Monday, May 26, 2008

Grandpa's Camp

We call our home in the foothills Grandpa's Camp, in memory of the spot that lives so beautifully in the mind of my inner child. I hope our grandchildren come to love visiting here like we all loved visiting there. My grandpa's camp was in the woods in Northern Michigan, not terribly far from where I was born. Grandma had a home in town, where she and Grandpa raised their fourteen children. (Hey, it was cold there in the winter!) For some reason we always called it Grandma's House, and Grandpa's Camp. Just outside of town on the edge of a gemlike lake, was the camp. It was our favorite spot in the world.

There were trees and hammocks. There were birds, blueberries growing thick and wild, a dock for lazing on or jumping off, and a rowboat. There was even a change house over the boat house next to the dock. Of course, we and our cousins didn't call it a change house. We called it our club house. Since there were fourteen kids, and most of them had produced cousins for us, we always had fun when we went to Grandpa's camp. The clubhouse was sacred. Each year, if you were old enough, you were sworn into the the group that was granted clubhouse privileges. That meant that you were given the secret password and told how to make it work.

That's right. You not only had to know the password. It wasn't as easy as presenting yourself at the door and reciting the password. You would simply be ignored. There was more to it than that. There was a small hole in the door, just large enough to stick a finger through. Inside, there was a hook and eye that allowed us to keep the uninitiated out of the fun. Benches surrounded the small space, and we'd play cards, tell ghost stories, eat blueberries and have normal innocent kid fun, typical of the fifties and sixties. If someone came up to the door, we'd all get quiet and watch the hole in the door. Unless the proper ritual was performed, we remained quiet.

I'm now at liberty to publicly admit the entire ritual. You had to come to the door and stick your finger all the way into the hole. Then you had to say, in a loud and clear voice, "Stick your finger in the hole, and when you stick your finger in the hole, say stick your finger in the hole." When confronted by one of our mothers and a tearful younger cousin, one of us had admitted the ritual at one time. When asked why we had to both say and do that, he said that we were pretty sure we'd either recognize the finger or the voice.

One other thing about camp that we always like to talk about when the family starts remembering this particular part of our past. There didn't happen to be any indoor plumbing. Grandpa had a wonderful two-seater outhouse just down the path in the forest. It wasn't really that far away, but we all knew that there were bears in the woods. It wasn't a problem as long as you let them know you were coming. You had to either sing or talk out loud. Some of us would carry a kazoo. My younger brother Kenny hated to go to the outhouse. Usually he would get someone to walk him out there, but sometimes nobody was willing. One night we all said no, as we were playing a game. Then we felt guilty and started to follow him. We heard him creeping along, singing, to the tune of "Yes, Jesus Loves Me."

Yes, there's no bears,
Yes, there's no bears,
Yes, there's no bears,
In Grandpa's Toy-o-let.

About fifty-five years later, we still haven't let him forget that song. He never knows when one of us will start singing it around him. Still, he hasn't been eaten by a bear yet.

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