Sunday, March 4, 2007

The Circus Tent

I was seven years old when Mom and Dad packed us all up and took us camping for the first time. Two leaky pup tents for two parents, three kids and a one year old baby. I remember absolutely nothing about that trip except that it rained and the baby was the only one who slept.

Around 1958 they bought a huge Army surplus canvas mess tent. Round, with a high center pole, the roof was green and tan striped. We flew a little flag from the pole where it protruded through the roof and called it the circus tent.

That tent traveled from Pennsylvania to Canada, Massachusetts to Wyoming and Texas. We took it to Ricketts Glen, Cedar Lake, Tippy-Canoe and Stinky Too (not the real name but what we called the park with the distinctive sulpher aroma) And Hundres of other wonderful spots.

Everywhere we went from Pugwash, Nova Scotia to Mt. Rushmore, from Yellowstone to Diamond Acres, that tent made us new friends. The fathers wanted to know where Dad got it while the kids asked if we were really part of the circus.The moms all envied the fact that we could actually stand up to get dressed. Even after dark, there were always extra hands available to help put the 75 lb behemoth up.

The Circus Tent housed entire troops of Girl Scouts, or Boy Scouts and their leaders, usually Mom and Dad, in it’s 12 man interior and kept us all dry. It served as back yard accommodations for visiting friends, cousins, and rock hounds as well as for sleepovers most of the summer as long as there were still Hoye kids to use it.

Then, one day, Mom and Dad ran out of kids. We had all grown up and left the nest. They had no use for a tent. Dad stowed it in the attic with so many memories and went out and bought a tiny Scotty trailer from my best friend and her new husband. The four of us just harrumphed. We’d had to sleep on the ground all those years! Now they get a trailer.

They took off for a long weekend in the rain and discovered the trailer leaked like Niagara Falls. We felt a little smug as Dad muttered about the $700 he’d paid for it, applied sealants, fixed it up and then used it until Mom insisted on more room a year later.

In 1973, just before we moved across the country, Big Jim, (who had never been camping) and I took our three sons, and went camping in Vermont with Grandma and Grandfather. Dad made us a present of The Circus Tent.

It rained like mad for 3 of the 4 days and Grandma was worried about the kids getting sick, so they got to sleep in the trailer! Big Jim and I didn’t really mind.

In August of that year we moved to El Paso, and the tent went with us. It served another generation of Scouts, albeit with several patches sewn to it’s well worn canvas. It survived a sudden wind storm that saw all six of us and several other campers chasing it to the very edge of Bottomless Lake in New Mexico. It heard it’s share of scary ghost stories for more than 28 years. I wonder how many times it also heard someone say, during a rain storm, “Don’t touch the ceiling” just before someone did, causing a drip onto their sleeping bag.

The Circus Tent was our shelter and our friend until one day when we all watched in awe as the tired, sun-rotted canvas simply began to split from the tip of the center pole to the side wall with a tired rrrrrip. Since it was only the second day of our vacation and a new tent was not in the budget, we improvised. The center pole, separated into it’s two components, became the end poles of the world’s longest pup ten constructed from our utility tarp with half the tent at each end.

It was odd how much we mourned that old piece of canvass, although we had often envied other campers with their easy- up nylon umbrella tents, The Circus Tent was a safe haven that kept out lions and tigers and bears each night. Not to mention Boogiemen, ghosts, and headless horsemen. We even had a hard time breaking the news to Dad and Mom. It was as if there had been a death in the family.

Today, Big Jim and I travel the country full time in what we once thought was the ultimate luxury-a Winnebago. We are seeing wonderful sites and visiting awesome places. We are secure in heat and cold, wind and hail and certainly wouldn't give up our refrigerator,not to mention the bathroom! Every now and then, however, we can’t help remembering back in the days when we were really camping in that big old bundle of canvass we called The Circus Tent.

See ya down the road,



Anonymous said...

That tent was the greatest.
Can't get them like that anymore.

Fab Grandma said...

My family never went camping when I was a kid. When I got married we started going camping with just a sleeping bag and a frying pan.
After my kids all grew up and moved out, my husband and I got a pop-up. We loved it so much we would take it to a state park and "camp" all week, going back and forth to work from the campground. Now we live fulltime in a travel trailer and having the time of our lives. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story.