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The Pop Up Camper

 

We used to go camping when I was a kid, instead of flying to Europe, or wherever the upper middle class kids I grew up with tended to go. At first we had a tent, a big blue tent that could have held a dozen people, but then my father got a deal on a pop up camper and that became our home away from home.

We stayed at campgrounds, with hundreds of other tents and pop ups and Recreational Vehicles. I’m sure there are people who go camping with no water or electricity hookup, alone in the wilderness, but that was never the kind of camping we did.

Parking the camper in our designated camp site was the kind of torture I wouldn’t wish on anyone. First my father had to back the camper in, with Mom standing outside the car to direct him more to the left or right, so the camper wouldn’t hit a tree. Then the camper had to be stopped in place with wooden blocks, and the car detached from the hitch and parked at a distance. Then we had to make sure the camper was level, with jacks at each wheel well to make up for the varying levels of the ground underneath.

I remember my father screaming at my mother, “The level isn’t straight!” even though I could see the little bubble was right in the middle where it was supposed to be.

Then we had to pop up the camper and snap in the door and attach the water and electricity and lift out the two wings for beds.

By the time we were done all my brother and I wanted to do was go home, but instead we all went out for dinner and then stumbled back to the camper to go to sleep.

Mom says that Delilah, our dog, slept on the floor of the camper at night, but I’m not sure she’s right about that. There were three beds set up, one for me, one for my brother and one for my parents, and it seems strange that Delilah would have been inside the camper with us and yet not sleeping on my bed, where she often slept at home, at my feet.

"We're going where?"

“We’re going where?”

"I'd rather drive than pull, just saying."

“I’d rather drive than pull, just saying.”

During the day, we hung a rope between two trees to attach Delilah’s leash to, so she could swoop along the length of that rope, with an extra six feet of leeway. She wasn’t much of a barker, but she looked intimidating to strangers, which was what my father was going for. She was a statuesque black and brown Doberman Pinscher, with the forced ears and snipped tail of a dog meant to fight. But she was a scaredy cat. If someone came to our house, she would bark, as required, but slowly back her way up the stairs and out of sight.

For the most part, there is a dog-shaped hole in my memories of camping.

I don’t think Delilah could have enjoyed camping. She was a home body by nature. She liked sleeping at the foot of my bed, exploring her backyard, and resting in a ray of sun for a nice long nap in the afternoon. She was also a fan of dinner time, when table scraps magically fell to the floor, where she was waiting.

"I'd like my dinner, and a pillow, and a couch of my own."

“I’d like my dinner, and a pillow, and a glass of Chardonay.”

She wasn’t used to being on a long lead, or even a leash for that matter, because we rarely took her for walks at home. We’d just let her out in the back yard, either in her private run, to poop and pee, or with us in the rest of the fenced in yard, to play.

Maybe Delilah came with us on the nature walks we took at the campground. Mom would take me and my brother out while our father grumbled to himself in the air conditioned camper. Sometimes we’d find wild strawberries or raspberries, sometimes we got lost in the woods, sometimes we saw mushrooms and met very old trees. The idea was to leave the people-world for a while and smell and hear and see different things. The air was cooler and the birds had more to say when they weren’t drowned out by the sounds of humans and cars.

"Time to smell the... what are these exactly?"

“Time to smell the… leaves?”

Delilah and my brother, waiting for snacks.

“My brother loves me, and he smells like peanut butter.”

The smells of the campground itself depended on the time of day. In the morning there was often the pervasive smell of bacon. In the heat of the day the air smelled of plastic, and freshly cut grass, and chlorine from the swimming pool nearby. Towards evening there were campfires, with baking potatoes and hot dogs and marshmallows on sticks.

I liked the sound of rain on the canvas of the camper more than the sound of the rain on the hard plastic roof; splotch was more comforting than plink. And I loved the wet dirt smell of the rain hitting the trees around us.

I’ve tried to imagine taking Cricket and Butterfly camping. We could never use a tent, because no tent would hold Cricket. She’d be busting out of the sides and digging through the fabric of the tent to freedom (you should see what she’s done to my sheets). It would also be a good idea to have more sound baffling than a tent could provide.

I could also never leave them tied to a rope outdoors, the way we left Delilah. I would be very worried about someone coming by to steal my babies, or at least trying to steal them, and suing me when Cricket ripped off a few fingers during the attempt.

And I could never leave the girls alone in the camper. Butterfly would pee on the bed, and Cricket would scratch the door down, or chew through the canvas walls.

