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By Steve Wintermute
Originally published in the Kingsport Times News on June 23, 2009

My Dad is a minister. Their parishioners may not be aware, but many ministers have other interests they pursue with the same “religious” fervor. When I was growing up, my Dad had a few. One was camping. He loved it. He loved everything about it: packing the car; driving to the campground; unpacking the car; setting up the tent; cooking over a campfire or Coleman stove; bedding down in sleeping bags on air mattresses; taking the tent down; repacking the car, and doing the same thing day after day, summer after summer. In other words, he loved the whole nine yards, which is a poor metaphor as Dad has never been a sports guy.

Some years later, Dad decided sleeping on the ground was uncomfortable and that a pop-up tent camper trailer was the way to go. So did he go out and buy one? Nope. He built one. And never a man to waste anything, he cut up his current tent and then sewed it back together to make the camper top. And it worked.

When I was a young lad, I liked camping, too. What kid would not with all its attendant adventures. There was the time in Yellowstone National Park when a bear sauntered into our campsite during supper. We fled to the safety of our car, rolled up the windows and watched wide-eyed as the bear sampled our meal and then stuck his nose into my Mom’s coffee cup. The bear bellowed and jerked his head up. The coffee cup flew one way and the bear flew another.

There was the time on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, back when it was all ferries and no bridges and Dad still camped in tents. The night turned windy. The tent flapped and fluffed. When we awoke, the day was sunny, blue and calm. A perfect morning – except all the other tents had been blown down. Not ours, though, thanks to Dad’s insistence on always anchoring his tents securely. A short time later a park ranger came by and ordered everyone out – a hurricane was on the way.

There was the time in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park when a guy in the space across the road from our site lit his campfire from his chair by pumping up his gas stove canister and then opening it up while he held a cigarette lighter to the escaping gas stream – thus creating a blow torch. Turned out the guy was a fireman.

My Dad also liked boating. After building a couple of camper trailers, he decided making a boat would be easy. Not a big boat. A sailboat. Actually, a canoe with an outrigger for stability when the sail was up. So he, actually he and I, built it. We covered it with fabric fiberglass. We painted it green. (I’ve never asked him why green.) Completed, we took it to a family friend’s cabin on nearby Pickwick Lake in west Tennessee and launched it. It floated. It didn’t leak. It handled well. But we never did put a mast and sail on it. I forget why. But what I’ll never forget is that the fiberglass made me itch like crazy and the acetone to harden it smelled rank.

I’ve learned a lot from Dad: the meaning of love for my family and my fellow Man; equality and justice are empty words without action; violence destroys while peace creates; an open mind is life but a closed one is death, and we are all God’s children.

But I never learned to love camping nor building boats. Sorry, Pop.

Shalom. Your son, Steve.


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