The old pup tent provided ideal shelter for sleeping out in the backyard.
Sleeping Out in the Backyard
By Richard Mabey Jr.
In the summer of 1964, I was 10 years old. In September, I would turn 11 and would be joining the Boy Scouts. I remember being very nervous about camping out, if I would make the grade. So my good buddy, Stuart, and I made a plan to sleep out overnight. There was an old canvas pup tent in the basement of the Mabey Homestead. That old pup tent was simply calling us to be put up, to give Stu and I shelter for the night.
Originally, Stu and I dreamt up the plan to sleep out along the tow path of the old Morris Canal. The muddy, still murky waters of the Morris Canal were just a half-mile north, through the woods, from my house. The old tow path was flat as a pancake and would have made the perfect place to pitch a tent.
When we made the suggestion to my dad, the idea of sleeping out all the way down by the old canal did not go over to well. Dad suggested that for our first campout that we should sleep out in the backyard. I think deep down, both Stu and I were relieved. I think that both of us were a little hesitant to sleep out in the middle of the woods, down by the old canal.
Well, Friday afternoon came. I am positive that it was the middle of July. Stu and I pitched the old canvas pup tent in my backyard. We got our sleeping bags and set them up in the pup tent. I had just bought my new sleeping bag at the Two Guys Department Store, out on Route 46 in Totowa.
I had cashed in all of my savings to buy my new sleeping bag. Money I had gotten from bringing old soda bottles to the Lincoln Park Sweet Shop, birthday card money and saving pennies from my allowance. It all added up, but now I was flat broke. But it was okay, because I was going to be sleeping out in the backyard. It was a kind of coming of age ritual for me.
Stu and I had each had our trusty flashlights. Mom gave us an entire box of chocolate chip cookies to munch on. We also had a thermos filled with cherry Kool-Aid. And, of course about a dozen comic books to read by the light of our flashlights. In a kids’ world, it didn’t get any better than this!
And so night time came. I remember that Stu and I had a very serious discussion about who was the cutest girl in our class. I remember it being quite a hot debate. Then, in keeping in tradition with Cousin Brucie, the big-name disc jockey from WABC-AM radio; we decided to come up with a list of the “Top Ten Cutest Girls in Our Class.” Somewhere along the line we both fell asleep. It’s not easy to read a Batman comic book, chomp on chocolate chip cookies and decide upon the top ten list of the cutest girls in your class.
Somewhere in the middle of the night, nature called. Stu was sound asleep and snoring. I got out of my new sleeping bag to “water the tree.” I have to confess, I remember being a little bit frightened. I could hear the haunting sound of an owl hooting from a high limb of a tree. I moved my flashlight on the big branches of my old tree fort. And, lo and behold there was the old owl, looking down on me. I remember finding the whole thing a bit scary.
Well, I “watered the tree” only to hear the sound of hooves moving about. I looked to the north, across my backyard and out onto Earl’s Meadow. I ran my flashlight across Earl’s Meadow and there I saw it. Standing in all of his glory and majesty was this big buck. Wow! I got really scared. But at the same time, this haunting feeling ran through my veins. I was in awe of the beauty of this majestic animal. The old deer looked square at me. I was afraid it was going to charge at me. Instead, the old deer gracefully turned his head and ran into the woods.
I returned to the old pup tent and tied up the flaps. Slipped into my new sleeping bag, put my head upon my pillow and fell back asleep. This was a magical moment in time. And from that point on, somehow, I would never be the same.