The girls wouldn’t mind a campfire, though. And bacon for breakfast would be their idea of heaven.

I wonder what Delilah would have thought of Cricket and Butterfly. I think she would have been protective of them, the way she was with her own puppies. Maybe she could have kept Cricket in line, with a look, or a growl, to get her to quiet down.

Cricket, in need of much training.

Cricket, in need of much training.

And she and Butterfly would have snuggled together for warmth, with Cricket harrumphing from a safe distance.

I could have found room for all three dogs on my bed in the camper, and maybe that’s what would have made me feel safe. I was usually so lonely on those trips, with no idea what to do on my own, and my brother only reluctantly spending time with me.

Maybe if I could fill all of the beds in the camper with dogs, instead of people…I’d be willing to go camping again. But probably not.

The campers!

The campers!

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

81 responses »

  1. Our ‘camping’ vacations when I was growing up consisted of staying in travel trailers that we rented for a week or however long vacation was. Sometimes we visited relatives. I don’t remember much about those vacations; I didn’t, and still don’t, like camping. My idea of ‘roughing’ it is staying at Motel 6. And both our dogs are homebodies. They don’t even like riding in the car.

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  2. I camped twice. Enough for me to know it was not for me. Now, of course with the cats…..well, who boards cats?? I’d have stayed at the campsite with Delilah..sipping Chardonnay.

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  3. never been camping, in any form. but it amazes me what we grow through and survive anyway. I think it is because we have dogs, or cats or something. I enjoyed this so much, thanks.

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  4. Your dogs are so cute!

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  5. You couldn’t pay me to go camping at this age. I live in an extremely rural area. Which is more than enough to satisfy my need for nature. And my dogs… in a tent? I’m nervous just thinking about it. Although, it would definitely be an experience. Not one I’d likely ever forget. :0

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  6. I camped years ago a few times and tried to convince myself that it was fun. Well, I failed to convince myself! Delilah looks so sweet. Dobermans are one of the very few breeds of dog that have managed to be able to intimidate me with their looks! Beautiful dogs, though!

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  7. I love that post! Delilah was beautiful as well as Cricket and Butterfly. I would love any vacation better if my doggies go.

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  8. Somehow you and commenters equate discomfort with being outdoors. Too bad you did not have a better experience because you have missed out on an experience that can not be purchased or rented.

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  9. Don’t underestimate Cricket. She probably could have befriended Delilah and had a bodyguard. He says that He never saw the sights of a childhood vacation until He saw the pictures after arriving home. His father had everyone too busy posing to see the sights first-paw.

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  10. I took my dog on a camping trip to a fabulous beach, overlooking the most beautiful California cliffs. My dog was not interested in walks along the beach. She was not interested in sleeping on the hard ground under the tent. She climbed up onto the air mattress and wouldn’t take no for an answer. She hated camping.

    I’ve been thinking that perhaps she’d like a pop-up tent better. Now, I think not.

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  11. When I was a kid in England, we used to go camping. It’s fun. Also, as a teenager in college, in India. Camping though, is not a tradition in India. There are a few organised camping sites, where they charge you money and do everything for you. An improvement on what was before, but…

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    • My favorite thing about the campgrounds in New York were the swimming pools. My brother and I would always beg to go swimming instead of helping set up the camper. Never worked though.

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  12. I have never been camping but i love Cricket !

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  13. I love camping, although getting our huge tent set up does take a while. And the dogs love it too, because we’re sleeping on the floor. Well, on an airbed, but at their level!

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  14. We loved travelling the Western states in our little truck and trailer and Max was the ideal canine companion. He loved the driving and was even more fond of the camping. Of course we had to keep a sharp eye lest the fluffball become a coyote canape! He’s a condo dweller now and I think he misses the wild outdoors.

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    • Coyote Canape!!!! Cricket and Butterfly are not great travelers. Cricket thinks she should be doing the driving, and Butterfly huddles in the back seat trying not to throw up. Maybe I could borrow Max for a trip?

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  15. This is a lovely piece, Rachel – full of interesting and touching memories. Thank you. Pip

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  16. I can identify with all of your post, especially getting the camper ‘just so’.
    We are about to embark on an indefinite camping ‘holiday’, though first we are going to stay with a friend to get over this mess of a house sale. Let’s just hope we have good weather this time!

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  17. My father sold his caravan when I was 7 and to this day I think back with fondness of those time but strangely I have no inclination to do the camping thing myself. I do remember all the sea sand on the plastic ground cover thing and my mother endlessly battling to sweep it clean! The smells and sounds really made me think so far back. Thanks for a beautiful post.

