Opening camp: Old traditions, new refrigerators and a season’s beginning


I opened up camp over the weekend. Camp, for me, is a camper that sits on a rented lot year-round in a campground in the northern tip of Maine — in God’s country. I always approach opening weekend with true excitement for the coming season, but also with trepidation.

One never knows what condition things will be in when the door is opened for the first time in the season. I lucked out this year. The only odd thing was a piece of decorative tape that hides the staples holding the ceiling up was hanging down, as if the adhesive was just too tired to continue doing its job.

I cover the roof with a tarp each year in case changing temperatures and shifting ground should cause a crack where water can seep in and do damage, so that wasn’t an issue.

There are always some difficulties in getting set up. This year, I had trouble making tight connections with the water hose and the sewer pipe. I conquered the hose; the sewer pipe is jury-rigged and I will have to give it more attention when I go back later in the month.

My late husband Jim was a master at making things work, even if he didn’t have quite the right tools or materials to do the job. I miss his skills all of the time, but especially at camp, where access to any stores to acquire needed parts means more than just a skip down the road.

And access to expertise can be even scarcer. Fortunately, the campground can be like a big family and people help each other. All you have to do is ask. I’ve never been good at asking, but I’m learning the art. I just don’t ever want to become a pest.

But this year, I was fortunate on opening weekend because my stepdaughter Cheryl and son-in-law Daryl brought their camper too and were happy to assist me. They had wanted to come up for camping, but their primary purpose was for our big project — replacing my camper’s refrigerator.

Daryl works on removing the old refrigerator from inside my camper.

I’ve been without a functioning refrigerator for a couple years or so. Friends loaned me a small one that sat on my deck the last two summers, and Cheryl and Daryl had brought a dorm-sized one for additional space. Between those units and a cooler, I managed.

But the inconvenience of having the refrigerator on the deck was quite apparent at 3 a.m. when I just wanted a quick drink of cold water, or when it was miserable weather outside and I was trying to cook something and needed frequent access to my refrigerated supplies.

The lack of a functioning refrigerator inside the camper really had gotten old by the end of last season.

My son-in-law Daryl had measured the refrigerator space last fall so that I would know what my options might be for a new unit. By taking out a small cupboard above the old refrigerator, I could get a decent sized unit that would better suit my needs.

After purchasing the unit over the phone, we picked up the refrigerator in Presque Isle on our way to camp.

Saturday was refrigerator day. It took Daryl, with some assistance from our friend Ralph, about three hours to remove the old unit and install the new one.

Daryl and our friend Ralph work together on the last stubborn screws.

In between the removal and installation, I dug out my little shop vac I store in the cubby hole in my camper and cleaned out debris from the opening. After washing down the wall and floor spaces, the opening was ready for its new tenant.

Daryl had taken the refrigerator out of the box the day before and put it on the deck, where he had switched the doors over to open on the correct side and plugged the unit in so it would have a jump on being cold. That forethought allowed me to load it immediately after installation was complete.

When it was all done, there was a 2- to 3-inch gap at the top between the refrigerator and board where the door to the cupboard had hung. We will figure out what to do with that later, if anything. Right now, my placemats are stored in that space on top of the refrigerator.

I normally would dislike losing any cupboard space in a camper, but that area was a problem for me anyway. Only about half of it was usable because I could not reach to the back of it, which stretched the entire depth of the old refrigerator. The door was hinged from the top and not the side, so it didn’t stay open very well. It was not a huge loss.

Daryl did an excellent job and had his strategy planned out before we even arrived. Ralph’s help was a bonus because it meant I didn’t have to help Daryl get the units in and out of the camper.

The new refrigerator really brightens up the space.

Daryl and Cheryl also made all of the meals for the weekend at their camper, across the campground from me. They did the cooking and cleanup and my job was to visit with them. In years past, I have been the one to do the meals and the cleanup. This was such a role reversal for me, but I have to admit that I enjoyed it and really appreciated all they did to spoil me.

As I sat watching the two of them work together to get meals or clean up, I was reminded so much of how life seemed so perfect early in my marriage to Cheryl’s father. That newlywed stage when you think that nothing can ever be THAT bad if you are together, and how much fun it is to learn each other’s likes and dislikes and many quirks.

Cheryl is like her father in so many ways — her approach to life and many mannerisms. I also can see him when I look at her. It is a comfort and an occasional stab at my heart, but 99 percent of the time, their similarities bring me such joy because part of him still lives.

Cheryl’s and Daryl’s banter felt very familiar, yet was unique to them. You would think it would make me wistful for my life with Jim, but my heart was too busy bursting with love for this newly married couple, who eloped in March.

Jim would have loved Daryl and seen him as Cheryl’s perfect mate, and how happy it makes me that Cheryl has found this kind of happiness.

God knows she deserves it. So does Daryl.

We all felt Jim’s presence just the same, even though this is the seventh season I’ve opened camp without him. He loved that place and he loved us and somehow it all merges in a palpable way in that space perched on the edge of one of Aroostook County’s largest lakes.

And we also kept tradition. Jim and I always put beer on ice when we left Hermon for camp, and as we were opening up the camper for the season, we would toast the coming weeks with our cold brews. I have kept the tradition since his death. At least one year I did it alone, with only his spirit for company.

But this year I had a toast with family and then a second toast with friends, and it was not lost on me what a truly special place camp is, and how blessed I truly am.







Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.