Like many kids, my brother Greg and I grew up hunting, fishing and camping with our father. Many weekends were spent in Washington's Columbia Basin camping out and eating Spam fried over a Coleman stove on the tailgate of his truck. While vehicles, locations, guns and gear changed over the years, one thing remained a constant: the camp box.
Probably gleaned from the pages of Popular Mechanics and made by my father's hands well before we were born, this red-painted plywood camp box contained the world: a stove, lantern, food, first aid kit, toilet paper, snake bite kit, cooking utensils, propane and bottles. It was essentially a wilderness Walmart. If we ever needed anything, Dad would say, 'œDid you look in the camp box?' Invariably it would be in there. If we heard 'œlook in the camp box' once, we heard it a thousand times, and it became an inside running joke between my brother and I.
After college, my brother and I moved away — Greg went Idaho and I went all over. We still hunt frequently, but seldom do we get to hunt together. Dad's hunting days have passed and he has long-since oiled up his guns and put them away. He fishes instead.
This past fall, however, my brother and I decided to set aside time from our busy schedules for a deer trip to our old stomping grounds on the Washington/Idaho border. Greg got there early and set up the wall tent; I showed up in time for dinner. Dad drove the several hours from his home — not to hunt, but to share camp with his sons. We told him 'œJust show up, don't bring anything. We have it handled. We are adults, and we will take care of all the gear, food and supplies.'
Greg and I were out scouting, and when we returned we found Dad waiting for us. Greg looked at the open back of his SUV and saw the old wooden camp box.
Greg, with a huge grin on his face, said, 'œHow long do you think it will be before he mentions he brought the camp box?'
'œIt will be in the first five minutes,' I said, with a laugh of my own.
Looking at me sideways, Greg replied, 'œOh, it won't take that long.'
We stopped Greg's pickup and got out. Dad looked at us and didn't say 'œHi' or 'œI made it' or 'œHave you seen anything?' Nope, the first words out of his mouth were, 'œI brought the camp box.' We exchanged a sideways glance and a secretive smile. Even though we told him not to bring anything, he couldn't help himself. The old man was set in his ways.
Over the next couple of days Greg and I both shot deer and tried to show dad a good time. We cooked the meals, built the fires, did the dishes and butchered deer. I think subconsciously this trip was as much about paying the old man back for the many trips he took us on as it was proving how his boys had grown into men — men with wilderness experience who knew how to hunt deer, run a camp and be prepared.
Dad liked the camping. He enjoyed seeing us kill deer. But I know what he enjoyed the most were the moments we realized we'd forgotten several items like salt, garlic powder, toilet paper and plastic forks.
He didn't say much, he just sat back, poked the fire and said smugly, 'œDid you look in the camp box?'