Heaven on Wheels: Our First Deer Camp Wasn’t Much, But It Was Ours
An old Craigslist camper, dressed up with plastic pink flamingos out front, was the author’s first home away from home
I FOUND the 10-foot 1970s-model camper on Craigslist just after my wife, Michelle, left for work. I called up the owner, talked him down by a hundred bucks, and then drove into Tennessee with my brother, Matt, to make the deal. The seller’s name was Bo Kelly, and he had the camper plugged into a temporary service pole when we got there. “The air conditioner on this thing will freeze you out, son,” he said. His house was just 100 yards off, down a long driveway.
I had just handed over the fourteen $100 bills when I noticed a car coming down the drive toward us. It stopped, and a bleached-blond woman called Bae emerged. She seized the money from Bo Kelly’s hand, licked her thumb, counted the bills, stuffed them into her cleavage, and got back into the car without a word.
“BAAAEEE!” screamed Bo Kelly at the car’s taillights, but Bae never even slowed. “She’s never cared about anything but the money,” he said. “I’ll help guide you onto the hitch.”
We unhooked from the camper in my driveway, and I went into the house to get a six-pack of beer to put in its mini fridge. Matt grabbed a couple of lawn chairs, and we were down to about a two-pack by the time Michelle returned from work and pulled into the drive. “What in the hell is this?” she asked.
“It’s your new deer camp, Bae,” I joked. “Just bought it today. I figure we’ll put it up at the farm.”
“And this,” Matt said, hoisting a Keystone Light, “is a cold beer. Have you one, Mishkin.”
Michelle took the beer and said, “If we’re going to be seen in a piece of shit like this, I’m at least getting some plastic pink flamingos to go with it.”
She and I had just put a down payment on 33 acres of land, a little chunk of hunting ground to call our own. The camper was the perfect complement, and it became our second home, year-round. I took the kitchen table out of it and cut up two-by-sixes to fit in its place, atop which we placed a full-size mattress. There was already a couch that turned into a tiny bed on the other end of the camper, and that’s where Matt slept for most of catfish noodling season.
Sometimes the deep fryer, plugged directly into the camper, would trip a breaker and cause the whole thing to lose power. But it was a quick fix that rarely interrupted our cooking long enough for the flathead to get too greasy. We cooked backstrap on a charcoal grill outside. During the summer, Bo Kelly’s proclamation about the air conditioner proved true. Come duck season, one little space heater would force you to open a window. Had you told me back then that this is what heaven is like, I’d have said, “I’m ready to go whenever.”
But that camper’s tiny walls did close in eventually. When our son, Anse, was born, my mom sat with him in the camper in the evenings while Michelle and I hunted. We came in one night and found Mom in tears. She’d picked Anse up and banged his head right into the 6-foot ceiling.
That June, we celebrated his first birthday at the camper with a big fish fry. In-laws skulked about in the mud with drooping paper plates of fried catfish as Matt struggled to keep the fryer and air conditioner going at the same time. I knew I had a real chore ahead of me the next day too, emptying out the 30-gallon sewage tank.
“I think we’ve outgrown Bo Kelly’s camper,” Michelle said, and I agreed. A neighbor had inquired about it. The tires had long since dry-rotted, and I told him if he would come get the thing and move it on the rims, he could have it.
“Air conditioner on this thing will freeze you out,” I said as I helped guide it onto the hitch of his truck. He pulled away in a shower of sparks.
“We had fourteen hundred dollars’ worth of fun in that camper, didn’t we?” I asked Michelle. She nodded in agreement and declared the pink flamingos would still look good, no matter what type of deer camp we decided to put in its place.