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Shelter part I

That canvas bag we had to climb over to get into the van was the army tent.

That canvas bag we had to climb over to get into the van was the army tent.

I tell people I grew up in tents.  We were a family that liked to travel, but had limited means.  Most of our family trips involved cars and camping.  But that’s not the whole of it.  We would camp when we visited my Mom’s old roommate in Duluth.  We would camp when we visited my mother’s side of the family in Wisconsin.  We would camp on the weekends in the park reserve an hour (back then it was closer to an hour and a half) away from the house.

I’m guessing we started camping as soon as the three of us girls were all out of diapers.  Mostly because I can imagine my mother putting her foot down about diapers in the camp.  These are the days before disposables.  I do remember camping with the playpen.  When unruly toddlers got out of line or Mom really needed her attention on getting a meal together the playpen was the solution.

My Dad had a four man umbrella tent from his army days.  (He served in the Korean War.)  We used that for the five of us until we acquired a canvas 12×12  wall tent, immediately dubbed the “big tent”.  I remember the army tent, because it wasn’t “decommissioned”.

If we planned to pack out early or were only staying one night on those family vacations we were all squeezed into it again.  The army tent was much faster to take down and was often last in/first out in the packing scheme.  At 12 or probably 13 it became “my” tent.  I was old enough, and responsible enough, not to have to stay in the same “room” as the rest of the family.

In those days campsites weren’t quite as restrictive as they often are now.  People called us the ‘Besnett traveling circus’ because we would put up so much canvas.  We had the big tent, the army tent, a tarp, a screen tent and later “The Tent” (a custom design, hand-built affair and handy for ice fishing or summer camping).  Occasionally there was a second tarp and eventually a backpacking tent for the third sister.

By the time I was in Junior High we were pros.  We started the season with Memorial Day and camped weekends in September until it snowed.  We all went to summer school, back then you could take recreational classes.  As soon as school was out the tents were pitched at the local park reserve and we girls were left at camp while Mom and Dad commuted to work.

In August the allergy season is at its peak.  We would go home long enough to wash everything and repack and then head up into the “allergy free zone” in Canada.   That’s where I was, listening to BBC radio, when Nixon resigned.  We’d get back in time for labor day weekend camping closer to home and then weekends again once school started.

Camping on the road often meant Dad was scheduled to be out of town for a business convention.  Rather than fly and hotel it, he convinced work to pay for gas and camping fees and brought us all along.  I remember camping in New Orleans in November and being sad the pool wasn’t opened.  It was almost 70 degrees and we Minnesota girls wanted to swim!


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