Saturday, July 8, 2017

CAMPOUT


This morning I moved a stack of books, and a little black notebook filled with the memorial postcards my mother collected on my family’s “moving west” adventure, circa 1946, fell out on the floor of my study. Every time I see the postcards of a roadside park near Burnet, Texas I wonder why my parents didn’t settle in Hill Country near Buchanan Dam. By the 40’s, Buchanan Dam had become known as the largest multi-arch dam in the world, and the area had begun to bustle.

At this time, we were on the famous Diddy Wah Diddy adventure to California — and, no, my father hadn’t quit his job to set out to pan gold — in fact, none of the family ever knew what his goal was, beyond following an inclination to “drop out.” We spent a month roughing it at a park I’ve never been able to relocate, even after two searches in the Buchanan Dam area during the 90’s. I surmise that we camped out near the Dam, probably on Lake Buchanan or Inks Lake — both major retirement and recreation places today.

Seven decades ago, this Hill Country paradise offered primitive lodging and places to eat, but my mother, a seasoned Golden Eaglet Girl Scout in her youth, and my father, always good for an outdoor adventure, thought it was a fishing, boating, and camping haven — and they were right. But why didn’t they settle there? At the time my father had sold everything we owned and replaced our worldly goods with camping equipment. We were virtually homeless!

The memories that well up in me are of a hot Army tent large enough to hold six Army cots and an old black trunk Mother used at Mississippi State College for Women with minimal clothing in it; of a charcoal grill on which my mother cooked everything from oatmeal to grilled chicken; the dubious “reading lamp” of a Coleman lantern; and the daily job of hauling water from somewhere in a park that also held a couple of public toilets. We bathed in one of the lakes and on a side trip to Austin, skinny dipped in the Brazos River along with TeeNap, our cocker spaniel that accompanied us everywhere. I was dubbed the “luxury-loving girl” because I didn’t have the proper respect for camping, but I only feared the experience would become permanent, and I loved school, a facility that didn’t seem to be open to us, in my father’s opinion. “Gypsies go to school in life,” he said.


Despite this experience, I feel inexplicable nostalgia every time I visit hill country. It was a place of cedar, oak, and mesquite, and in the nearby towns of Burnet, Llano, and Marble Falls, residences were built of beautiful native rock, a material that inspired my mother to use some kind of rock to embed in our memories… forever. When we returned to Franklinton, Louisiana and she became pregnant with #5, she hauled rock from a creek near the stucco house, in which we finally settled, during her sixth month of pregnancy and supervised the building of an outdoor table and benches made completely of rock similar to ones she had seen in Texas roadside parks.

I will never know why my parents didn’t settle in the Lake Buchanan area as it has mushroomed into an ideal place to live. I suppose that the area offered no employment for my father who was a certified civil engineer, and the Dam had already been built. He returned to Louisiana to sell Ford automobiles with my Grandfather Paul a couple of years before going back to the drafting board.

The great Diddy Wah Diddy trip that was the Great Buchanan Dam Camp-Out was recounted at every family gathering until my parents and four siblings passed into the campground on the other side.


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