Monday, June 16, 2008

Yellowstone National Park

As kids, every single time we went camping at Yellowstone National Park, it rained. Actually, it didn't just rain. The skies opened up and drowned the Earth and all occupants in our immediate vicinity. Dad's reaction to that was to keep returning to Yellowstone, hoping to finally have a dry vacation there. I loved the rain, so I loved Yellowstone. Mom wasn't so impressed.

One of the things Daddy did to keep Mom from revolting was to custom order a huge tent so that she wouldn't get claustrophobic waiting inside for the rain to subside. Not that it ever did. She and Ellen would stay inside while the rest of us would be out ruining our camping clothes in the wet and having a great time. But it's the tent I really want to talk about.

We arrived with the new tent just at twilight, in a light drizzle. I was probably a third grader that trip. Tents back then weren't much like they are today. They were heavy canvas affairs that took the whole family hours to erect. It wasn't a simple process to put up a big tent, especially if it was as big as this new one. It was supposed to sleep twelve. We were a family of six. Dad was sure this would make Mom really happy. A hotel would have made Mom happy. Even a small cabin would have made Mom happy.

The first job, as any camper knows, is to make sure there are no rocks or sticks in the area where the tent is to go. This job belonged to us kids. While Dad got the guitar out and put it under a tarp, some of the neighboring campers noticed, and activity around us came to a standstill. We were like a little army, well drilled in what needed to be done, even though this would be on the largest scale yet. Also, we were all excited to see the new tent. Then Dad, Pat, and Mom strong-armed the new tent out of the station wagon and stretched it out — and out, and out. Wow. It was really going to be huge.

Pretty soon about four men from neighboring camp sites came over and started helping to erect our tent. This was unheard of. Nobody had ever helped us before. We were amazed, but grateful. They talked to my dad about having seen the guitar. Was he going to play tonight? Yep. Did he play hymns or Gospel music? He admitted he knew some of each. We looked at him, and wondered why they would ask him that. He did sing those songs, but so many other kinds as well. It just seemed like a strange question, but we soon forgot about it as the work progressed.

With so many people working, the tent was finally set up, with stakes driven into the ground and tent poles firmly attached inside. Dad shook hands all around, thanking the men for their help, especially in the rain. They all said it was no problem. Then one man inadvertently explained why they had all been so generous with their assistance when he said, "By the way, when does the Revival Meeting start?"

I didn't think my mother would ever show her face out of that tent again, she was so embarrassed. Ellen still turns purple just hearing the word camping. I love it as long as it doesn't get too hot, or some camper doesn't bring along a noisy radio. But I never see a big tent without thinking of that group of men expecting a Revival Meeting. They actually joined us around the campfire for some great music while we were there, and they all laughed about it, and probably enjoyed the music they got more than the Revival they had expected. Daddy was a funny guy. And luckily Mama was good sport.

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