it was finally folded, and they hauled everything back to the car.

While they were packing the car a young couple drove in next to them in a small pick-up truck with a very large dog. They intended to camp for a couple of days and just had a small pup-tent. They were not experienced campers. The dirty great clouds were re-forming, and it was getting very dark again. As the last bag was stowed in the car the rain started. The young people hadn’t heard the forecast. They pitied them as they drove off to the comfort of the very-civilized local town. During the trip home later they drove through three more hours of torrential downpour, which was moving towards them and the campsite. They wondered how the pup-tent was holding up against the weather. Since then the weather forecast found a more receptive audience. Bin there, done that. Repeat performances not necessary.

The year Princess Diana died her funeral was on their camping weekend. Having spent her first 27 years in England before coming to America, Julia was determined to see the television broadcast – at 3 a.m. The guard at the entrance to the campground said that his counterpart would let us watch his TV – just wake up and come down to the gatehouse. Julia bought all sorts of goodies to munch and drink, enough for an army, in case anyone else was crazy enough to join them. When the alarm rang at 2.30 a.m. they awoke, tidied themrselves, and went down as directed.

The new guard had no intention of letting them deprive him of his usual ‘soap’ on TV and told them so in words of one syllable. As far as he was concerned, they could get lost. Being already up, dressed, and sort of awake, they asked him where there might be a television locally to watch. He didn’t know or care, so they set out to see what they could find.

After several false starts they eventually discovered the only place open at that hour was a motel from a large chain, the other side of town, that had a room with a big TV. Mind you, having a real shower and bath, and a bed with sheets, more than compensated for the miserable person in the guard-house. Reclining in big comfy beds, they saw the whole of the program on a large screen, munching on the goodies Julia had assembled.