‘Let’s go to the camp’

Lyle Johnson
Paw Paw Jerry with some really big catfish caught while “at the camp.”

I was in a meeting last week with current Lt. Gov. Scott Angelle and some of his staff about promoting tourism in Louisiana. The Lt. Gov. has a new initiative to bring our tourism from its current position of 4 percent of our economy to the national average of 8 percent promoting nature-based tourism. Why not; we’re the Sportsman’s Paradise.

One of the staff members is originally from Wyoming and stated, “Louisiana has something very unique; ‘the camp.’”

“Camp in our minds is something very different; a tent comes to mind most often. You guys have many meanings for ‘the camp.’”

She’s right; we have so many kinds and styles of camps, days could be spent just talking about them. I can remember going to “the camp” when I was about four years old. Paw Paw Roy Marchand had a camp on Petite Amite and we spent many weekends there until he built anther one on Chinquapin Canal.

My first camp came along a few years later. Gonzales was still pretty country back then and there was a small patch of woods behind our house on Gaudin St. A few of my brothers along with the LaPorte and Loyd boys that lived on each side of us would meet up in the woods at “the camp,”

We never really had a structure of any sort, but we had a place cleared out where we hung out. Exploration of that small patch of woods took a lot of our time but we mostly did “boy” stuff. We built fires, smoked smoking vines, ate sandwiches and plotted how solve the worlds problems; hunting squirrels and birds came along as we got a little older. That patch of woods and that camp are long gone but the memories will never fade.

As an older teenager, “the camp” was Paw Paw Marchand’s camp on Chinquapin Canal. On Saturday night, the gang that worked at Roy Marchand & Sons headed out to Head of Island to spend the night at the camp.

We had just left a store that was full of some of the best food ever prepared in south Louisiana empty-handed to fend for ourselves; we cooked whatever we caught or killed. We could usually catch a fish or two but sometimes the pickings were a little slim and the menu was a little yucky.

Mud cats made it to the fish fryer more times than we really wanted and sometimes we went hungry until we made it to Val’s restaurant. However, the worst culinary experience was when we found out why the adults would sometimes use the phrase, “One day you’ll have to eat crow.” They were usually talking about eating some words but we ate the real thing. I’ve eaten lots of wild game that some might not think about eating but crow is really nasty.

My next camp was located about 120 miles south in Venice. I had the opportunity to spend a few years with my father and brother-in-laws enjoying the outdoors is a real paradise. Duck hunting was the main focus at that camp but we caught tons of fish and picked wild oysters to our hearts desire.

This camp was on the east side of the Mississippi River. We had no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. 12’ by 16’ was the normal size as we had to rebuild it several times. It was sturdy, waterproof and a great place to sleep after a days hunting and fishing. That was back in the day when Venice didn’t have a lot of people utilizing the area like it’s done today; more great memories.

The Chinquapin camp came back in the picture as all of the kids started to have kids of their own. It stayed a fishing camp but it turned into a gathering place as well. Family events were held on a regular basis and we used just about any excuse to head out there to spend the day.

Fishing usually started the day and cooking took over a little later. The river in front of the camp was full of kid’s young and old swimming. The scene I remember most is Paw Paw Jerry loading the boat with grandkids and taking them for a ride.

When Deborah and I got married, we moved into the house we would spend thirty-two years in and raised our family. The back part of our lot was covered with briers and I set out to clean it out. Deborah suggested I leave it growing wild and I wisely listened to her. This small wilderness became our three kids’ “camp.”

Every now and then, when our family is together, one of the kids will talk about the times they spent in that small piece of grown over land that they called the camp and a tear comes to my eyes.

These two words, “the camp” bring lots of memories to most of us reading this column. Yours are probably a little different than mine but not by much. If you’re fortunate enough to be raising children where there are some “woods” near, let them have a camp. Yea, they’ll get bit by bugs, come home covered with red bugs and poison ivy, get some scratches and track your floor full of mud, but it’ll be worth it. Remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard.

Until next time have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God bless you.