T.A.C.O. or Thayer Annual Camp-out has been in action since 1994. My husband’s parents—Jim and Jan–started the tradition as a way to bring the family together. It was their attempt, I think, to bond their family by recreating everyone’s absolute, fondest memories of growing up—camping trips. Their foresight was keen, but even they could not possibly imagine what a great gift they were giving us.
The smoke burns my nostrils and makes me want to run away. Or at least to the other side. I don’t actually want to flee. I want to stay and hear the crackling of air and the sizzling of water being burned from the logs. I want to hear the laughter and chatter from a circle of seventeen adults and six little kids all in lawn chairs. I want to hear the teasing and the stories and the jokes. I want to hear Jim’s “Oh Man!” one more time. My husband’s older brother by 20 months passed away earlier this year.
I want to see everyone’s faces. From the end-of-the-night faces of adults who have spent their day water skiing and playing yard games, while sipping on liquid treats all afternoon, to the cherub determination of our little Lucas, who has his own strong opinions already, to the mile wide grin of our year-old Ignatius. I want to see Patrick and Zoey and Leo comfortably maneuver in and out of adult laps of the extended family whom they have come to love. I want to see John Casimir’s happy smile as his long blonde locks bounce up and down with glee. I want to feel my arms full with one grandchild or another. It doesn’t matter which one or how many; they’re all campfire cuddly.
I want to smell those same grandchildren fresh from the outdoor shower after a solid day of being hot, sweaty messes. I breathe in the baby shampoo and fresh scent of Downy, as I wrap them in their garage sale cottage coats on chilly evenings.
I want to touch my daughters and daughters-in-law’s shoulders to let them know that I think they are fine women and good wives. I want to see my sons scratch their scruff as they put forth their political opinions, which seem unavoidable these days. I want to inquire about their jobs and those of our sons-in-law. I’ve always enjoyed hearing men talk about business. I want to feel my husband’s hand on my thigh or clasping around my fingers after a day of play on the lake. Forty-six years since our first date, and I know that there will never be enough time with him.
I want to taste the night air that mingles perfectly with my gin and tonic. I savor it because I squeezed in two fat wedges of lime this time, and it is delicious. I want to enjoy the salty crunch of the Fritos being passed around or pick apart one of those granola bars I made—chock full of oatmeal, nut butter, honey, a variety of seeds, almonds, and dried fruit. It’s chewy and hearty, and I know I am going to need dental floss.
I want to watch the magician-like maneuvers of those making smores. Most of us are real pros after decades of this camp-out thing. The first generation taught us how. The second generation taught the third, who are now teaching the fourth these invaluable lessons: how to best put a marshmallow on a roasting fork and to be able to tell which coals are primo for success, and how to turn the fork at the first sign of smoke to make sure every single centimeter is perfectly charred. From observation, they have learned well and remembered the lesson of how to move slowly toward the graham cracker topped with chocolate, with the other graham at the ready for a sandwich-like product of culinary delight.
Bellies full, the babes are carried in by their parents. I feel the nerves of the new generation of procreators, who pray just like we used to that every child will just stay the heck in bed and fall asleep. When the mission is complete, they emerge with fresh beverages in hand to enjoy adult conversation around the campfire. It’s always a game to see which of the third generation will be bitten by the Bruce Bug, which is code for being ‘round the fire till the wee hours of the morning because Uncle Bruce, with his wealth of knowledge and thought-provoking questions, is an expert orator who moves smoothly from one subject to another in such a fashion that one might not realize it is four a.m.
Those who opt for board games, excuse themselves from the fire and head to the cottage with the fewest sleeping children. Snacks are doled out like no one has eaten all day, and generation two delights that they are able to chat and jest with generation three now that they are all adults.
T.A.C.O. tires us out yet satisfies our spirits. It quenches that thirst for familiarity and satiates the hunger for family. And there isn’t a one of us who can ever partake of this wonderful tradition without singing the praises of Jim and Jan who started it all. Thank you, Jesus.