As I look forward to being on the road again in our motorhome with my wife Kathy and Pomeranian
Bitzi, and as I anticipate the publication of my third novel, Failed Dawn,I look back to our beginning experiences with camping and how I related to my grandmother's camping experiences 106 years ago.
In the following excerpt from my first historical novel about my grandmother, Lydia,
she and my grandfather discuss the beginning of their married life together in the tent where they would live with Melvin's 3 boys for 5 years.
"That looks right fine, if I do say so myself," Melvin said to himself. “It looks a lot better than I thought it would."
He had hoped to build a dock before they moved in, but there weren't enough hours in the day to do that. As it was, a twenty foot stretch of oyster shell beach allowed a clear view of the Indian River from a large flap on the western side of the tent. The "windows" could be rolled up or down for ventilation or protection as needed. There were smaller windows at either end of the tent, also. Their new home was approximately ten feet by twenty feet, so there was enough room for trunks of clothes and a bedroll on the canvas floor. The eastern view from their tent home overlooked the acre of land that Melvin had proudly cleared and planted in rows of green beans. In fact, those beans were mid-calf high already and they were planted a month ago. Another half acre had been cleared but not planted. The felled trees and palmettos were stacked and waiting to be burned. “There’s always plenty of work to do," thought Melvin. "I don't even finish one job before three others need to be done."
Directly to the west of the site was Barker Island, which was separated from the north end of John's Island by a short channel of water, known as Oyster Cut, and which provided many tasty winter meals of plump juicy oysters for all the families in the area. The tides in the shallow waters constantly flushed the oysters, so they were clean and safe to eat. "That's another reason that Lydia and I will enjoy livin' here," Melvin thought.
Just before their marriage, Melvin tried to think of as many ways to please Lydia as possible. He had constructed a cook house a short distance from the tent. Four large cabbage palm pillars held up a cypress frame covered in palmetto and palm thatch with a large fire ring and five or six storage barrels for their extra provisions under it. Melvin had hung pots and pans from the wooden rafters. The sides had hooks for hanging whatever smoked meat was available. He had dug a shallow well into which he had inserted a porous wooden barrel which would provide their water. The well was merely a hole dug into the sand down to the water level. The water filtered through the cracks in the barrel as it sought the water level. This way, sand was kept out of the water and it was clear and ready to drink. He had also built a large rectangular table with long benches on either side to serve as their dining room.
He would never forget the look on Lydia's face last week when she first saw their new home. It was the day after their wedding night at John McCullers' house. Melvin had led Lydia around as proudly as he could manage to walk while swatting hordes of mosquitoes. As the tour started, Lydia stopped suddenly, dead still, and stared in dismay.
"Lydie," he murmured, using the pet name he had given her. "Now that I see it from your viewpoint, I realize that it's not as fine a place as I thought. But it's all that we can afford right now."
Lydia managed to say, "I'm sure that it will be just fine. At least there's a beautiful view here. Livin' here can't be any worse than the month long wagon trip down here."
"We'll make the best of it, Lydie. It won't be too bad, except for the fact that the tent might leak when it rains." Melvin's blue eyes twinkled with mischief, and Lydia couldn't help but laugh.
She wrapped her arms around her husband and said, “What will be, will be."
Lydia was the inspiration for writing the novels and as I explored the Indian River area with our 2 sons camping and fishing, I learned to appreciate her life even more.