Something I wrote one night way back in 2003, after getting back from a camping weekend with my daughter Marlee...
I got back a little while ago from “My Weekend With Marlee”. The big annual once a year “Father/Daughter” tent camping weekend. The Marlee part was great. The weather part… well… part of it was pretty bad, a little was really nice, and the rest was hot and sticky. But the Marlee part overshadowed the weather, so it was okay with me. Considering the point to the whole weekend is to completely devote time just between dad and daughter, it was a wonderful time.
We arrived about 5 PM on Friday, and we were lucky. It was pouring. But since I’m such a fantastic forecaster, I deemed it might start raining even harder… and not stop. So we decided to make the most of it and started setting up camp in what I would consider only a slight downpour.
Because of my amazing forecasting talents, I had thought ahead and had taken a “groundcover” to put under the tent to separate the dry tent from the soaking wet ground. I positioned the groundcover down in just the right spot.
Next was the tent. Of course, by the time we went to put the tent down, the ground cover was soaked. So we tried drying it off… in the downpour. That took half the towels we had brought with us. And it only took half because we had brought extra. It also only took half because we eventually gave up trying to dry off the groundcover in the pouring rain. We now have the tent down on a soaking groundcover that’s there to keep the tent from sitting on a wet ground. Nice!
As with many modern tents, the top of the tent is made of mesh…. for that wonderfully fresh outdoor airflow. The mesh is usually covered by a rainfly or tarp-like thing separated by a space of about 3 inches for… well… air to flow. The tent and the rainfly though, are set up separately. So I open the tent and start setting it up as fast as my little legs can carry me. A pole through here, a pole through there, stick the pin in this end of the pole, run around, stick the pin through that end of the pole, run around to fix the pin that came out of the first hole of the first pole, and stick the pin in the first hole of the second pole. Stick the pin in the second hole of the second pole and then run over and fix the pin that came out of the first hole of the first pole again. Then stand up the poles and watch the pin come out of the first hole in the second pole. So I get that fixed and stand the poles up, only to watch a few more pins come out. In the pouring rain. As Marlee is asking if “we can do something together”. Bless her merry soul. I love tent camping. The tent finally goes up.
Now for the rain fly. That goes up without a hitch. However, as you might recall, it took a little while to get the tent up. In the pouring rain. And as you might also recall, the top of the tent is made of mesh. For that refreshing air flow. So now my tent is all set up and filled with water. Fortunately, it’s waterproof, so none of the water can get out. Marlee has a swimming pool! But we wanted a tent, although Marlee is on the fence about that. So I take some towels… the other half minus one… and dry the inside of the tent. It’s nice that I brought extra towels. Although I originally had the crazy idea of using them on our bodies.
Our Daddy daughter weekend had begun, and such sweet beginnings indeed. Now we finally had the tent up, and it was relatively dry on the inside. Mostly because we have transferred the wetness to all of our towels minus one, which I have already begun to use on Marlee to keep her tied dow… err… to keep her comfortable. “Daddy, I have to go potty”, is the next thing I hear, which is a surprise to me because for most of the evening, Marlee has been practicing her, “Daddy, can we do something together when are we going to do something Daddy is it soon Daddy are we almost done Daddy I’m bored Daddy” comedy routine.
I know, after telling you all this, you will think me totally insane, but we have a trailer stored at this very same campground. I hadn’t planned on using it. My wife, Wendy, wouldn’t be caught dead in a tent (actually, that’s the only way she’ll be caught in a tent), and if I want Marlee to know the joys of tent camping, this is the only weekend to do so. But I HAD planned on opening it up and taking out the camping stove and the porto-potty, which comes in very handy when a little girl wakes you in the middle of the night. Particularly while it’s raining. So I stake the tent down, lest it get taken away by the riptide that’s passing through our site, and hand in hand, we go strolling down the path on this lovely evening, droplets dripping from our locks of matted hair, to the restroom.
Of course, the women’s room was closed for cleaning. I stand guard while Marlee is in the Men’s room. And from the men’s room, we go to the lot where the camper is stored, so I can open it and take the stove and porto-potty.
Fortunately, when I parked the camper, I parked in what now seems like a valley the size of San Fernando. There is about three inches of muddy, grassy water surrounding my trailer. I am so glad. Another thing I’m glad about, is that I decided to wear my old sneakers so as not to dirty my new ones. The reason I have new sneakers, is because the tops of my old ones have separated from the bottoms in the front. It’s like my right sneaker has a little mouth that opens when I walk. It’s a good sneaker for camping, where you’re getting really dirty. It is not, however, a good sneaker for swimming. Fortunately, the water level in the “puddle” I was standing in had gone down considerably. Unfortunately, it was all in my socks.
I accomplished my mission and we began our journey back to the campsite.
