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Monello

Looking back, I had an amazing childhood

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The thread about life's turning point got thinking.

I grew up in the 1960s. Became a moody teen in the 1970s. Looking back, what a great time to be a kid & a teen.


I was a freshman in high school. We still had junior highs back then. I just became a starter on the freshman wrestling team. A few of the older kids in the neighborhood decided to plan a camping trip. 3 kids lived down the street but went to a different high school. They invited 2 of their classmates that I had never met. We were suburb kids with a modest understanding of camping and camping related skills. I had a sleeping bag, small backpack by today's standards and a few other essentials. The rest of the gear we needed was pilfered from our homes. We ended up with skillets, sauce pots, hatchets, axes, rope, a cooler in addition to a bunch of other stuff. Several of my fellow campers brough shotguns with them. I wasn't allowed a firearm but I did have a compound bow that I brought. We got a bunch of boxes from the local grocery store. The fruit boxes worked great as you could use the lid to reinforce the bottom to create strong storage.

So here it is a Friday early February in NJ. Our departure day has arrived. I have an away wrestling match. I was a mid season addition to the lineup on a team that up to that point had been unbeaten. They moved me up 1 weight class so I didn't have to lose any last minute weight thankfully. I was quite apprehensive all day in school. My nervousness ramped up the closer it came to match time. I had a bad case of butterflies. It's my turn to wrestle. Our team is losing on total points. It's showtime. 1st period is in the standing position. I don't remember much of the details. The gym we were at was pretty empty. Our home matches always drew a few hundred students. When it came time for me to assume the down position, I remember how sore my arms were as I got into position. In all the weeks of training leading up to that point, I had never felt that level of fatigue. Then the 6 minutes of wrestling are over. I don't recall the score but I did manage to win on points. The next 5 wrestlers after me also won and we cruised to an easy win after starting out a bit flat. Get on the bus, head back to school. Then a 2 mile walk home.

When I get home the 5 other campers are waiting for me. By the time I got back I was almost 2 hours late for our departure. To their credit they waited on me to leave. We piled all our gear in my friend's father Bonneville. In the days before mandatory seat belt usage, we crammed 6 teens, my friend's dad, our various boxes of gear into the car. Our destination was High Point State Park. It was about 50 miles from where we live but for us it could have been a universe away. On the way down the road the sight of homes were replaced with views of fields and trees. It began to snow along the way. Just a few flakes at first that became a good flurry. Due to our late departure, it was dark by the time we head down the road. Our way is highlighted by the car's headlights. In the park there wasn't much signs of human activity. We found a leanto and commenced to unload our gear into it. Using flashlights, we did the best we could to illuminate the darkness. Since it was still snowing, a decision was made to hang our ponchos across the opening of the leanto to cut down on the wind and keep the snow from encroaching on our dwindling sleeping area. I'm now dog tired after my exciting afternoon.

We slept right on the wooden floor. Back then none of us gave sleeping on the ground a 2nd thought. I'd be in traction if I tried that today. The snow continued to fall through the night. The temperature plummeted. I don't recall being cold but I'm sure I was cold to some degree. None of us had any of the specialized clothing available today. We had blue jeans, cotton shirts, sweat shirts and jackets for warmth. Gloves and hats rounded out our wardrobes. I did my own packing. My parents didn't hover over me making sure I had this or that with me. I could have packed shorts and tank tops and they wouldn't have known.

We wake to a white wonderland the next morning. We can finally see good enough with the arrival of the sun. Most of our provisions are frozen. The peanut butter, frozen. Jelly, frozen. Milk, frozen. Eggs, frozen. A bunch of us head over to the park headquarters to pay for our site. The ranger spies us with concern. He asks where our 'responsible adult' is. I had to laugh when he said that. KG was our only 18 year old in the group. He was probably the least responsible of the group. He had repeated multiple grades in school. It was safe to say that he wouldn't end up working for NASA. If he ever did, it would probably involve pushing a broom around. When we got back, he had a fire going. Over the fire was a pot filled with milk shavings that he had scraped out of the milk carton with a spoon. Heating the milk shards, he then poured half a box of cocoa pops in the pot for a warm breakfast.

