This piece was published in the Pasadena Star News on August 10, 2008.
I told the clerk at the sporting goods store how much I loved my old tent while I stole
glances at the sleek little floor model sitting on the showroom floor. The skinny poles
were bright and shiny, unlike my tent poles that come in sections held together with
elastic cords. Mine are the kind of poles that can slice your fingertip off if you aren’t
My family has had the same tent for 20 years. We got it when the kids were young and
we camped every summer at Dogwood campground in the San Bernardino Mountains.
When we bought the tent in 1987 it was promoted as easy to assemble, and it is, with
two people working together as a team. Tents these days can be removed from their
bag, tossed into the air and land fully assembled and ready for sleeping bags.
What fun is that?
Now that the kids are grown, my husband and I camp only a few times a year and can’t
justify purchasing a new tent, so we just keep patching the old one. We’ve had several
of the zippers replaced and I carefully patch the tiny holes before they get to be big rips.
We had the elastic cords that hold the poles together replaced when their stretch gave
out. There isn’t much more we can repair on our faithful old tent. It’s kind of like driving
an old car. Our tent may look a little dated, but, hey, so are we.
The real value of our tent is sentimental. That old nylon enclosure has been home for us
at the campground and holds many happy memories along with the smoky scent of the
campfire. I remember our little mutt coming out of the tent early one morning the year
we took her camping. She curled up in a corner of the tent at night after an evening
curled up in front of the campfire. We lost her to cancer the following winter but her
doggy spirit remains in our tent.
Our kids have many happy memories of camping and came to love the out-of-doors, far
from TV, telephones and various electronic gadgets. Spending an evening with no
electricity can be very instructive to a kid who has grown up close to appliances.
We are a car-camping family and always stay in a campground with bathrooms adjacent
and a fire ring and picnic table nearby. We camp in relative luxury, but we gaze at the
stars at night, listen to the wind sifting through the pine trees and get scared as we
imagine wild animals lurking outside our tent in the middle of the night, as if we
are deep in the wilderness. Nonetheless, our children resonate with nature and it fills
their spirit as only the beauty of the natural world can.
Our last camping trip this year will be in August. As we pull into the campground,
we’ll see young families setting up tents that have several rooms, tents with front
porches and awnings, and dome tents that look a little like flying saucers. Today’s
almost indestructible miracle fabrics will enable those tents to last 20 years, as ours has.
One of these days we’ll get new-tent fever, but until then we will proudly pitch our
old tent and sit by the campfire till we get our fill of toasted marshmallows and kinks in
our necks from looking at the stars. Until then, our old tent will do just fine.
Kathleen Vallee Stein