The Sandspurs


This coming Saturday is a busy day for the Tanners.

At around 4 AM, I drop DJ off at the Raleigh-Durham airport.  She’s going to Durbin, South Africa, with her aunt.  A once in a lifetime experience that she will experience… at age 19.

At 9, I pick Michelle up from Camp Kanata, an overnight camp where she will have spent the week with one of her best friends.  She was stoked when I dropped her off last Sunday.

At 3, I drop Stephanie off for four weeks at Camp Seafarer on the coast of North Carolina where she will be a Camper in Leadership Training.

It’s good to be my kids.

When I was younger, often the highlight of a summer day was earning a nickel when my brother bet me I wouldn’t stick my tongue in the sand hole in our backyard.  You could rake that dirt off with about three scrapes from your Incisors.  Well worth it when the ice cream truck came musically down Berkshire Road.

My backyard could be Africa, if I wanted it to.  It could also be sleep away camp or a spaceship or a battlefield.  All we needed was a hole, which my dad dug for us in the back corner of the back yard.  Six of seven of us could fit into it at once.

The principal’s kid lived behind us on the other side of the fence from our fort.  We didn’t like the principal.  We didn’t like his kid either.  My mother, the preacher’s wife, encouraged us to be nice to him, to include him in our group.  We didn’t much listen to her suggestion.  I’m certain it was my brother’s fault.

Today, kids don’t have to pretend.  They’re doing the real stuff!

They don’t even have to deal with sandspurs.  Where did those boogers go?  If you would have pulled all the sandspurs out of my dad’s yard when I was a kid, you’d have been left with a really nice rock collection.  That’s all there was.  Dirt, rock and sandspurs.  They hurt like hell May to mid-June, but come Summer Solstice, our feet were so tough, we could have walked to Africa, barefoot.

We didn’t go to overnight camp.  We didn’t sail or canoe or shoot archery.  Well, we did have a bow with arrows that had a rubber end.  We shot them at each other’s butts.  They seldom stuck, but boy was it exciting when they did.

I’m sure there were camps back when I was a kid.  I saw the movie Meatballs.  Maybe I didn’t go because I wouldn’t leave my mother’s side.  I didn’t want to go to half-day bible school without her and my dad was the minister at the church.  I wasn’t really homesick; she was just a really good mom.

I’m glad my kids are able to do some really cool stuff in the summer.  I’m glad they are having experiences I didn’t have at their age.  I just doesn’t seem fair that I’m at home, working, while they are gallivanting around the world!











Sunday Post 184: Six Days Each Year

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How can you feel close to people you only see six full days each year? It’s weird. And yet, that’s what you feel with those you meet annually at our August vacation in Capon Springs, WV.

Lisa’s mom was six or eight the first time she visited. They haven’t missed a week since.

I imagine my mother-in-law eating at the same table we eat at now. Her mom and dad younger than I. She likely had dark hair, maybe braids. Now her hair is short and white as my undershirt.

I wish I could string together a video with clips of each trip from years gone by.

The first time I came was in 1993. It was unprecedented because Lisa and I were already engaged. The potential suitors weren’t fully accepted until all tenured aunts, uncles and family friends approved. It was like a debutante, a coming out of sorts.

If the other guests liked you on your first Capon visit, it was a done deal. But many came through never to return again.

Capon is nestled right across the Virginia border near Wardensville. The most direct route takes you down a dirt road and over a mountain.

The first time I went Lisa was driving. We left Raleigh at 5 PM on a Friday. Neither of us had enough vacation time to go earlier in the week – we were mid twenties and new to our careers.

As we wound through the Virginia hills, service road signs discreetly displayed their names: Route 652, Route 664, Route 665. When Lisa pulled onto the gravel and we began to traverse the hill in the pitch black night I wondered if I had been duped. Was she taking me up Route 666 to dismember me? Was this some sick family ritual? Could they cover me with chicken blood and burn me at a stake?  How many other guys had she left in these woods?

There are informal initiations, like being pushed in the spring fed swimming pool (the temperature remains consistent – hovering around 70 degrees Farenheit). But there was no blood, no dismemberment. Just folks that I’d see six days each year.

