Once a year in the 1950s, our family vacationed at Shaver Lake, California. This was back when you could set up camp right at the water’s edge, and we always did. I remember seeing tent poles labeled A, B and C, but if you’re a real man like my dad, you don’t bother with directions. After all, it’s just a tent. Well, after two or three hours of sweating and several expletives, the final result did resemble a tent.
My older sister and I were relegated to a pup tent nearby so we didn’t disturb the parents. The campground had pit toilets and a water spigot just a short walk through a briar patch. One night I heard something walking around outside the tent. I asked my sister if she heard it, and she told me to look outside to see what it was. Being a good little brother, I stuck my head out the flap and found myself eye to eye with a big old bobcat. I’d no sooner yelled “Bobcat!” than I heard two pans banging together and someone yelling, “Get out of here!” The next morning I thanked Dad for chasing the bobcat away. That’s when he confessed it was Mom who chased it off. He’d slept through it all.
Another time we were fishing off a dock when I got the bright idea to drop my line through a 2-inch knothole. The only problem was that the bluegill I caught was 4 inches wide. Dad swam under the dock and released it.
With no showers, we’d get in our Fleetliner boat, fire up the old Scott-Atwater motor and go to the waterfall on the east side of the lake. Then we’d anchor the boat and jump overboard with a bar of Ivory Soap, which floated. During the day, we’d water-ski, and my sister and I caught tiny iridescent frogs and collected fool’s gold. We’d return to camp tired and sunburned; hardly anyone used sunscreen then.
Our parents didn’t seem to worry about us, because Dad’s bear stories kept us from venturing too far. Before dinner, we’d pile in the station wagon, a turquoise-and-white ’56 Chevy, to go listen to the ranger talk. Main topic of discussion? Bears! On the way back, we’d stop by Tony’s Bakery for loaves of fresh bread, one to take back and one to eat on the way while still warm.
One night, in the distance, we heard someone yelling, “Elmer!” After a while, we yelled “Elmer!” back. Pretty soon, the whole campground was yelling “Elmer!” For several years afterward, we’d yell “Elmer!” for fun. Every year we got a reply. Those trips were some of the best times of my life.
Mark Foster • Ukiah, California