DEAD FISH AND BUBBLES
Sometime in the summer of 1971 a friend told us that he had recently purchased a lot within walking distance of the Shenandoah River and encouraged us to check it out. The land was located in Warren County just above the Town of Front Royal, Virginia and, at the outset, was being marketed as primitive camping. We traveled to inspect it from our home in Prince William County, just north of the Quantico Marine Base, not far off Interstate 95. The drive takes about an hour or more depending on the time of the week and whether you wanted to check out the scenery along the way or were in a hurry to get there.
The for sale brochure touted walking distance to the river, great fishing, clean mountain air, wildlife walking through your lot and a few other amenities. In addition, if you happened to be one of the few lucky and first buyers there was the possibility that you could purchase a lot adjoining the man made five-acre lake on the property. One look convinced us that we wanted to be one of the "lucky and first buyers" to select a lake frontage lot.
The deal was sealed the next day, the down payment executed and the payment booklet would be arriving shortly after the ink had dried on the contract, according to the smiling agent that had just earned healthy commission.
The next step was to scout for a small lightweight camper that would hold our entire household for weekend and maybe a few longer holiday adventures. Our oldest son, at the time was nine years old and couldn't wait to start fishing in the little lake. Our youngest, at six, was anxious to explore the area to see what he could find. The youngest had also been indoctrinated into the wonders of the environment in his first grade classes and could not wait to locate something that he could do for a "show & tell" at school in the fall.
We settled on a second hand "Scamper" pop up type camper for the then princely sum of three hundred dollars, by virtue of a private sale through the local newspaper ads. We hooked up the Ford Gran Torino wagon and took the camper on a few test drives to see how it would handle as we had never before hauled anything but groceries, kids and dogs. All went smoothly, the kids pestered us night and day until the next weekend, and the initial visit to the new lot was upon us.
Here I must digress to set the stage for "the weekend that would never be forgotten" was about to begin.
I was on a three-day weekend from work and made an appointment at the auto dealership to change oil, oil filter and make sure the wagon was ready to tow the camper for the first sojourn to the weekend paradise. As I arrived at the dealership and commenced to drive up the slight blacktop bump that was the start of their driveway there was a low sounding "thump" from the rear of the wagon. A glance in the rearview mirror revealed the position of the rear door window had shifted to an angle of about 45 degrees. To make a very long story as short as possible, just let me say that the problem was caused by the breaking of a fifty-cent piece of round plastic roller that the metal crossed blades rested on when the window was lowered or raised. Entry to the dealership was at 8:00 am and it took them EIGHT hours to find a replacement part and install it. I told them I was going camping for the weekend and was not leaving until they fixed it in case it should rain. Also asked if I could clock in at their employee work card station so I could be paid for my time as they held me hostage for eight hours on my day off!
After the debacle, we got a very late start to the weekend especially after packing the wagon, loading the kids and the ever-present two dogs. One small "wiener" dog and a large German shepherd always resided at the back of the wagon so it was absolutely necessary to fix that rear door window before the trip.
On the way to the big campout, it started raining in mini monsoon fashion and when we arrived at our lot it was about ankle deep in muddy run off from the nearby gravel road.
The next fun event consisted of trying to fit two adults, two kids and two muddy soaked dogs into one little camper. With no other shelter, we were reduced to one little camp stove for meal preparation. Luckily, the camper had a small awning just over the doorway that allowed a partially soaked dad to prepare the moveable feast of chicken noodle soup with all the trimmings for a sodden supper.
It was now very dark and light was supplied by one not so bright lantern and two emergency flashlights. Sleeping arrangements were fixed as two adults on one small pull out sleeping area, two kids on the other pull out and the two dogs on the middle floor area; which was the only available space left. I lay awake for a while wondering if the camper would list to port or worse yet tip up at a precarious angle if one of us on the adult side happened to try and turn over during the night.
Arising to a sun lit but still sodden ground improved everyone's attitude greatly; especially the dogs and the kids who were now free to explore the new settings. Tethering the dogs to some nearby cedar trees did not work out too well though. The big dog relieved himself near enough for the wiener dog to step into the doggie do and later, unnoticed, track it inside the camper. First time camping does not prepare one to include cleaning solutions for "accidents" of this nature; so, it required several trips to the little lake and some old newspaper pages to complete the cleanup.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful until near darkness enveloped us once again. The kids wanted a campfire and shortly afterwards we discovered that all kinds of "bugs" like it too, including a hoard of never before fed bloodthirsty mosquitoes. Add another item to our next trip-shopping list.
Sunday morning dawned sunny and warm and things began looking up for a change. Maybe the troubles were over by now - HAH!
Our oldest son pleaded to try fishing in the little lake and I was hoping we could catch something to match his enthusiasm for this project. Worm on, bobber set to a couple of feet and we are ready for "Mr. Big" to bite. An hour later and we are already on our third fresh worm and still waiting. Suddenly the bobber began to shudder almost enough to make a ripple in the water. With a mighty hook set the deed was done. It was a gigantic sunfish of lengthy proportions measuring at least three inches! I told my son that we had better put that one back to grow a little; but howls of protest greeted that proposition. He insisted that I clean it so that mom could cook it for him for supper.
How many times have you gutted, beheaded and scaled a three-inch monster that was headed for the frying pan? No amount of pleading would persuade the world's best angler from wanting to consume his catch. Therefore, mom fried the remains, the total inch and a half, and the almost one whole bite tasted good or so we were told.
After a full day of exploring the area, planning for the next fiasco and getting ready for supper we all headed down to the lake to wash up a bit. We donned our swimming suits, carried towels, and bar of Ivory soap to the lake with us. Mom, dad and oldest son plunged into the semi frigid water of the spring fed lake and proceeded to wash and lather to a fare-thee well.
All of a sudden, we heard loud crying coming from the six-year-old still on land. Being the now environmentally conscious first grader he blurted out, "There's going to be nothing in here now but dead fish and bubbles."
We laughed so hard the water was rippling up to a tsunami-like froth. Eventually he was convinced that no permanent damage was done to the environment. However, I always did wonder if he reported our egregious action at one of his show and tell sessions.