It's officially camping season. Which means it's officially time for my every-few-years' ode to camping: Camping with Nana.
Every summer, from the time I was 5 until 15, my Nana — that’s what we called my grandmother on my dad’s side — took me camping in her 1959 trailer, a 15-foot teal Holly Mascot.
I would go with my older brother or one of my cousins for a two-week stint. We would load up our bikes and Nana’s springer spaniel (Penny, then Lady) and set up the Holly in campgrounds in Tawas City, Mich., or Mammoth Cave, Ky., or Niagara Falls, Ontario.
We did, I remember, get to do some big and relatively expensive things. Rode Maid of The Mist at Niagara. Took a Lake Huron fishing charter.
Mostly, though, the big things were collections of little things. Riding our bikes around the campground. Diving into whitecaps on Lake Huron. Parking her big Olds in a field just before dusk and waiting until the deer surrounded the car.
At night, we would play rummy for hours as Nana drank one or two beers and listened to the Detroit Tigers on the radio.
After dozens of years and hundreds of trips, certain camping incidents have become legendary. Like that trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, when, during a scorching hot day, Nana mortified us all by taking off her shirt and sitting in front of the camper in her pants and a bra.
"People will just think it’s a bathing suit top," she assured us. But we knew. We knew.
Or the night that Nana, who had been eating potato chips and feeding Penny dog biscuits, threw the dog a potato chip. Then Nana ate a dog biscuit.
Accidentally eating a dog biscuit, I realize now, is a true test of one’s character. Nana said, "You know, it’s not that bad!" and then laughed until the tears filled the inside of her glasses. That was the night all the kids tried dog biscuits.
Or the time that, camping on the shore of Lake Huron, I launched a waterlogged Nerf football at my brother as he waded knee-deep on the beach. As I let the ball go, I realized that it was not my brother but my Nana who walked in nearly two feet of water with pant legs cuffed to the knees.
I connected on my Hail Mary, sending Nana spiraling dumbfounded to the sandy bottom.
I was sure I’d be in big trouble.
Nana came up gasping for air. Then stood there, soaking wet, laughing until her tears, or maybe it was lake water, filled the inside of her glasses.
Nana put that Holly trailer up for sale in the mid-90s, when she was no longer able to camp. At the same time, my brother Dave was looking for a camper for his family of six. He could have, I’m sure, afforded just about any trailer he wanted.
But, after looking around, he decided on a 1959 Holly Mascot, teal green.
Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.