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    • Thank you! One of the good things about camping, or so it seemed to me, was that you didn’t have to keep everything so clean. I don’t think we even brought a broom with us. That might actually have been what sold my mom on those trips in the first place!

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  18. Great story I enjoyed your memories. That reminds me of our camping-adventures, we were totally greenhorns and had to spend the first night in the car, because my dad forgot the second bag with the tent equipment at home :o)

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  19. woof long legs like me, we could have had fun running together

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  20. We camped every year for 3 weeks from when I was little until I moved out. Loved it!!!! We always took our dogs also. Such great memories

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  21. I can relate to your honest post. Your memories re-ignite my experiences of childhood family camping and marital caravan holidays.

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  22. I’m not a fan of camping, either. When we were kids we used to stay in a caravan, usually the two weeks of the year when it rained constantly. We inevitably ended up fighting – the caravan used to rock, literally!
    Delilah – what a beauty!

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    • Strangely, camping was one of the few times when my brother and I were not at odds (much). As soon as we went home we each ran to our separate rooms, but stuck in the camper, we were on the same team.

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  23. Rachel, this is a wonderful post, which is really an essay waiting to be sent out. I hope you do send it somewhere, because it deserves to be read and shared. What a nice way for me to start my Sunday morning by reading your writing here!

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  24. Aww, looking at pictures of your dogs never gets old! And I love the “but he looks intimidating” part. That’s what all dogs are for, right? 😉

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  25. This blog earned a Bean Pat as blog pick of the day. Check it out at: http://patbean.wordpress.com

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  26. I remember those pop-up campers. We never had one, nor used one; but the motel camping grounds were full of them. Mum used to get a motel to stay in.

    AV

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  27. Delilah was stunning! Sad that she didnt like camping.
    I did not go on many hollydays as a kid but, I had a wonderfull time at the beach 🙂 I really like to be close to home.

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    • Thank you! She really was a beautiful girl. We tried to take Delilah swimming, but she found it very stressful. I had to help her with the doggy paddle.

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      • It´s moments like that you remember, I am shure she had fun with you even though the water was stressful.

  28. Excellent post Rachel. I enjoyed reading your experiences camping. It reminded me of the family camping in the Scottish Highlands when I was a child. We looked forward to the holiday all year. I looked for our “camp site”on Google earth some time ago and I was sad I did. It’s gone and in its place is a new road and a socking great caravan park with no attempt to blend it in to the surrounding landscape, just cleared the area and stuck it down.

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  29. I’m with you on camping. I’d much rather cuddle with the fur dude on our comfy bed!

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  30. We still camp two or three weekends every summer–including a ritual 4 night visit to the Beach–sand, mosquitos: you’d love it. But–we stay at the ocean for $25/night, our tent tucked into a dune 100 yards from the waves rolling ashore, on a wide beach that, even on the busiest days, is still empty enough that families have 10, 20, often 30 yards or more of space. Also, no electricity, no wifi, and those sunrises can’t be beat–

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  31. I grew up camping in a tent and always enjoyed it. I took my kids and horses camping while the kids grew up, then went camping with my sister and our dogs. Isabelle is a pretty good-sized dog (55 pounds) and my sister had a Bichon Frise named Lilly. Lilly always pretended to be scared of Isabelle until something scarier came along, then she ran to Isabelle for protection or to hide behind. Both dogs were happy in the tent. We took them with us when we left the campsite (and in one place got yelled at by a ranger for having them in the bathroom.) In the campsite Isabelle stayed on a long rope or she’d be likely to disappear at first sight of a deer or coyote, but Lilly had no need to be tied up since she would not stray more than a few feet from my sister and liked to sleep in her dog carrier most of the time anyway. Sadly Lilly has passed on, but I have a vamper now (camper van) so Isabelle has more camping trips to look forward to in the future.

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  32. Great story and Delilah looks like she was a really cool pal. We have Toby and he does keep Lily (Hemoroid) in like just like you suggest Delilah would have with Cricket and Butterfly. We lost the LIL’ man Potsy a year ago April. He and Tobs were sort of pals most of the time. Their most fun was snarling at each other from opposing ends of the 5er when it was time to eat. They are a hoot.

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  33. I just started following your blog, it is super to read. Yes, I love dogs, have a very special love for Little Black Dogs. 🙂

    Reply
  34. I just tweeted this lovely post, and the one about the raccoon. 🙂

    Reply

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