FAITHFUL LIVING: Sharing summer memories builds family

People who light fires on the slightest provocation are always the nicest.

There’s something comforting about fires.

-- Jane England

Is it my imagination or does food taste better when cooked outside? And how about those marshmallows? Last week I discovered an empty grocery story shelf where I had hoped to find a bag of Stay Puff marshmallows. Guess I am not the only one who does not mind a “flamer” or two and cannot possibly eat just one S’more.

Thank goodness it is that outdoor time of year. We can fix our favorite barbeque recipes and set our chairs around a fire ring, to talk about past outdoor adventures and look for meteors.

A favorite childhood photo of mine hangs in my bedroom and pictures a campsite somewhere in the coast of Oregon. In the background looms our large blue and yellow canvas tent — the kind we dared not touch when wet. Towels are hanging on a makeshift clothesline strung between two trees and my mom is looking up from a Coleman stove where she is heating chili. My elementary-aged brother is offering a tasty morsel to our family dog and the checkered tablecloth featuring a green, orange and gold color scheme takes me back to those fashionable ‘70s.

It was quite a trip as I recall. My Uncle Charlie, who joined my family for the adventure, ran into the girl who had written him a Dear John letter during World War I. She and her husband of 50 years were drying their clothes in a laundromat. Uncle Charlie recognized her even though she had suffered a stroke and struggled to walk. They hugged.

My mom had taken a part-time job, as I recall, to outfit the family for the three-week camping trip up the West Coast. At the time we owned an avocado green station wagon with a black interior that got so hot at times we had to sit on beach towels to keep from burning our legs. We also made good use of a rather new product on the market called a space blanket, developed by the people at NASA.

Those old canvas tenting days are long gone. No longer do we have to avoid the sides of the tent if it rains or spend a significant amount of time blowing up air mattresses with double-action hand pumps. Today tents are lightweight, sturdy, and dry quickly — if you use tents! My kids love the outdoors but they are not wild about camping as their backyard looks too much like a campsite. They prefer hotels with pools and big city experiences. They gravitate to video games, cell phones, and movies.

So my husband and I have given up on the notion that we will spend a month each year out in the wilds with the kids, communing with nature. We have not, however, diminished the notion that time spent outside with the kids can be predictably magical. The value we see in spontaneously moving our evening activities outdoors to eat, talk, and play out in the warm night air has brought real joy to us this week. Beyond the barbequed chicken, the S’mores and whacking flying termites with badminton rackets, we are talking. Laughing. Listening to music. Playing musical chairs to avoid the smoke of our campfire. We are comparing notes on what to improve on our property. We are talking about the immensity of space and those situations in all of our lives that we find both troubling and challenging. We are reminiscing about childhood adventures.

I like to tell about the spring when my childhood family visited Death Valley, Calif. The wind blew so fiercely we had to sit on all four corners of our tent to hold it down while Dad hurried to dismantle our entire campsite and throw it helter skelter into the car. My kids like to detail the time the mothers in the neighborhood shrieked all at once when they discovered their children swinging the top of a 100-foot fir with their combined body weight.

It is those spontaneous conversations, out there in the cloak of dark as we gaze into the fire, that bond us ever more tightly and builds upon a foundation of strength and love that we trust will serve each family member for a lifetime.

So let us love the sun and the warm breezes. And let us equally anticipate the darkness, the sliver of a moon and the Milky Way. There is a fire to enjoy and special moments to share.

Enjoy a favorite column while freelance writer Joan Bay Klope is on vacation. Her e-mail address is jbklope

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