Summer Vacation: Terror in a Tent

When I was kid summer vacations were about getting away from home. I grew up in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio cities. Often childhood family vacations were trips to visit grandparents and aunts and uncles. In my teens, my family chose the adventure of camping. But sometimes the adventure turned into terror in a tent.

Summer Vacation: terror in a tent, or the memories of being a teenaged girl who wasn't meant to go camping
Photo by Paul Hermann on Unsplash

At first, our camping vacations were to area lakes and parks. This time we were going to visit the Rocky Mountains. Now, I was already an insatiable reader. Usually, I spent camping trips reading ensconced in one of those folding chairs with that plastic webbing. I did some fishing, some hiking, and enjoyed cookouts and campfires. But stories were my thing even then. This time, though, I looked forward to the adventure of visiting the Rockies.

Being a female teen I was up for an adventure to the mountains as long as I could wear cool clothes. No, I don’t mean the latest fad. I mean cool. We spent hours and hours in a four-door sedan. My younger brother, my much younger tomboy sister, my infant brother, my parents, my father’s “ancient” mother, and I squeezed into the “comfortable for four” car. Seven people in an unairconditioned car traveling through the central plains in July? I mean, come on! It was HOT. I wore a shirt and shorts (very modest by today’s standards) and strappy sandals.

Our first stop was a barren campground in western Iowa. I only remember two things about that campground. Phase one of terror in a tent began when I stepped out of the car and a snake slithered over my open-toed sandal. I ran to the nearest picnic table, scaled it, and stood there screaming. I refused to return to the campsite my parents had picked. They finally relented and moved camp—to the other side of the campground. (I know, I know—now.) At the time, it mollified me.

My parents set up the tent while grandma took care of the baby. I don’t remember what I did, but I can guess—chair, shade, book.

The tent wasn’t large enough for all seven of us. There was math involved in getting space for all us to stretch out and yet leave room for mom and grandma to get up in the night. Grandma’s cot ran the length of one side of the tent, the side closest to the door. Mom’s cot was across the back of the tent. The baby slept in a box beside mom’s cot. And Dad’s cot ran the length of the other side of the tent.  My sleeping bag was on the ground. In order to leave a path for Grandma, my lower legs had to go under my father’s cot. It didn’t bother me. I could sleep anywhere. My sister slept next to me and my brother next to her. His feet also were under Dad’s cot. I don’t think her feet reached that far.

We were all exhausted thanks to an early departure and a day with record-breaking heat. We went to bed when the sun went down.

In the middle of the night, two of the legs of my father’s cot collapse. I woke up screaming, certain my feet were crushed. It took Dad a while to untangle himself from the sleeping bag and broken cot. My feet weren’t crushed. Bruised, but I could walk. My brother escaped injury because he’d curled up into a ball. I don’t remember how long the commotion lasted or how long it took my parents to work out a different sleeping arrangement. But Dad slept on the ground after that. I slept on the other side of the tent.

The second terror in a tent should have had me insisting on going home. But I was a good kid. I rolled with the punches or the crushes or—well, you know what I mean. Besides, adventures like this fed my writer’s imagination.

Have you had a vacation or two where things didn’t go smoothly? Those events were scary, but the terror in the tent didn’t start until we reached the Rocky Mountains. I’ll tell you more about that, next time. In the meantime, please share your vacation nightmares memories in the comments below.

Twice in the past few weeks, I’ve embarrassed myself! Sheesh. Sorry folks. Evidently, I didn’t press the right button when I tried to schedule this post to go live on Wednesday, September 5th. And although I was curious as to why the post bombed so badly no one liked or commented on it, I never came to the website to verify that I’d actually posted it. It was only when I was attempting to link it to the second part that I realized it hadn’t posted. *headdesk* Ah well. Since this is a two-parter, this one must be posted first. The second part will be posted next Monday.


  1. This brings back memories for me. Like you, whenever we went to the mountain cabins in the Adirondacks, I sat and read and then would beg my mom to come back the following year. However, my first camping trip as a kid (there was only one other in college) went horribly. I think I was probably in 5th grade and it was a Girl Scouts trip with leaders who plainly did not know some basic rules about camping. They camped in a valley and it started to pour rain and, as you can guess, the tents all flooded — and I mean, flooded (looking back, this was pretty dangerous). Soaked, we ran to shelter in the cars and one of the leaders managed to slam my hand in the car door but was positive it was “just fine”. So no more camping trips until the Haldemans convinced me to camp on the way to a con in college. That was okay but the last time. I’ve been back to the cabins in the Adirondacks many times though.

    1. Oh my gosh, Terry. OUCH! And yes, that was incredibly dangerous. I don’t blame you for not going back camping. I’m glad you’ve been back to the cabins in the Adirondacks though.

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