As a kid, summer meant playing softball, riding bikes with friends, hanging out at Highland Custard Shop and the annual canoe trip. We had a great group of family friends growing up and each year, the dads would load up the kids and head to the campground at Lake Waveland. Meticulous planning went into these trips. OK, in my family it wasn't so meticulous. Mom basically bought whatever beer was on sale for my dad, hot dogs for dinner, a box of doughnuts for breakfast and some generic soda. (We all mocked a certain family for arriving in a camper and then dining on pancakes, eggs and sausages for breakfast. But really, we were just jealous because all we had was our soggy doughnuts.)
Sometimes it would rain and we would all have to sleep in the car. And June Cleaver, if you're reading this, I know you remember the time it rained and we all loaded into your dad's blue and white van for a not-so-restful night of sleep. (I think I can still hear our dads snoring.)
Looking back on it now, us kids pretty much had a free-for-all weekend: Our dads sat around camp drinking beer and the kids, well ... we pretty much did whatever we wanted to do. We'd wander down to the camp store and buy candy. We'd go swimming in the lake and see who could make it out to the diving board/raft first. We'd build huge campfires and see who could stay up the latest. On Sundays, our dads would drive us to the "modern" camping section and we'd all shower and then we did what you always do on camping trips: head to church.
When it came time for the canoe trip, we'd drive to the canoe rental place. From there, we'd load onto a bus in what seemingly was always 100 degree weather and travel the 15 miles upstream to our starting point. All the dads carried full-size coolers filled with beer (and maybe a sandwich for the kids to eat for lunch).
If it was your first year canoeing, you'd get stuck in the canoe with your dad. That wasn't fun for the kid or the dad. (The kid had no idea how long 15 miles actually is. And the dad got stuck steering and paddling 14.9 miles on his own.) Rest assured, the trips became more enjoyable after that first year.
So last weekend, I went canoeing with my sister, my sister-in-law and my two nieces. We met at the place where, as kids, we always stopped on the way to Lake Waveland: Short Stop in Attica. It was exactly how I remembered it. The only difference was that we seemed to fill up a booth a lot easier than when we were kids.
Then we headed to our old stomping grounds: Lake Waveland. We set up camp not far from the spot where we always did as kids. The shelter there looked a little worse for wear. And the playground where we spent a lot of time as kids had definitely seen better days. The tennis court had no nets. We went to the camp store to buy ice and I was sad to see that the store no longer existed. We went to the lake for a swim and realized the lifeguard stand we used to climb was gone. The diving board/raft was gone, too. The lake bottom was still covered with seaweed (small comfort). The "bathroom" was exactly as I remembered it, although I'm happy to report the smell was not so bad. There was actually toilet paper in the stalls (how posh).
We set up our tents, one to sleep in and one to change in (or an "exile" island, if necessary). I got to experience once again the joy of changing clothes in a tent. Then going to sleep and hearing the buzz of that single, annoying insect that had made its way inside the tent. I got to wake up, look at the roof of the tent and see the dreaded daddy long legs. I could see the look on that spider's face and it was taunting me, I swear.
In the morning, it was time for canoeing. Well, for two of us. My sister and I chose to go old-school canoeing. The other three opted for kayaks. The canoe disadvantage: We were the "carriers of the crap." (You want something to eat? Something to drink? Well, I guess we have to carry it because you have no room in your kayaks.)
The river was high this year after so much rain, and we finished 11-1/2 miles in hardly any time at all. When I saw the bridge where our trip was supposed to end, I groaned. I wanted to paddle back upstream and do it all over again. Maybe next year, maybe next year ...