The Last Word
Monday, 13 September 2010 14:19
Written by Tom McGouran and Joe Aiello, Photography by Chronic Creative
with Tom McGouran and Joe Aiello
I haven’t gone camping in 20 years. I mean real camping—tents, dirt, bugs, food cooked on a fire pit, type of camping. I recently got a call from my brothers in Toronto inviting me to join them in an annual dad/kids three-day camping trip in the wilds of Ontario. OK, the campground was about 40 minutes north of Toronto, but it was still promised to be an adventure for us city boys.
Knowing my kids are too old now to be interested, but seizing the opportunity to spend time with my crazy brothers and young nieces and nephews I don’t see very often, I jumped at the chance.
I fly in late one Saturday night and we head out Sunday morning for the three-day trip. As I mentioned, it should have been a 40-minute drive. That was, until the brakes on one of the cars in our convoy fried and we had to wait until a replacement car arrived from one of our wonderful sisters-in-law. Transfer the cargo, and we’re on our way with only a couple of stops left to go.
Food and beer. Sounds simple, until you get myself and two of my clone brothers into a beer store, trying to decide how much beer is necessary for a three-day camping trip. We managed to buy about $400 worth of food at the grocery store in about 15 minutes, but it took us at least an hour in the cooler of the beer store trying to do the math on the ideal number of beers.
I know people who are brilliant in sciences and mathematics, but they are not my siblings and me, and I’m sure they never faced solving a problem with these sort of dynamics. For example, only count the odd beer during the day, while we’re having fun with the kids. Now multiply that by how many thousand once the kids go to sleep? You can clearly see the problem.
We finally arrived at what we thought was the proper number. Let’s just say, the food bill was dwarfed in comparison.
Fast-forward to having all the tents set up, including brother Bernie’s 13-man “tent-mahal” and the fun begins.
Lots of great meals cooked over the fire pit, as you’re supposed to do when you are camping for “real.” Trips down to the beach in the daytime—which amounted to about an hour, since we were quickly reminded that when you actually “rough it” and cook over the fire, it takes about 14 hours to cook a meal. Interestingly, some were cooked immediately and then we had to have sandwiches.
I could relate a million stories of the short trip, but space here would not allow. I will relate one that sums up the experience of a number of inept brothers thinking it’s a great idea to show their kids the great outdoors.
One morning at about 5 a.m., brother John has to go to the washroom and decides that although the trip to the outhouse is about 100 yards away, he’ll drive. Wrong decision. On the drive back, relieved and happy, the cigar he decides to light for the 30-second trip lands in his lap and well, suffice it to say, it took five of us adults (and I use that term loosely), three cars, an axe and two hours to get his vehicle out of the ditch.
We all then returned to our sleeping bags exhausted, only to be awoken moments later to the lively chatter of the kids getting up to another exciting day with their dads and uncles.
I will tell you, we would never disappoint them, but John was designated activity director that day. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing the next morning when he woke up and had to go to the bathroom, he most likely walked.
The annual trip is already booked for next year. Am I going? Of course. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Besides that, we have a whole year to figure out how much beer we’ll need.
It’s fall already?! As you have already heard or muttered numerous times, “Where did the time go?” It seemed like just yesterday we were hoping for summer and it’s already gone! This time of year, the leaves start to change colours and the temperatures start to shift and so does a person’s mindset. People have to change gears from summer holiday mode to work or school mode.
The passage of time is a funny thing. As we get older, things in our lives are supposed to slow down, yet time seems to fly by—and that’s coming from a middle-aged man.
I can just imagine how my dad, who I affectionately call “Rockin’ Ralph,” must feel as he will turn 70 this November. He, like many immigrants, came to this country for a new beginning and opportunity. He was only 13! Not to mention that he spent the first part of his life in Italy during the Second World War.
Like many from that era, there was no time for a childhood. Talk about growing up fast! He learned a new language, worked odd jobs, put himself through school, bought his first house at the age of 20 and had his dad and uncles live there. He later married this beautiful Italian girl (hey, it was my mom!), had two boys, spent 36 years working as an electrician for Winnipeg Transit and has now been retired for the past 14 years.
Unfortunately, four years ago we lost Mom to breast cancer. Dad is still doing well, but now that he is slowing down a little bit, I finally realize that he’s become a senior citizen. I guess we find it hard to recognize that our parents are aging. I don’t mean because his hairline and beltline are higher. It’s just that for the first time, I feel like my brother and I have to look out for him now.
For years, when someone would say, “You remind me of your father,” I think my brother and I used to cringe. Now, we can appreciate the compliment. We can only wish to become half the man he is and had to become at an early age.
Happy 70th birthday, big guy! That’s a lot of candles, and you have earned them all.