Memories of camping in the upper peninsula of Michigan have been with me all my life. I was just three when I went with my parents to a clearing on the shore of a lake where there was nothing but a narrow dock, a rowboat, an outhouse, and trees.
We slept in the canvas tent my dad used for deer hunting. The tent smelled of mildew, had no floor, and large flaps that tied closed.
At night our cots creaked when we moved.
In the mornings we washed at a white metal bowl filled with water from the lake and a floating bar of soggy Ivory soap. My dad stood to shave in front of a mirror he hung from a nail in a tree; the scritch-scritch sound of him shaving blending with bird calls, as my mom fried bacon and eggs on a Coleman stove.
The stove sat on an aluminum folding table, along with a red metal cooler, which had a bottle opener attached to it with a string so it wouldn’t get lost. Such an important thing. I remember brown bottles of beer in sloshing ice, along with butter, milk, and bologna.
Kerosene lanterns hissed in the evenings, and animals made strange noises in the woods. My mom told me not to touch the canvas walls of the tent when it rained, but of course I did. I couldn’t resist. Just the touch of my small fingertip would cause a black spot of dampness to appear, like magic, so fascinating. I touched it again and again.
My grandson refers to the time before he can remember as, “before I could see.” And maybe this camping trip was my first seeing; the first time neurons fired in my medial temporal lobe, recording the scents, sounds, textures and images upon which all my remembered moments have been layered.
They say memory isn’t linear, but woven like cloth. Perhaps explaining why my recollections of damp canvas, soggy soap, and hissing kerosene have stuck with me so vividly, and for so long. Entwined with every significant thing I have remembered since.