My first hunting hunting camp

I found the 10-foot 70’s camper on Craigslist after my wife, Michelle, left for work. I called the owner, talked him up for a hundred dollars, and then drove to Tennessee with my brother, Matt, to make the deal. The seller’s name was Bo Kelly, and he attached the cart to a makeshift service pole when we got there. “The air conditioner in that thing is going to freeze you, son,” he said. His house was only 100 yards away, down a long driveway.

I had just handed the 14 dollar bill when I noticed a car was coming towards us. She stopped, and a bleached blonde woman named Bai appeared. She took the money from Beau Kelly’s hand, licked her thumb, counted the banknotes, stuck them in her slit, and got back into the car without a word.

“Baby!” Bo Kelly shouted at the car’s taillights, but Bai never slowed down. “She never cared about anything but money,” he said. “I will help guide you through an obstacle.”

Illustration by Peter Umansky

We got off the camper in my driveway, and I went home to get six cans of beer to put in his mini fridge. Matt grabbed a couple of lawn chairs, and we were about two sets by the time Michelle got back from work and we drove off. “what the hell?” She asked.

“It’s your new deer camp, bae,” I joked. “I bought it today. I think we’ll put him on the farm.”

“My friend?”

And that’s a cold beer. Do you have one, Myshkin?” said Matt, raising a Keystone Lite.

Michelle grabbed a beer and said, “If we’re going to see in such a filthy lot, I’ll at least bring some pink plastic flamingos to match it.”

Heaven on Wheels: Our first hunting camp wasn't much, but it was ours
Illustration by Peter Umansky

She and I just made a down payment on 33 acres of land, a little piece of hunting ground to call our land. The camper was the perfect complement, and it became our second home of the year. I took the kitchen table out of it and cut it from two to six to fit in, on top of which we put a full-size mattress. There was already a sofa turned into a little bed on the other end of the carriage, and that was where Matt slept for most of the catfish noodling season.

Sometimes a deep fryer, attached directly to the trolley, may cause a breaker to cut and cause complete power loss. But it was a quick fix that rarely interrupted our cooking long enough for the flat head to become very greasy. We cooked the back belt on a charcoal grill outside. Over the summer, Bo Kelly’s announcement of the air conditioner proved true. Come duck season, a small space heater will force you to open a window. If you had told me at the time that this was what heaven looked like, I would have said, “I’m ready to go any time.”

But the walls of that little wagon eventually closed. When our son, Ans, was born, my mother sat with him in the carriage in the evening while Michelle and I hunted. We came one night and found my mother crying. She picked up Anse and banged his head against the 6-foot-high ceiling.

In June of that year, we celebrated his first birthday in the wagon with large fish fry. The in-laws slid into the mud with paper plates hanging from fried catfish while Matt struggled to keep the fryer and air conditioner working at the same time. I knew I had a real chore the next day as well, emptying my 30-gallon septic tank.

Heaven on Wheels: Our first hunting camp wasn't much, but it was ours
Illustration by Peter Umansky

“I think we passed Bo Kelly’s caravan,” Michelle said, and she agreed. A neighbor had inquired about it. The tires had been rotten a long time ago, and I told him if he was going to come and drive them on the rims, he could have them.

“The air conditioner in this thing is going to freeze you,” I told him as I helped guide him into the hitch of his truck. Walk away in a hail of sparks.

“We had fourteen hundred dollars’ worth of fun in that camper, didn’t we?” Michelle asked. She nodded in agreement and declared that the pink flamingos would still look good, no matter what kind of deer camp we decided to put in place.

This article appears on Home Issue, the latest digital edition of field and current.

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