As the sun rose, it got warmer but never really got warm. We hit the woods in search of firewood. Trudging through the snow, all our gloves were soaking wet. From handling the snowy firewood. No one's gloves would dry for the rest of the time we were there. We'd put them by the fire and they would steam but never actually dry. Some time early in the AM, the snow stopped falling. The sun shining off the snow looked like a million diamonds. Our afternoon adventure was to hit the woods to hunt small game. Our most likely quarry would be squirrels & rabbits. In reality most of the critters in the woods were safe from us. We made so much noise walking in the woods, animals in the neighboring counties knew we were out and about.


We headed off to the hunting area, which was a short hike from our campsite. Armed with my bow and field tipped arrows, I scanned the woods for any movement. I wasn't 20 steps into the woods when I hear the first gun blast. Then a few more. Some dumbass shot 1 of the song birds that seemed to be the only game in the forest that day. By the time we quit hunting, KG had shot off an entire box of shotgun shells. Trees were the most likely target. Calling it a day, the sun was beginning to drop down behind the NW Jersey mountains. And the temperature once again began to plummet.

Back in camp we got a roaring fire going. Armed with a hatchet, 1 of the campers headed towards a frozen pond. He intended to try to ice fish. He proceeded to strike the ice with the hatchet over and over again. He was wearing 1 of those wool hats that you can use as a face mask. The little pieces of ice were flying all over the place. Several stuck to his face mask, giving him a look like a cross between a yeti and frosty. Turns out the pond was only a few inches of water.

Then more snow began to fall. Cooking dinner was a challenge. No sooner was the picnic table cleared of snow, a few minutes later it was again covered over. PB&Js and hot dogs were on the menu. We ate more to refuel our bodies than for the taste of the food. Up to that point in my life, it was probably 1 of the more miserable situations that I was in. But I don't recall thinking it sucked and how I couldn't wait to get home. I did miss warmth and I realized it would once again be a part of my life once we returned to civilization. The rest of the night was spent sitting around the campfire. Our boots and gloves steamed as the fire's warmth attempted to dry them out. I'm sure we mocked teach other to some degree. Regardless of our shenanigans, no one required any medical attention. Not that I'm sure we'd know what to do if someone did require assistance.

Sleeping that night was crummy. I remember being up quite a few times. I had my face buried in my sleeping bag. I would open the flap to let some fresh air in. In rushing air was an arctic blast against my warm cheeks. I repeated that process several more times that night. My hot breath actually made the part of the sleeping bag closest to my mouth and nose moist. At some point darkness released its' grip on the landscape and eventually gave way to dawn. With our departure pending, we hastily packed our gear to leave. We weren't sure when our ride would arrive so we wanted to be ready to get out of Dodge.

The dirt road into our campsite was not recognizable because of the snow. Just the clearing of the trees indicated where the road was and where it went. Then it appeared. Like a vision out of a mirage. A white Pontiac Bonneville churning through the snow drifts. My friend's dad had stopped off and bought a thermos of Dunkin Donuts coffee. Up to that point in my life, I had never had an entire cup of coffee before. My parents drank it by the gallons but I didn't have a taste for it. Still don't. But I recall the warmth of the liquid as I sipped it. We had been cold for so long that we just got accustomed to it. That coffee was a welcomed indulgence.

to be continued......

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  1. Monello's Avatar
    When we arrived back home, I discovered that the mom network had been making a few phone calls wondering if we were OK and should they send the calvary to rescue us earlier. It wasn't like we all had cell phones and could just give a status report at any time. I'm sure the moms were worried. But we managed to survive without any of us getting killed or killing each other.

    Over the next 3-4 years, several of us would go on to take a few more camping trips. Once word spread of our epic adventure, it seemed that everyone else wanted to tag along the next time we went camping. I just wish we had though to bring a camera to capture some of those special moments.

    A few years ago I reconnected with 1 of my fellow campers. Thanks Facebook. He's now living in the SW US. We chatted about all the great times we had in the great outdoors. As kids we read all the Outdoor Life & Field & Stream magazines about far away places to hunt and fish. That was going to be us one day.

    The point to writing all this. I'm thankful that my parents had enough faith to let me go on such a daring adventure. I don't think kids today would have the same opportunity. Some might consider it borderline child abuse. If nothing it made us a bit stronger. For a couple of years it gave us great stories to tell and things to reminisce about. Sometimes I wish I had done more of those things growing up. But I'm always grateful for the times that we ventured out of our comfort zone. Oh to be young again.
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