2 of 490: Anderson’s Camp

Dear Lord, please forgive my parents for ever choosing to live at Anderson Camp even though it is sure to cause me long lasting emotional and social damage.

So there we were. In the process of moving into the boondocks in a desperate attempt to escape meth hell.

I know I used the word “journey” at the end of the last chapter, but journey is the wrong word for what we were embarking on. A term like journey carries with it a certain sense of optimism, as in, “Focus on the journey, not the destination”. For what awaited me in that upcoming year, had I focused on the journey, I probably would have proven the myth of spontaneous combustion.

“What happened to that boy?” some agent from X-files might have asked.

“Very strange indeed,” his partner would have answered, removing his sunglasses. “He was living in this travel trailer for over a year.”

“Wow, he lasted that long? I’ve seen others spontaneously combust under much less strenuous conditions.”

Here’s an interesting fact about travel trailers: you can’t just park in a vacant field and start living. What about running water? What about electricity? What about heat? Unfortunately, all we had was a 5 acre plot of land that used to be a sugar beet field.

Growing up in Twin Falls, I remember as a young kid driving out to the Miller home where my brother took piano lessons. To get there we drove south on Airport Road about 3 miles out of town. In the distance you could see billows of smoke rising up from the Amalgamated Sugar factory. The reason this is such a stark memory is because of the smell wafting through the air from from those mammoth smoke stacks. It always blew my mind that a substance as sweet as sugar could emit such an aromatic stench. Back in 4th grade, on one of our field trips to tour the sugar factory, we learned that sugar is made from sugar beets and that farmers in the surrounding rural area provided the very beets which ended up as grains of sugar on our kitchen table. That was pretty cool until several years later when I learned we were moving to an actual sugar beet field. The only thought that came to my mind was…

…”This is going to stink.”

The move happened more abruptly than expected. When our house in Twin Falls sold, we hadn’t even excavated one shovel’s worth. So we had to come up with another temporary solution. Until we had reliable running water and electricity on our uninhabitable land, my parents chose to rent a space at the nearby trailer campground called Anderson Camp.

It’s hard to explain the shame that naturally accompanies the phrase, “I live at Anderson’s Camp.” In the hierarchy of poor living conditions, living at Anderson Camp is just one step above homeless and one step below Scoville Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. One thing was for sure, my social life would be non-existent. What does a 13 year-old say to a someone who might be a potential friend, “Do you want to come over and hang out in my 20-foot trailer at Anderson Camp?” I don’t think so…

…I’d rather have lice.

Anderson Camp is one of those places you see along the freeway, kind of like a KOA. If you’ve never owned a trailer, those campgrounds are probably as mysterious as Hogwartz School of Wizardry. In fact, based upon my observations of the shadowy characters lurking around Anderson Camp, I wouldn’t discredit the hypothesis that Voldemort’s home base was right there.

The funny thing (to anyone not actually living this nightmare) is that Anderson’s Camp was never meant to be a place for long-term residency. The average tenant at Anderson Camp stays probably 2 or 3 days, only stopping on their way to a much better destination. The occupants had RVs, 5th Wheels, or the occasional Airstream Silver Bullet. So during our 3 month “temporary” stay, we must have had 75 different neighbors.

What was so confusing to me as a young child was that this situation violated every principle my dad had every taught me. Growing up our family would often go camping–not in trailers, mind you, we would rough it in tents. I remember my Dad would sometimes say, “If you ever go camping and you see a tent with Christmas lights, you need to leave.” I bet he never imagined that he would have the “tent” with Christmas lights. So I try to imagine what the other campers thought of us. “This is a campground, is it not?” they would say. “That trailer over there with the tarp awning and barbecue pit looks like it’s been here a little too long.” Out of justified fear for their family’s well being, they would ask to be stationed on the opposite side of Anderson Camp.

I have attempted to purge most memories of Anderson Camp which leaves me with only one pleasant memory. Stepping down from the travel trailer and onto the gravel, about 20 feet away was an apple tree. It produced those sour green apples that make your lips pucker just a little. Akin to my first parents’ temptation, it took me several weeks to convince myself it was okay to partake of the fruit. Remember, this was 1994, an ancient time when people didn’t feel they deserved things that weren’t theirs.

But as any hungry 12 year old would do, I justified my gluttony on the basis that we were paying for ground pretty damn close to the tree. At the very least, its roots were receiving nourishment from the soil we were renting. Like a college graduate with a political science degree, I felt entitled. And just like that I turned from an otherwise normal kid into a creature you might read about in a J.R. Tolkien novel, dwelling in isolation and sinking my teeth into whatever mother nature produced. Over the next 7 days I plucked that tree clean, each apple more tasty than the next. Under a somewhat heavy conscience, I thought it necessary to heave the green apple cores into the open pasture beyond Anderson Camp boundaries, disposing of evidence like a guilty criminal. Maybe it was just the thrill of delinquent behavior, maybe it was the sudden lack of everyday comforts, but to this day I’ve never tasted an apple so delicious.

It would be easy to get caught up in only my own odd Anderson Camp experience. But don’t forget that there’s a whole family involved here: a brother, a sister, a mom, a dad, me, and a dog named Bandit. My 18-year-old brother, who shall from this point forward be known as “Mooner”, was in the deep waters of the meth business. My 15-year-old sister was determined to not let something like a move alter her pathway of rebellion. In fact…

…this only gave her more arrows in her quiver of defiance.

My Dad was working full-time as a grocery store pharmacist and again full-time as a house building carpenter and again full-time as a wannabe mountain man. My mother was spending most of her time trying to track down my sister, who disappeared quite frequently. In between phone calls to the police she would tell the construction workers to clean up their mess. And Bandit mostly hid himself under the travel trailer, wondering in his dog brain what the hell was going on.

It was amidst these chaotic circumstances–Anderson Camp, sour green apples, meth, runaway sister, police calls, construction, homesick dog–that I found solace in learning to play the guitar…

…and that guitar helped me survive meth hell.