Happy Campers

When I was a kid, the one thing we did often as a family was go to the lake. My grandfather gave my dad his old v-hull boat and my dad worked on that boat an entire winter to get it just the way he wanted. New seats. New fiberglass interior finish. New motor. When he finally got it ready to go, off to the lake we went.

We’d stay a whole week at a time – fishing, swimming, skiing and floating on air mattresses. We drank sodas from a can and ate bologna sandwiches and potato chips all day long. We ran free and did whatever we wanted. For a kid, there could be nothing better. Get dirty? No big deal, just jump in the lake. All we had for camping was a heavy canvas tent with a pole in the center and a Coleman stove, but those were some of the best days of my life.

When our own kids were growing up, we also had a tent and a Coleman stove. But we didn’t have a boat. We would drag those kids camping, sometimes more willingly than others, and we would camp. Turns out being the parent isn’t quite as much fun as being the kid. Camping is some work, am I right? As the mom, it seemed like all I did was prepare meals and clean up messes… and try to keep bored kids entertained. I suppose if we had a boat it might have gone differently, but we did hike and swim and float and enjoy the great outdoors. Even if the reality of adulthood took the wonder out of camping, I still really enjoyed those trips.

Now that we are mostly retired, Skip and I bought a little camper. I mean it’s small. It looks like half a camper, haha. Compared to our campground neighbors with their big rigs and their four slide outs and outdoor kitchens, ours looks like an egg theirs might have laid. But when you compare our camper to a tent, we have taken a big step up. This is luxury.

Our Aliner Ascape 13′ camper has a booth style table which converts into a queen size bed, a two burner gas stove, a small refrigerator, a built in microwave, a TV with soundbar and Bluetooth, a cassette toilet which is a real blessing, an outdoor shower, AND AN AIR CONDITIONER. We are not suffering. The best thing is that we can pull it with our KIA Sportage. It only weighs about 1600 pounds!

camper and car
We set up and break down camp like pros!

Interestingly, as it turns out, during this time of COVID 19 and social distancing, camping has become a popular activity. It’s sometimes hard to get a reservation these days. In a time that everything in our lives has been turned upside down, I am thankful we have this little camper. We love to fly, we love to travel, we love to go to restaurants and theaters. It has been painful to have to sit at home. At our age we see the clock ticking and we feel like we are waiting at the starting gate. At least when we are camping, we don’t dwell on what we are missing. We enjoy those days as if nothing had changed.

camping sunset
My favorite time of day.

If there’s a silver lining to 2020, it’s that we have been forced to slow down. We’ve found the time to reflect upon our lives and what is important to us. Our campsite is my own personal place of reflection. I am, in that space, a happy camper.

What We Don’t Know

In 1985 my five-year-old daughter asked me for the very popular Sleepy Real Baby doll for Christmas. I searched high and low, all over town, and could not find one. Finally, I ended up in a store which had one – a black one – and I grabbed it up. It didn’t matter to me that the doll was black. On Christmas morning, my sweet daughter saw the sleepy baby left unwrapped by Santa under the Christmas tree. “Ooooh, Santa brought me a brown sleepy real baby!” She didn’t care either. But later that day she proudly carried her doll with her to visit family. And I nearly died. Some members of my family found that to be a great opportunity to make jokes. I was furious with them. Honestly, I had no idea they would react like that. Of course, we have all come a long way since the 80’s, but that was a defining moment for me.

In 1992, I had my first black girlfriend. Her name was Jawanna. She and I were both in our 30’s and we both had a few kids. We worked together. We had lunch together. She was funny and I really enjoyed her company. We socialized outside of work.

One day, when we were kidding around, I said to her, “I’m gonna slap you upside your nappy head!” And she suddenly became very quiet. Let me tell you something. My mother said that to me my whole life. I had no idea what it meant. But my friend Jawanna did. And she patiently explained it to me. At first I was a little annoyed at her hypersensitivity. Geez, it was just a saying. Why was she making such a big deal about it? Now, looking back, I know exactly how tone deaf I was… And I probably still am.

Through the years I have caught myself saying or thinking other things which I eventually realized were also racist. Things which had been said to me and around me my whole life. I shall name a few:

“Mighty white of you.”
“Called him everything but a white boy.”
“Living like white people.”

Now I am ashamed as I type those words.

To the people of color who are in my life, I love you. I write this with a broken heart, a broken spirit, and I’m here to tell you, I have been part of the problem. I have said things and thought things that I am not proud of. I can’t promise you that from the moment I realized I was raised a racist to the moment I was called out on it, I turned things around and never looked back. I can’t tell you for sure I never had a misstep or that I am forever “woke.”

It’s only been in the last few years that I have actively tried to do better. I read a book about slave ships several years ago and I cried. I began watching Civil War documentaries. I learned about the Jim Crow laws. I read about the Great Migration. I learned about the Tulsa Massacre. I began to read black authors and study black history. I began to understand that disproportionate black incarceration has been a figurative foot on the neck of black people for a very long time. I learned that the “War on Drugs” launched by my favorite President Ronald Reagan was the cause of many unnecessary and harsh prison sentences for young black men.

Dear friends, I’m going to come out and say it. I know things are out of control right now, but if your narrative is more about riots, looting and destruction than the murder of black people on our streets, you’re missing the point. This isn’t the first, second, third, tenth, or twentieth time. The history of excessive force against black people is SYSTEMIC. False imprisonments of black people is SYSTEMIC. It’s not an equitable system. Everyone doesn’t have the same opportunity. Everyone is not treated the same. Every mother cannot comfortably trust that her son will return unharmed when he leaves her home.

If my story speaks to you, below is a list of resources. Fight against the anti-black narrative that exists in our society, in our heads and in our hearts. Support the black community. Patronize black owned businesses. Do more. Learn More. Be better.  And I will strive do the same.

Shackles from the Deep, Michael Cottman

The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson

The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Tim Madigan

Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson

I’m Still Here, Austin Channing Brown

75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice

Cover photo: Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

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