These same folks drove hours to attend our wedding, and naturally they returned to Raleigh to support in our time of crisis.

We have no idea what we’re like in real life. We don’t see each other on a daily basis. In many cases we don’t understand each other’s career. You may be known as the best team captain in the annual Tuesday golf tournament or the guy who plays the banjo on the porch all day. Maybe your family is the one that enters four pairs in the Shuffle Board Tournament but never gets past the first round (I know that family well).

We may not have ever visited outside of August in West Virginia. But there is a tie, a connection, a closeness.

Life sort of stops this week. And then your return to reality until the next year where you pick up exactly where you left off… on the front porch of the main house at Capon Springs.


Check the Tanners out in the September issue of Family Circle
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Making the Bunk


I didn’t go to overnight camp when I was a kid, primarily because my parents weren’t allowed to go with me.  But if I had, I’m fairly certain my dad would have tossed a sleeping bag on the bunk, patted my head and been on his way.

My girls have a different expectation when it comes to their camp “set up.”  No, it’s not a sleeping bag.  They prefer something that is less campy and more Ritz Carlton.

Each year I dig through the big Tupperware boxes Lisa stored in the attic full of the camp necessities.  I then lug a SUV slammed packed with the finest linens and accessories to Arapahoe, NC, for a month-long stay.

You haven’t lived until you’ve made the top bunk for one of my kids in a musty cabin at Camp Seafarer.

This year, DJ’s bunk was in the corner making it even more difficult to dress.

Step 1:  The dust mite cover – If your kid struggles with significant allergies, perhaps a better strategy than trying to get a dust mite cover on the top bunk bed is to send them to Manners Camp, which I assume is indoors.  Instead, my wife purchased a mattress cover that can keep fleas, tics, dust mites and bed bugs from nesting in the green, plastic, ½ inch thick foam my child will be sleeping on for 26 nights.  Last year they found a small snake in her cabin.  Dust mites – schmust mites.  They need reptile repellant!

Step 2:  The egg crate – Yes, the Princess and the Pea requires an egg crate to make her lounge area a bit more comfy.  I tried to put it under the dust mite cover – sort of zip it inside.  I took the mattress off the bed and laid it in the middle of the cabin.  It was like trying to wrap a 200 pound alligator in Saran Wrap.

I could tell the other parent’s in the cabin were a tad bit frustrated.  I could see it in their furrowed brows:

Stop hoggin’ the concrete floor dude!

What IS he doin’? 

Where IS his wife?

He’s actually laying on that nasty concrete.

An egg crate?  Seriously?

With 90 degree weather outside and 48 bodies in this unairconditioned single garage, I felt like I was participating in a hot yoga class.

“Dad, you’re cussing under your breath.  Be quiet; it’s embarrassing.”

“IT’S ANNOYINGLY HOT IN HERE AND THE DAG BLURNED EGG CRATE WON’T FIT!  Is that better?  Plus the woman in the green Espidrills stepped on my pinkie, and it hurt really bad.”

Step 3:  Pink zebra print sheets –  After returning the mattress to the second floor, I climbed up the ladder with one leg precariously perched on the bunk next door.  When I realized two campers who walked by may have briefly been exposed to my private parts which were partially visible out of the gap in my shorts from my awkward position, I quickly lowered my leg, kicking the mother underneath me who was squatted over the bottom bunk working to tuck her child’s blanket under her mattress.  She fell onto the bed in a front head roll.

“Sorry,” I said not stopping my quest to firmly attach the last of the four sheet corners.  That’s what you get for stepping on my pinkie.

She was ruffled – looked like she’d spent the day in training at Parris Island.

Step 4:  The Camp Seafarer blanket – “DJ, do you really need a blanket?  It feels like we’re on a lava pit in here.”

Apparently she did.

Step 5:  The stuffed animals and decorative pillows – I actually feel sorry for “Pink Baby,” “Special Blankie” and “Moosey.”  They’re going to die of heat stroke.

After stretching in positions I never thought would be, accidentally flashing a minor, and sweating like a camel in the Arabian Peninsula, the cabin looked remarkable.  We pulled out the matching laundry bag and set out her Lilly rug.

“You all set baby?”

“Yes.  You may go.”

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