Monday, August 9, 2010

Family Reunion-37 Years After Campland

The kids in this picture belonged to my three older sisters and I. At 24, I was pregnant with my youngest during this camping trip.  My son, the boy in the red robe is 39 years old and the father of two now.          

Thirty seven years ago, in 1973, my  sisters Sandy, Lois, Joan and I decided to take all of our kids camping on Mission Bay in San Diego for one week. We had 8 kids between us, all age10 and under. No men with muscles, just our wits and cunning to help us survive.

We didn't really know what we were doing. Our father and mother drove down to help us get set up. My dad and I put the huge green Army surplus store tent up with pegs in the ground. None of those new cool tents with the bendable poles for us. My mom brought delicious homemade pies and cookies. We were exhilarated and happy to be together.

We didn't have enough money or food. We especially had no idea how much 8 children could eat when faced with the fear of hunger. Our trip to the store for supplies cost a fortune, yet we seemed to have mostly Mac and Cheese mix, Cheerios, coffee, milk, hot dogs, and I recall, a hefty supply of Safeway Truly Fine toddler sized disposable diapers. It only took a few days for the kids to realize that whoever was fast enough got the most. My son, at 2 1/2, began stealing cut up hot dogs from my sisters' plates. He'd lean over, pause with his fork in the air, then dive down to grab the meat and swoop it into his little mouth.

It was hard to control the group. The older kids began acting as a mob. We bought them a bunch of little plastic parachute men. The older children disappeared for a short time, and as we found out later, they had climbed a tower by the camp store, leaned over letting the teeny parachute men drift down to earth. The upshot was that they got yelled at and kicked out  of the tower. To hear them tell it, they were banned for life.

My sister, Joanie, is a compulsive cleaner. She began sweeping the dirt under the picnic table and that covered our whole camp site. Over and over she swept, but still our area became filthy after every meal. Joanie washed the table repeatedly, with no lasting result. We scrubbed the kids and their hands with soap and water. This was not so easy, because the spigot to get water was on the same utility pole as our electric source. Not such a swift idea. My sisters and I had to be vigilant that none of the babies were electrocuted. One did catch impetigo on her cheeks and neck, however.
The little kids and babies were safely tucked into sleeping bags in the tent by 8 p.m. My sisters and I sat by the campfire drinking red wine and laughing, telling stories, and listening to music. We let the oldest, Heather, stay up with us for awhile because she was 10 years old and no longer a baby. By 10 p.m. teams of Fascist inspired campground men drove by in beat up golf carts telling us it was time to go to bed-Quiet down, shut up. We couldn't believe it. Who the hell did they think they were? But we were mildly tipsy and massively tired, so we went to bed. My sister, Sandy, on crutches couldn't get into the sleeping bags on the ground easily, so she slept in the back seat of her big wood-paneled station wagon.

I think we swam in the bay and lounged on the beach, but I can't remember that at all. I remember all the work, dirt and exhaustion. When the babies in diapers woke in the morning, the stuffing in Safeway Truly Fine diapers long since separated from the plastic, had gathered into wet, urine soaked wads into the feet of their fuzzy sleepy suits. Filling up 8 little bowls of cereal and 8 small  glasses of orange juice, my sisters and I silently came to a consensus. Originally we had signed up for 7 nights, but we knew when we were beaten. Waving goodbye to Campland on the sixth night, we packed up, taking all of us, mountains of dirty laundry, and the 8 kids to a motel. We all showered, went to a laundromat, then to an "all you can eat"  buffet restaurant that served cheap steak and baked potatoes. Sleeping in rows together like little logs, all of us  finally slept soundly with full stomachs and clean pajamas.

This past weekend, we met again in San Diego for a family reunion. Some of us were missing. My daughter and her two girls couldn't come because the new darling baby screams her head off in the car. Too miserable for the baby and my daughter. Next year though...I've promised my oldest granddaughter, 5,  a tandem ride on her pink Boogie board.

Our parents are gone now. My oldest sister, Sandy, died 5 years ago of breast cancer. Sandy's girls came with their kids. Her daughter Cindy wore a necklace that held a tiny amount of her ashes. I brought part of her as well by making her super delicious fruit dip.

Joan's boys were both far away, one in Maui, and one in New York. My cousin Gail and a new boyfriend came plus her sister Elizabeth joined us with her daughter, Laura, and her two darling sons we hadn't met. We celebrated my son's little girl, my granddaughter's first birthday, surrounded by all these people and more, a wonderful new husband and stepson, maternal grandparents, a daughter in law's fun, spirited sister and husband, and more. All the kids played, danced, and ate together, getting wild with too much sugar, but content to be a member of the same big tribe. What I wanted the most from this party was for the kids to know their cousins and aunties. I wanted them to feel the security and love of an extended family.

All of the kids in the beach picture are grown now and busy with their own lives;  a television producer, a lawyer, a teacher and campus minister, a teacher of blind children, a social services worker, a public relations director, a entrepreneur and baker, a school bus driver and photographer, and a very talented elementary school teacher. Between them another 8 children have been born. When they talk about Campland, the kids remember nothing but complete fun and freedom.
I sat back for a moment watching everyone interact. It has not been all rosy. There have been tensions and fights, hurt feelings, and times of not speaking. But I am so grateful to have had this time for all of us to be surrounded by a big, noisy and loving  family. So grateful and happy it continues on.


  1. Thank you for the nice rememberance. Campland was a ton of fun, one of my very happy childhood memories. I even learned some life lessons there, beside water and electricity don't mix. I wish I could have spent more time last weekend. Lets do it agin soon!

  2. Thank you, Cindy. We missed you on Sunday and Monday. I love you!