When I was a little boy, my family did not have a lot of money.
My father had a reasonably well paying job, but with four kids and
a dog, money was often tight. This is not to say that we were
deprived or unhappy. Our family did many activities together, but
our favorite was camping, which we did year-round, blazing heat or
It was a great site to see the whole clan scrambling to get
everything together for a weekend trip. The whole family then piled
into our Chevy stationwagon with a dog bigger than the three
smallest children put together. Dad would then tie down our trusty
tent to the top of the Chevy and off we would go.
Our tent was amazing in and of itself. It was a army surplus
tent large enough for the whole family plus dog. It had survived
though rain storms, snow storms, wind storms. It had twice been
uprooted from its stakes in high winds. (Makes me wonder why we
went camping in so much terrible weather.) It had blown off the
Chevy a couple of times, but it had always survived. At least it
survived with mother's help at the sewing machine. It had patches
over patches but it was still our faithful camping tent.
But alas, canvas can only last so long, so after about ten years
of steady service, my Dad admitted one summer that our tent was no
longer useable. We didn't go camping at all the following fall. The
only thing that kept us kids controllable was that Dad promised we
would get a new tent at Christmas, and we could go camping all
So Mom and Dad went on a savings program to get the money for
our new tent. They even got us kids to pitch in a little. Money was
tight, but the savings accumulated, and we all had visions of a
great winter outdoors. That is, until disaster struck in late
November, and my little brother Johnny broke his arm. Dad hadn't
counted on an emergency, and the hospital and doctor bills
completely depleted our tent saving. We were all downcast at the
prospect of no winter camping. Even I was almost sorry I pushed
Johnny off the roof.
So as Christmas approached, we were all pretty glum. There
weren't as many presents around the tree as usual, because the
extra money had gone into my bother's arm. Finally, Christmas Eve
was here, and our month long depression was lifted a little,
because we could open our presents. Dad had to work, but he was
late, and hadn't called. Mother began to worry, and just before she
called the police, Dad drove up. We couldn't believe our eyes!
There on top of the Chevy was a brand new shiny tent, even larger
than Old Faithful.
Instantly, five voices started asking Dad question after
question, so he ushered us all into the living room, around the
Christmas tree to tell us what happened. It seems that Dad had seen
an advertisement for a store called Surplus City (all caps
required). Last week he had gone by to see if they had any tents
that we could afford. There was one perfect tent (the only one
actually) for $60. So Dad worked a little overtime and scrimped a
little on his Christmas gifts and he scraped together about $45.
That night he had gone to Surplus City with his $45 and
tried to get a bargain on the tent. He had managed to chisel the
manger down to $50 for the tent, but from there the manager
wouldn't budge. There was no credit or lay-away at Surplus
City, either, just cold hard cash.
So Dad went back out to the car, and thought about how hard it
would be to come home empty handed. In a flash of inspiration, he
got the spare tire from the car and went back in. He asked the
manager if he would take the spare tire for $5 so he could buy the
tent. With that act of desperation, the managers heart softened.
What with it being Christmas and all, and my father being so intent
on getting the tent, and stopping in several times over the past
week, he let Dad have the tent for $40.
When Dad finished telling this story, we all cheered and
hollered and generally made fools of ourselves. That was the
happiest Christmas I have ever had. And that was the best winter of
camping we ever had too, in The winter of our discount