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Long Ago Camping

Dan Gibson, author
Copyright 2000

My dad use to take the family camping each Summer when I was a child back in the 1950's. We would all look forward to the trip to the river. We lived a few miles from the Clear Fork River and this is where we would go swimming in the Summer. When we went camping dad took us to Zenith on the Big South Fork River. This was still in Scott County where we lived but a few more miles away. These area's are now part of the Big South Fork Park.
Getting back to my story dad and mom would load the old truck down with everything we would need for two weeks. Dad would say, "Let's not forget nothin' cause we won't be comin' out for anything."
When we finally got close to Zenith the road was nothing but a winding dirt road down the mountain to the river. Dad would drive so careful because there were some parts of the road that had a drop off of a 100 ft. or more. We would finally reached the bottom of the gorge and then had to drive across the river (no bridge) to the site where dad liked to camp. My older brother and I being young boys thought this was the greatest adventure one could ever experience! We had two sisters that were older than us. Counting mom and dad we were a family of six camping on a wild river with no other humans for miles around.
This was way before the "park" came to Scott County. There were no ready campsites, no faucet to turn water on, no bathroom, showers or electrical outlet and not even a ready made grill and last but not least no people around! I look back on those days and to me this was truly what going camping was all about!
We kids wanted to run and jump into the river the first thing but dad was adamant we should set up camp first. Dad had this huge "tarp" he would suspend in the air by tieing the ends to trees. This would keep all of our supplies dry and us in case it came a rain which it always did. We would gather rocks to make the campfire where mom would place an iron grate on top of the rocks. Dad would leave a small open area in the rocks where he could place more wood on the fire. Dad, my brother and I would gather wood for the fire. Mom with her iron skillets, pots, pans and of course the big coffee pot could whip up a meal in no time. We would always say the food taste better cooking on the river which it did!
Dad loved to fish better than anything. Mom enjoyed it also along with me and my brother. My sisters were scared to death of worms and someone always had to bait their hooks! Needless to say they would get bored with fishing and would go picking wild flowers and hunting what they called 'pretty rocks'. We all had things we enjoyed doing. Dad brought a small boat and he and mom would paddle up river a little and set out a trot line. We ate fish everyday with mom's famous hush puppies!
Late in the evening one day dad and mom were running the trot line when we children heard mom screaming to the top of her lungs. We took off running in that direction not knowing what had happened. Apparently mom was rowing the boat while dad was checking the line. A large water moccasin snake had wrapped itself around one of the paddles and was inching its way up the paddle toward mom. Mom was screaming, trying to shake the snake off and of course with all this commotion was rocking the boat. Dad was yelling at mom to sit down and was trying to steady the boat so they would not flip over. Dad grab the paddle and with one flip the snake went flying in the air and landed in the middle of the river. No one was hurt not even the snake. I will say mom was shaken up a little and I noticed she and dad didn't talk to each other very much the rest of the night. Needless to say, mom didn't go with dad to check the trot line anymore on that particular trip!
The place we camped was spectacular scenery everywhere you looked. Across the river was a solid wall of rock with some trees, bushes and ferns growing here and there. It seemed at least a thousand feet high. The landscape was lush and green with wild flowers dotting the area. Huge rocks were placed here and there in the river and on the banks. Where we camped there was a little patch of sand which led into the river. We would swim here because it was very shallow. The deepest part only came up to my shoulders and being a little boy that was not very deep. You could go a hundred feet up the river or down the river and the river became very deep. Mom would constantly warn us we were only allowed to swim in front of our campsite!
We would eat fried fish everyday but mom always cooked other food also. She would cooked a big pot of pinto beans and make corn flitters in her iron skillet. We would have boiled, fried or roasted potato's and boiled corn on the cob. Home made vegetable soup. Wild greens and mushrooms mom would find in the woods. Everything pretty much came from our garden. Mom would also bring quart jars of can food from the garden. She had big tin cans filled with flour, corn meal, coffee and lard with smaller containers of sugar and salt. We kids would drink water and cool-aid. Dad and mom drank water, ice tea 'without the ice' and coffee. I know now we were on the poor side back then when it came to money but we children sure didn't know it!
We would roll out our bed rolls when it was time to go to bed. We didn't have sleeping bags just some of mom's old quilts spread on the ground with a sheet or light blanket for cover. Mom would want us all to sleep under the tarp in case it rained. When it did rain at night we would all move closer together to keep from getting wet. Dad would usually keep a fire going all night. I never will forget how peaceful it was at night. How bright the stars were in the dark sky. The constant soothing sound of the river. The frogs, crickets and all the other night sounds of the wilderness. Listening to dad and mom talking softly as me and my brother would curl up together on our pallet yawning and falling off to sleep.
Dad and Mom are gone now. We kids are all middle age now living in different parts of the country. A couple of years ago I went back to Scott County and made my way back to the place where dad would take us camping all those years ago. It is still as beautiful as ever. I sat down on a big boulder and gazed around at the scenery listening to the wind whistling through the trees. I could almost hear the laughter of us children from years ago and smell the hint of catfish frying on an open fire!

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