In the summer of 1961 a rather major camping expedition was planned for the Butler family. Mom and Dad and all five kids would get out in the woods and set up housekeeping in an enormous World War II army tent. The tent's beginnings are a bit vague, but Mom tells me that it was something Gram (Eva L. Butler) had picked up. The plan called for us to meet Johnny and Meral LaPointe and their four kids at White Lake State Park, near West Ossipee in the White mountains of New Hampshire. As an aside to you statistic buffs, Mom and Dad would have just passed over the forty mark, Jackie was seventeen, Nathan was seven.
Before the trip, a number of outfitting hurdles had to be addressed. The family owned a single, down sleeping bag (also of WW2 vintage); we therefore made a purchase of seven air mattresses and Mom, Jackie, and Sue sewed old blankets and sheets into bed-rolls for the crew. The tent needed water-proofing and lacked its main support pole. I remember being involved in painting on the water repellant, which ran out about 4 feet short of the bottom of the tent. Dad built a large wooden roof carrier for the VW microbus and fashioned a support pole for the tent from two two-by-fours and a large spike.
The first leg of the trip took us to Woodstock, VT to see Nanny and Tata (a.k.a. Skipper). I base this on a recollection of the VW parked at the top of their driveway with the loaded down roof carrier, and jokes being made about the size of the load and the trip in general.
We arrived at the campground in late afternoon or early evening of August 24th. During the night it began to rain heavily. The tent had a hole about 15 inches square at the peak, where a central plate and chains provided a mounting for the support pole. This hole was proving itself to be an excellent passage for the rain to enter our woodland refuge. Tol was handed some rope and a Traveler's Insurance Co. umbrella and hoisted onto Dad's shoulders. Half supported by Dad, half hanging onto the center pole Tol poked the umbrella out the top of the tent, opened it, and lashed it to the pole.
Securing the tent from the torrent wasn't over yet. The tent didn't have a ground cover and Dad knew that rain would soon be seeking a ground-based entry point. I remember watching fascinated as Dad and a spade, borrowed from a fellow camper, made a hasty trench around the tent.
The unfinished rain-proofing provided further incident. The rain worked through the canvas and was dripping right into Jackie's face. Mom gave Jackie a green sou'wester to protect her from the Chinese water torture; and so the night was spent.
While talking to Tol recently, he reminded me of yet another story from that evening. Jackie and Sue were mid-teens with concerns about modesty. Dad was getting rather close to the end of his fuse, what with driving, camp set-up, and rain proofing. While Jackie and Sue tried to provide makeshift cover for each other to change behind, Dad exclaimed he'd seen them naked as babies and he didn't see what the big deal was now.
This trip provided me with my first experience with Zarex (a kool-aid like drink that came as a syrup in a small bottle). The LaPointes had brought with them and I thought that the little jug-like bottle was pretty cool. [This, of course, brings to mind the game of jeopardy played some years later in which the jeopardy answer was "He was Czar during the Russian Revolution." I forget if it was Nathan or Sue who returned the question: "Who was Czar X?"
Tol remembers a ride with the Lapointes where he learned that their car had a Passing Gear. I remember them discussing it when they got back to the camp and thought it must be important. I still think of it almost every time my car has jumped into passing gear.
Mom tells the story of two young girls who were trying to find the rest rooms. Apparently their mother's directions were "just go until you get to the big tent with the red umbrella on it and turn right."
A second rest room story comes from Nate. As he neared the facilities he was suddenly met by a young girl of five or six who apparently had got her pants wet in the bathroom. She had removed them and was running, crying to her mother. Both she and Nate stopped dead in their tracks and then the girl went on screaming even louder for her mother.
Nathan also reports that he had got a paper back book on Abraham Lincoln, probably while we were in Woodstock, and that in the morning after the rain storm he remembers waking up and seeing his new book floating in a puddle of water. He still has the book in his collection of Abe Lincoln material.
On one of the outings that weekend Sue remembers a trip to a gift shop. She saw a rock tumbling machine there that she wanted very much ... she's always liked shiny things. Both Jackie and Sue mentioned a swim in the lake that ended up being a lot further than expected. They were scared at one point that they wouldn't be able to keep swimming, but by floating on their backs and stamina they persevered.
This was the only camping trip the seven of us ever made. Considering that just about every camper's nightmare happened on the trip, it's not too hard to understand why. Still it is probably one the most oft repeated, joyful stories we tell.
The tent got used a couple more times, but only as a club house, set up in the back yard. Dad, Nathan and I did spend one Friday or Saturday night in it probably the next summer. We set the tent up down by the apple tree. I can remember getting up the next morning and Dad made breakfast on the old Coleman gas stove. After breakfast, we probably just carted everything back up to the house. The tent sat for the longest time in the bottom of the barn. For all I know it rests there still.
Compiled by David Butler from family recollections.