Oh, the bounce house! Who knew that the ubiquitous staple of contemporary birthday parties had morphed into a camping accoutrement? It was, to our dismay, inflated on site, by the group in the camp spot just up the road. We’ve had a summer date with the same group of friends for years, and I’ve got to say, Pfieffer Big Sur never disappoints. Sort of like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”
We first went up the coast almost 30 years ago when our kids were young, and what do you know? The June pilgrimage has endured. We were a play group — a bunch of women randomly brought together by their kids each week at the park. Our children didn’t always get along, but it turned out that their mothers really liked each other, so we told them to buck up! New York, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Colorado, Australia — our kids grew up and left for adventure. But, when they can, they drift back to the north coast and the campground where they grew up together. And now they bring their own children.
Sitting around the campfire one evening — encircled by the hysterically joyful screams of six little girls under the age of 8, two sixth-grade boys too cool for words, and three dirt-caked toddlers wondering, between cries, why in the world their parents ever left home where there was a decent bathtub — we six grandmotherly women decided that the situation might be improved from our point of view, if we were equipped with score cards in order to rate the parenting we saw going on around us. Imagine, if you will, old lady types in folding camp chairs, sporting tacky visors, well-worn gramma pants, and a second glass of wine. This is the gist of the probable repartee:
Hmmm ... I give that last performance a 4.1. The “Stop hitting your father or Santa won’t bring you any presents,” was a hard sell, and then there was the questionable follow-up, “Be nice, and I might let you roast another marshmallow.”
Or: Whoa, now that was an incredible display of parenting. I’ll award a 9.4 for the dash to snatch a rock from the baby’s mouth, the quick transition to cuddle the 5-year-old bike crasher and finally an unparalleled rescue of the hot dogs just seconds before combustion. A fine performance indeed. Perhaps even close to my all-time high score in 1982 when I chased the skunk from camp while breastfeeding our youngest.
We didn’t actually do it, of course, mainly because we’d been in their shoes once upon a time, and we wisely stopped at glass of wine No. 2. Besides, had we gone through with it, I can just imagine the June 2014 texts to our children and grandchildren:
Us: Hey, where are you guys?
Them: Home, where are you?
Us: Big Sur!
Them: You’re kidding! We made our reservations for next weekend. Darn. Oh well, have fun.
Things have definitely changed over the years. Pfieffer could never be labeled wilderness camping, but it seems the rules have gotten more loosey-goosey. Now, those sweet little camp hosts with their pimped-out golf carts hunker down in their trailers after dark, and I’m not sure where the Smokey Bear guys are. I bought a new battery-powered toothbrush for camping, and I was a little worried that I might violate the quiet time rule. It sounds like it’s powered by a Briggs & Stratton two-stroke. Turns out I needn’t have worried. 10:15 p.m., and a guy nearby yelled, “Who wants a burger?” The tequila shots started some time later, followed by 2 a.m. “ralphing ” in the redwoods. One of our geezer friends was heard to mutter the following morning, “Dang, back in the old days, we’d get shut down for singing ‘Kumbaya’ at 10:01!”
Year to year, our group contracts or expands, depending on who’s in town, but we continue the ritual, and hold close the “remember whens?” Bikes, baseball, barbecues, campfires — there’s something to be said for tradition. And yes, I suppose even the bounce house fits in there somewhere.
Suzanne Davis is happily retired and living in the South County with her husband and their three dogs.