Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Leather Journals and Weathered Campers

This piece was originally publish in City Dads Group in July of last year. There is an added paragraph that was edited out (for good reason, it's weird) included at the conclusion. I just wanted this here in my blog-cum-journal because it means a lot to me and I want it with my other musings.


I am going through a long and sentimental (bordering on mawkish) ending of sorts that involves a 20-year-old Coleman pop-up camper.

My wife and I bought it new just after we were married, well before we had the twins, well before I ever dreamed that was on the horizon. It’s old and worn now, ravaged by time and memory, many miles and many backyard sleepovers. I am trying to figure what to do with it as it’s barely roadworthy.

We were so delightfully young and naive when we were purchasing it. We spent weeks looking at floor plans, considering size and amenities, finally deciding on a smaller sized one that could be towed by my six-cylinder Chevy S-10. A smaller size would also made it a little easier to back up and, truth be told — ‘cause I suck at backing a trailer — could actually be hand pushed into a space when necessary. It never really occurred to us that we might be camping with twin toddlers or giant teenagers, so we based our needs on just us: no toilet and an interior set up to accommodate two newlyweds and a guitar.

The camper’s been in the backyard for sometime now. The boys like to hang out in it as the WiFi reaches that far. I’ve got to put it down before … well, I can’t.

You see, at the same time we bought the camper, I purchased a very nice leather-bound journal. I put it in a drawer inside the camper and vowed to write a bit about every night we would spend in it. And I did. The writing is not very good, few metaphors or deep insights, but the years are covered, each trip dutifully noted. Through the pages, the boys grow up, I age, the relationship with my wife deepens and a continuity and connection is established. Over the years, it has held the stories and hopes of a young family growing up together. Stories of thunderstorms and frightened toddlers, scraped knees and sleepless nights; hopes for the future in the young minds of 6-year-olds and my own hopes for their lives moving forward.

leather bound journal
“Through the pages, the boys grow up, I age, the relationship with my wife deepens and a continuity and connection is established. Over the years, it has held the stories and hopes of a young family growing up together.” (Photo: Bill Peebles)

I am very glad I bought that journal. It sits to my left as I am writing this right now.

I spent a couple of recent evenings in the old camper, looking through what was in it when I came across the journal. I, of course, knew it was in there, but with a curious urgency — fueled perhaps by the beers — I put it with the pile of things to take into the house along with a nice bag of ropes and twine and three fire-starter type lighters — you know, the long ones.

Here’s the thing, the “ending” of that old camper is a new “beginning” for that journal. It is done with its long present and now can begin to show me my past: a past where I hoped for my boys’ future. It is so strange how, as one writes in diaries and personal journals, how prescient we can be. There’s an entry from 2011, written of an early morning at a state park in central Ohio, where I say: “The boys are getting along surprisingly well. They rarely fight or bicker and are good friends, it seems. Who knows how long that’ll last, but I really hope it does.”

How could I know then that, nine years later, they’d still be best friends?

Or, that at the time I was watching the beginnings of what I think will be a lifelong friendship?

How, perhaps, would I know that camping and close proximity and bonding in the close quarters of that little camper would help that along?

And how, perhaps I had helped it through sheer happenstance and in a leather-bound journal I’d noted it and can now look back upon it?

Recently, a fellow father and writer, purchased a used camper and solicited advice from a social media group we are in. I typed a long answer — advice on gear and the such — but I deleted it. The real advice I had for him was too ethereal and came from a place I’m at now, a place he’ll get to, a place he already is. Camping, like so many other family adventures and hobbies, are about memory making. Their worth can only be revealed later, but, at the time you’re making them, you still somehow know that even if you don’t realize it then.

Anyway, we all seem to be currently living lives that seem to simply be in the present.  Asking ourselves to consider what is ahead, or even close examination of what was just behind us is, if you’ll forgive me, untimely.  Literally, now, this now, is not the time. But, for me, this journal seems to be both future and past, a thing long gone, but ultimately to show its future self, uh… later?  Now?

Oh, nevermind…



This post was originally published on City Dads Group in April of this year, I am reposting it here because, as an archive of my writings, I like to get most everything I've written in one place. The original Editor's note precedes it.


Editor’s note: Pope Francis has proclaimed 2021 as “The Year of St. Joseph.” Pope Francis describes Joseph – the father of Jesus and spouse of his mother, Mary, in the Christian tradition – as “a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father; a father who is creatively courageous, a working father, a father in the shadows.” Contributor Bill Peebles wrote this tribute.

A young man holds an infant in an oak rocking chair. The baby fusses and cries, uncomfortable in its new surroundings, inundated with sights and sounds so new and unfamiliar. The father soothes and smiles, his rough hands stroke the dark hair and chubby cheeks and the baby calms and begins to coo and eventually nods off. The room is dark, but a simple lamp fills it full.

The toddler, two-and-a-half, now laughs and chases a kitten across the wooden floor of a dining room. The same father watches, a warm drink in his hand, and encourages the little one to be gentle. He lifts the kitten and teaches the little one to pet it with care. A morning glow fills the room and speckles the orange and black calico with a light that seems from within the kitten and kid.

That toddler, a boy now, 7 and full of energy and boundless love watches as the father makes his breakfast of bread and milk and sweet honey. He dances in his pine chair in happy anticipation and sighs at the taste of the honey and milk-soaked loaf. He knows he is safe even as a storm blows up in the trees outside the home, unafraid even as the room explodes in the flash of lightning close by.

Ten now, the boy runs and chases and tags and tackles his friends as they play outside the school. They rejoice in the temporary freedom, away from the hard wooden desks and dusty classroom. Another boy falls hard, and a sharp stone slashes his forehead, our boy runs towards him pulling off his garment, unafraid of the blood and pain of it. He comforts and tends the wound. The father watches, not proud but sure, sure in the lessons learned and taught, from both to each other.

An older boy, a young man perhaps, the rings of his years building up around him, protecting, comes into his age. There are celebrations and woodfires and wine and cheese and incantations. Some blood, perhaps, is let. The time is upon him now to look to the future – outwards, forward and in, always in.  The father knows, though, the rough and wondrous way ahead.

A job — a workshop, a woodshed, a quarry, a brewery, a bakery, a sanctuary – where is not important, but the boy is gone, his own man know. But, he is also his father’s son and shall always be.

The tenderness he shows others is in indeed his father’s.

The grace he has seen is only illuminated through his father’s eyes.

All that he finds sacred in the wood, and in the thorns and in the sorrows; all that is sacred in the sky and lakes and clouds and smoke is through the father.

All that he finds holy, the very whole of it all, is the Father.

After a time apart, both seconds and eons, they meet again.

The boy, always a boy to the father, smiles and simply says:


The joyous father beams and whispers back, “My son …”