Recycled Summer

Someone took the tent.

     It was a perfect tent.  Big.  Standing room for real people.  A couple of windows for air to blow through.  And the smell: real tent smell of musty canvas with the hot sun pouring through.  You can’t buy that smell.  You can’t manufacture it.  It comes with age and experience.  And now it’s gone.

     I found the tent on a clear Saturday morning, at a townhouse.  The woman selling it looked as if she’d never been on a camping trip in her life.  But she must have had a few secrets.  I bought the entire thing, every pole and peg accounted for, for $6.00, took it home, and set it up.

     That was back when we had only one son.  He thought the tent was the best thing, filled it with his toys, and spent the night in it.  And the night after that.  We had our annual end-of-summer bucket of KFC in it, cleaned it out before school started, and packed it away.

     Truth told, we’re not much of a camping family either, but at Lumbaum Lake, up near Merritt, where my grandmother met my grandfather, all of us—five by then—filled that tent.  It rained, it was gusty.  It was not the most pleasant night we’ve spent together.  But it was all about experience and age.

     Back up, in the yard, the tent continued to make shade on a shadeless day, and keep mosquitoes away by night.

     Fast forward to cleaning out the storeroom, and I realized it’s been a few years since anyone resurrected the tent in the yard.  Everyone’s growing up.  I found every pole, every peg, and carried it to the end of the driveway.  Taped up a sign: Free!  Complete!  And went back to the task of organizing the storeroom.

     The tent sat there for half a day.  It was there when I left to shop for groceries, there when I returned.  There when I brought out another bag of garbage.  The clouds gathered, and I wondered if I’d need to rescue it from the rain.

     I was hauling wood to the woodpile, and realized suddenly that it was no longer there.  Someone took the tent.  I thought of their first moment stepping into it—after the cursing of messing with the poles, the slipped hammer of pounding in the pegs—and how they’d breathe in the tent smell, and note the oranged sunlight, and I wished them memory-building in those canvas walls.  I wished them well.

     You can’t buy that smell.  You can only give it away.