It is always fun to receive mail from home and when that mail turns out to be an unexpected package, the thrill escalates exponentially. Several weeks ago I received a large box from my brother-in-law in the post. I cut through the packing tape and cardboard and unwrapped the layers of newsprint to find an old, green, Coleman camp stove just like the one my parents used for camping when we were all young. The vintage stove in the box, however, was in pristine condition as though it had never been used. As I lifted it from its nest of packing materials I smelled fresh paint. Inside a plastic bag my brother-in-law had enclosed a copy of the original owners manual, directions for its use, and a Father’s Day card I had sent to my dad a few years ago thanking him for taking us camping when we were small.
I loved camping when I was a child; the frenetic race of digging for razor clams on a sandy shore beside the sea, burned by salt-wind and sunshine; building nests in the dune grass; climbing over huge, crumbling logs in a quiet forest as we explored fir-scented trails on the side of a mountain and gleaned huckleberries from the scrub like bear cubs; looking for fairies in the fern fronds; falling asleep in a warm, red flannel-lined sleeping bag to the allegro lullaby of a river hurrying past our tent; collecting sand dollars, shells, rocks and pine cones; roasting marshmallows over an open fire at night; fetching water from a spigot in the ground. All of it was magical to me, stepping over the boundary of the familiar into a strange new world of child-size adventure.
And central to these memories is the Coleman stove. From hot chocolate and pancakes for breakfast, with a dented aluminum coffee pot percolating its perfume through the woods, to baked beans and hot dogs for supper, even the simplest food cooked and eaten out of doors was transformed into something special and is inextricably linked in my memory to the smell of camping.
It wasn’t until I was an adult, with children of my own, that I realized just how much work it all was and developed a new appreciation for my dad.
Included in the package from my brother-in-law was a note:
While I was organizing Dad’s den I found this [Father's Day] card...and read what you had written to him. When your brother and I were working in the garage later in the week we found a well-used Coleman camp stove. I thought it would be a lost memory to put it into a sale to fetch a few dollars, so I decided to bring it back to life and to restore it to its original state when your dad brought it home.
This is a Coleman 425 stove; it was produced in the late 1940’s. It would have cost around $5.00 when it was new.
My hope is that this old stove may bring back memories from the camping trips you shared with your dad.
It did. It is. And now, added to those memories will be the inexpressible kindness and compassion of my brother-in-law’s gift to me. He painstakingly dismantled and restored every detail of the old stove even to the Coleman decal on the lid. It isn’t something I would have thought to keep after my father died earlier this year, but now it is a treasure and I am looking forward to taking my grandchildren on a picnic and cooking something memorable for them.