The closest I came to camping as a kid was spending one night on a moist mattress in the yard next to our house. The friendly greetings of hundreds of mosquitoes convinced me that my mother had the right idea -- to her a camping trip meant a suite at the Waldorf. Not only that, but every woman in my family believed that if God had wanted us to go camping, indoor plumbing would never have been invented.
For the next 20 years the closest I came to camping was a night in a youth hostel in Belgium.
Then my husband changed jobs. The new boss was a camper. His wife and two boys were campers, too. The secretary was a camping addict. The whole office, in fact, adored the Great Outdoors.
While other workplaces celebrated special occasions at restaurants, or in the office, my husband's co-workers gathered at campsites. No sooner had the snow turned to slush than the tents were pitched. If the weather was really bad, one of the campers would invite everybody to a barbecue in the rain.
Although my husband and I generally attended these monsoon meals, we -- I -- managed to turn down the camping trips on the grounds that we had no tent. This argument didn't hold up for long, however, and eventually along came a Command Performance: We were expected for a July Saturday afternoon of athletics and barbecuing at a camping spot scarcely a hundred miles from home. They were depending on us: We were bringing the corn.
I prayed all week for a touch of appendicitis but awakened thatmorning healthy and hot. It was a typical Washington July day -- 95 degrees with matching humidity. As we drove along, the haze reduced our visibility, and I had some hope that we would be unable to find the campers.
Unfortunately, and despite a couple of wrong turns down country roads John Denver never sang about, we managed to locate the campsite. Their tents were pitched close to a small stream. Our feet made squishing noises as we took the corn to the cooking area, headquarters of the local fly population. The boss and his wife proudly showed us their tent, pitched a good half-inch above the waterline.
While some of us cooked, the rest of the adults organized activities for the children or helped the younger ones to the restrooms, a solid hike from the tents but affording the opportunity to observe a wide variety of plumbing problems.
As the air grew heavier and thunder rumbled around the mountains, we went on to the next event -- trying to eat more of the corn than the flies. Such activity in the heat and humidity, combined with the exertion of chewing, left me exhausted. Lightning flickered closer now, and I politely declined the opportunity to play softball.
As fat raindrops began to fall, I ignored the players' pleas and ran for the car. My husband followed me at a more stately pace, but I believe he too was intrigued by the memory of the car's air-conditioning system, and the road home.
Before long the storm was so bad that we were forced to stop for a beer at the first sign of civilization. Nestling in the wonderfully frigid bar, we pondered how my husband would run the office single-handedly, now that the rest of its population was being swept away in the raging stream.
Everybody survived, it turned out, which was more than could be said for most of the tents. In spite of this, however, another trip was being planned, and someone even offered to lend us a tent.
I yearned for an August snow, but my hopes were answered in another way. Both the boss and the secretary took new jobs. Their departures, coupled with some individual camping disasters, took the edge off the general enthusiasm. Although they still jogged, played softball weekly and trained for the Boston Marathon, office members became more conventional in their approach to office festivities. Indoor parties became the rage.
We had one such affair at our house. It was another hot summer's night, and the ex-boss and his wife were among the guests. When I found her standing next to the air conditioner, sipping wine and snacking, I couldn't resist asking, "Now, doesn't this beat camping?"
She finished the canape she was munching -- on which nary a fly perched -- and whispered, "Actually, I've always hated camping. I do it for my husband and boys."
Writer Martha Grigg works indoors in Chevy Chase.