By Tony Hooker
It’s the end of June, and for many kids these days, that means it’s the start of summer camp season.
Scout camp, sports camp, day camp, library camp, church camp. Chef’s camp. (Shameless Parkland College for Kids plug!) These days, it seems like there’s a camp for every kids’ interest. And I think that’s a cool thing, but it wasn’t the way my childhood was spent.
Growing up in Donnie’s B’s house, there was only one kind of camping going on, and it involved tents and a boat and fishing poles. There were no “except for that one time in band camp” moments for me, because as the outstanding band teacher, Mr. Krejci told me in fifth grade, “ I think it would be in your best interests, and mine, to find other pursuits.” There are good trombone players, there are bad trombone players, there are horrific trombone players, and then there is me. I combined a lack of overall talent with a genuine disinterest in practicing to make about six months of misery for an accomplished music man like Ken Krejci.
Back in the day, when my step-dad was into something, he was all in. I spent many summers haunting race tracks all over central and southern Illinois, with one memorable venture into Indiana, where we thought we were going to have to fight our way back to VG. Danged Hoosiers. From Champaign to Macon to Charleston to Robinson to Danville, our weekends were filled with racing and our weeknights were filled with repairing cars. For pre-teen me, it was an idyllic life, for sure.
As you might have surmised, his other passion was for bass fishing and camping. I remember one memorable Friday night when he came home from a local pub (Kentuck’s, Leo’s, Spoonie’s?) flush with excitement. By ten p.m., our car was loaded and headed to Bull Shoals Lake, on the Missouri-Arkansas border. Fun fact: My dad used to park the boat on the line and make me fish in Arkansas while he fished in Missouri. I think he said the Mizzou fish were bigger, and I think I believed him! On this particular trip, however, mother nature decided to have some fun with us and blow up a tornado without warning in the middle of the night. I will never forget the sight of the adults in the group spread out around the outer edges of the tent, trying to keep it in contact with mother earth as the wind howled and the rain slashed at us. Good times. For a few years, Bull Shoals became our vacation destination each summer. We got to ride horses at Theodosia Springs, hike trails, and fish, fish, fish. White bass, crappie, walleye. You name it and we caught it.
The trip I remember most, other than the tent in a tornado event, was when he took us to Silver Dollar City, back before Branson became BRANSON. Unfortunately for us, the transmission in the old Plymouth station wagon gave up the ghost navigating the hills and hollers of southwest MO, necessitating a few nights stay in a local motel, and since there were no other kids there, we had the pool all to ourselves! For a hick like me, who grew up swimming in lake water, with only a few trips to USI pool in between, this was heaven.
Of course, there were countless trips to Bo Woods campground, on Shelbyville Lake every summer, and as I moved into my awkward teen years, my interests changed. So here’s to you Misty and Fonda. And Tara and Lisa. The summer we spent hanging out together with Brad was a great one!
Here’s to memories. Both those of the past and the ones we will make in the future. I think I had the best childhood ever, and I hope that you did too.