Marlee and I walked to this lot with me carrying one semi-warm coffee, which I had stopped to purchase just before arriving at the campground. But now I had the big porto-potty box, a Coleman stove with two propane tanks attached, and a big blanket that I also swiped from my trailer. Too much for me alone. So I looked to Marlee, who’s been a huge help so far, and asked her to try carrying the stove, which comes in a soft case with a carrying strap. Too heavy. So then I gave her the blanket. It overflows her arms, but she notices the misery in my eyes and somehow senses her daddy will die on that spot if she doesn’t rise to the challenge. She took the blanket. About 30 yards down the road though, I sensed the misery in her little eyes… well, I couldn’t really see her eyes because of the blanket, but I sensed it so I made a switch. And thus we walked back to our site in the rain, with me carrying the stove and propane tanks, the big porto-potty box, and the blanket. And with Marlee carrying my coffee. She did a great job and was really quite proud.
We get back to the site. It stops raining.
The rest of the night is fine, with me laying down that big blanket on the floor of the tent and cooking hot dogs and setting up the rest of the “stuff” that needs to be set up. I really wanted a cup of coffee, but since it kept raining on and off, I didn’t feel like taking the stove out, only to have to pack it up again. But the rest of the night was fine, and I went to bed around midnight …just as it started raining. What a surprise.
One of the things I like the best about Marlee’s reaction to camping, is that she loves a good campfire as much as I do. Well… she’s not obsessive about it like I am, but I’m working on that. So the next morning, I hear, “Daddy, get up!….. (pause)….. Daddy, get UP!!!” Poke. (I mumble). (Times goes by) “Daddy… c’mon Daddy! Get up you lazyhead!” (I mumble something which leads to another pause) (Then more prodding by Marlee). This goes on for awhile, maybe 30 minutes, maybe a week… I’m not sure because I have no mind when I am living in that time when unconscious meets conscious. Finally, after MUCH prodding and poking, I get up. It’s light out. Marlee is outside the tent. She’s gotten herself dressed and is cajoling me from a safe distance. Smart girl. I yawn, I stretch, I get ready to face the bright new day. I look at my watch. TEN OF SEVEN?!?!?
Since it was supposed to rain all weekend, this day was pretty much a treat. Hot and muggy, but no rain. Which meant Marlee could go swimming, which made her deliriously happy. We had breakfast, we went to the pool, she swam, I watched, we went back and changed her clothes, we went to the play ground, we ate ice cream, we had lunch, we went back to the pool, back to the site, ate junk food, more playing with fire, dinner (steak and sautéed broccoli and sautéed mushrooms).
That night, I put her to bed around 8:30 and finally got a chance to breathe. It got a little cooler, I built the fire back up, made coffee, sat down in a chase-lounge, and became a slug. I just sat there. Literally. Because when I woke up, it was about 3:30 AM. The fire was out, and I needed to get in the tent. I looked around and fortunately, there wasn’t much I had left out. The stove, and my hat and knife were on the table. The car top carrier that held the wood was open, and the cloth chairs were open, but that was about it. 3:30 in the morning, I am totally bleary, and this fantastic forecaster looks up to clear skies, reasons that it’s only a couple hours till morning, and goes straight to bed.
I awake the next morning to the sound of heavy rain beating against my tent.
In my grogginess, I evaluate the situation and decide to dig deeper into my sleeping bag, ignore everything, and hope Marlee didn’t notice me stirring. Oddly enough, sometime later when I became a responsible adult, I found that while it HAD indeed rained, only certain things had gotten wet. My stove got wet. The table got wet. But my hat was dry. It was ON the table. I have no idea how that happened. The ground was wet. But the chairs were dry. As was the wood.
So this day was a good one. We had breakfast, and then I started packing. And even though I was singing and humming, I didn’t really need to. I didn’t even need a radio. Because I had the wonderful sounds of Marlee… “Daddy, when can we do something together, is it time yet Daddy, can we go swimming today Daddy, I’m bored Daddy, Daddy, I know I’m not supposed to mention it again, but…”. Fortunately, I love that little voice.
And yes, after we got everything dried and packed and put away… we went to the pool. Deliriously happy Marlee.
And so the weekend was filled with bad for you junk food, bad weather, and wonderful company. It was very special. Although I make fun of it, I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and I hope Marlee feels the same way. These annual camping trips are my chance to take her and completely devote 100% of my attention and time to her for an extended period of time. All weekend, wherever we went, she took my hand in hers. All weekend, it was “Daddy watch me!”. All weekend, it was conversation. All weekend, it was playing with each other. All life, I would never trade it.
Tonight, as she lay in bed in her darkened room, with me kneeling next to her saying good night, I asked her, “Do you know what the BEST part of this weekend was for me?…(she stares into my eyes) .. It wasn’t the swimming… It wasn’t the playground… It wasn’t all the junk food... It wasn’t even the campfire... Do you know what it was?”. (She quietly asks “What?”). “It was being able to spend my whole weekend with YOU”. She looks directly in my eyes and in the dark of her room, while holding my hand, she says to me, “Daddy, do you know what the best part of the weekend was for me?” (I say “What?”) And she responds, “The best part of the weekend for ME, was being able to learn how to swim like a CAT!!!!”.
That was from a story she heard about a cat and a fish falling in love. And I love that little girl.
David S. Chorney
This is where I'm supposed to write something about myself. I still have some hair left. I am still undecided which I like better, photography or painting. My four major food group are seafood, melted cheese, pasta, and Advil. I love the hunt of a finished piece of art. All quotes, essays, stories, and any other written piece on this website, are original and written by yours truly, unless otherwise noted.