Circling the Pop-ups and Tents

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During my childhood, being “on vacation” meant waking up with a dewey face and the soft voices of my aunt and uncles around a pit of smoldering coal heard through the thin walls of our tent.

It meant swimming with my cousins, being thrown off rafts and tubes and sea doos.

It was playing cards, late into the night and family meals enjoyed across five, lined-up picnic tables under a long gray canopy.

While other vacationed in cottages, on cruise ships and in condos on the beach, the Verkaik family camped.  Always, really.

And at Christmas we’d all gather in a cottage for more of the same: cards, christmas cookies, licorice and practical jokes wrapped up in lovely packages awaiting their prey.

And when I say we, you have to understand that means 12 adults and 14 kids.  Then those kids got boyfriends and girlfriends.  Eventually we found the right ones and married them, then God gave us babies.  Soon we will welcome great grandchild number 15.

Beyond that there are my Dad’s cousins and Aunts and Uncles.  All of whom are equally wonderful people and love and support each other with as much passion and love.

This weekend we gathered for Labor Day, just like we have every year of my life.  And because we’re back in Michigan we grabbed some marshmallows and a deck of cards, packed up our tent and joined the fun.

All I can say is that my heart is still there and the love around the fire pit still burns with a depth of belonging that brings me to tears.  Every. Time.

I love the catch up and the inside jokes.

More than anything I love watching my kids become a part of it all and knowing that they are developing the same sense of belonging that I had as a child.

The world may will beat the crap out of you, but there will always be Labor day with family, and a place to retreat with a group of people who have your back no matter what life has brought you throughout the year.

There will always be souls in somewhat beat up camp chairs, ready to listen to your heart and your call and your goofy sense of humor.

This is one of the best gifts I have to give my children and so every chance I can, I give it.  I join in.

My immediate family, the five of us who used to be together in a tent, are sort of broken-up and scattered now.

But when you come from a family who gathers and loves in a lasting, wave upon wave way  it isn’t as scary as it otherwise would be.

I’m still deeply woven into the fiber of a bigger story, a larger family who loves me around a campfire and on a random Wednesday in March.

I love that I grew up in soggy tents and half-inflated air mattresses because it’s who I am and where I come from.

This weekend of camping was a reminder that no matter what, I can always go home to a circle of tents and pop-ups and the love of a big, crazy group of people without whom, I would be lost.