Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Big Bone Lick State Park

That's right. I knew that title would get everyone's attention. Pervs! But seriously. There is such a place as Big Bone Lick State Park. Click the link and see for yourself (it's not a porn site, I promise). Big Bone is a State Park in Union, Kentucky, on Beaver Road... even I couldn't make that up. It's more than just a funny name, though. It's a place that holds a lot of my childhood summer memories. I always feel nostalgic about it this time of year. Sometimes the sounds of the cicadas at night remind me of it. Other times, it's the smell of a campfire. Something as simple as the flash of a lightning bug can set of a string of memories, though. I loved that place.

We camped there as a family every summer that I can remember. The campground was a second home. From the minute we woke up each morning, there was so much to do! At breakfast, we huddled in our sweatshirts at the picnic table as the morning dew evaporated around us, and the temperature quickly climbed. My younger brother, our friends, and I tended to stick together throughout the day, until the girls decided to read poolside or do something else much too sophisticated for stinky boys. That usually lasted about fifteen minutes. Then we'd meet back up to ride bikes (which we pretended were muscle cars or sleek convertibles) along the blacktop roads. After we'd had enough of the muggy exertion, we'd swim in the pool until our lungs hurt from holding our breath in our underwater challenges, and our eyes burned from the chlorine. Then it was on to the Rec Center, where there were all sorts of organized activities and arts and crafts. Then we'd ride our bikes down to the general store, where we'd spend our allowances (for doing what?) on candy, ice cream treats, and dollar games of miniature golf.

And the dares! We dared each other to do some really stupid things, like make the pay phone ring using a special trick. How that's a dare, I don't know, but it amused us greatly to challenge each other to do it. It probably annoyed the crap out of the lifeguards, considering the pool was right by the phone. Another dumb dare: crush Smarties into a fine powder and snort them. No, we weren't aspiring drug addicts; we were just dorks who liked to see each other moan and groan in pain, our eyes watering as the endless sneezes took hold. But my personal favorite was the dare to--man, I wish I was making this up!--sniff the butt of the large, plastic Native American figure on the mini-golf course. It was plain even at such a young age that I was destined to be a classy individual. Seriously, though, that dude's butt reeked.

But the scariest dare related to what we all called the storm cellar. It was a stone structure that covered a set of dirt stairs that led underground. At the bottom of the stairs was a dark, dirt-floored room, of sorts. It was a musty haven from the hot summer sun, but none of us liked to stay down there for long. It had a definite creepy vibe. Naturally, we constantly dared each other to go down there for predetermined lengths of time. Then it was the job of the people not down there to try to do things to spook the person down there (howling and moaning down the stairs like a ghost, tossing stuff down the stairs, etc.). We were kids. Nine times out of ten, we managed to psych ourselves out and come bounding up the stairs, swearing we'd seen a ghost or felt a spider crawl up our legs.

The storm cellar was also where the campers were supposed to gather during severe weather. Not my family, though. My mom once saw a gigantic black snake slither from up those stairs and slide into the nearby grass, and from that day forward, she vowed she'd never again go down there. That promise was put to the test one night, too. The weather was stormy, but it always feels like the end of the world when it's raining or windy, and you're in a pop-up camper. This was no ordinary storm, though. There was a tornado outbreak. The park rangers were patrolling the park, announcing through their megaphones that campers were to evacuate to a safe place. Looking back as an adult, I'm sure there was somewhere besides that one little cramped storm cellar to take shelter, but at the time, that was the only option being offered. My mom said, "Not just no, but Hell no," and we got into our two cars to drive home, thirty minutes away. I can't remember which parent I rode home with (probably my dad), but I'll never forget that whoever it was kept telling me to watch the sky during the lightning flashes, and if I saw a funnel cloud, I had to tell them right away so we could take cover in a ditch. Yeah. I'm sure there were no snakes in those ditches. I was absolutely terrified. We made it home without seeing any tornadoes, but they were all over the news the next day. But my mom did NOT go down in that nasty storm cellar.

But what I remember the most about Big Bone were the people. We weren't the only regular campers; it seemed like the same people came back every year at about the same time. The Stewarts and the Simons had daughters roughly my age, so we often rode bikes or swam together. The Simons keep in touch with my mom to this day; John and Maryanne plan to visit this summer. We knew Betty and Elmer, an older couple, from church, but they were also summer residents at Big Bone. We spent many an evening around the campfire with all of them.

The friends we had at the park were just as familiar to us as those we played with at home or at school during the rest of the year. My best friend, Billie Jo, lived in Cincinnati, about an hour from the park. She and her mom camped there together during the week, and her dad joined them on weekends. Billie had a way of laughing so loudly and throwing her head back so far, her mouth opened wide, that you could literally see the tonsils on the back of her tongue. Her uniform was a bikini top and a pair of shorts, and she was constantly spritzing her black, curly hair to prevent it from frizzing in the humidity. My mom and Billie's mom were friends and spent a lot of time at the pool. Bo-ring! During the heat of the day, Billie and I would hide out in her air-conditioned camper (a luxury!) and read the steamy parts of her mom's Harlequin romance novels.

Yes, we were boy-crazy. We giggled about other campers our age and gossiped about the high school- and college-aged guys who worked at the campground as recreation counselors and lifeguards. Tim and Tom were twins. Tim had one blue eye and one brown eye. I thought that was neat-o. Jason was a quiet ginger. He bandaged my foot once when I sliced it open on an exposed piece of PVC while playing hide-and-seek. Brian and Travis, brothers, were lifeguards. Brian briefly dated my older sister, who also worked at the Rec Center for a summer or two (or three... it all blurs together). Travis... hmm... I don't think Travis ever talked. I don't remember him talking, anyway, other than to yell, "No running!" at us when we got carried away at the pool. He was mysterious. And cool.

Before you get to thinking I was some sort of campground hussy (I was a pre-teen!), it's more accurate to say that those guys were like big brothers. Well, not really. But they surely felt that way towards my friends and me. All the staff members were very much like a big, crazy family. And my family was a part of that family. My sister wasn't the only one who drew a paycheck from Big Bone; my mom occasionally worked in the general store, too. I don't know why. Just for something to do, maybe? Or maybe we got a discount on our campsite, or something. But because she worked there, the other park employees treated us like their own kids. Stan and A.J., the park rangers, took time to talk to us and kept an eye on us during their patrols. Karen worked at the store with Mom and sometimes let us play mini-golf (and sniff the course decorations) for free. Betta worked in maintenance. She had the most beautiful, curly blonde hair I'd ever seen. She was also about 5'2", amazingly tan, and tough as nails. I'm sure I'm forgetting people, but it's amazing to me that I've remembered this many, considering I sometimes forget my own children.

My love for camping died when it became less fun and more work, because now I'm a grownup. Adulthood ruins everything!!! It's not all bike rides and butt-sniffing and Smarties-snorting for grownups, ya know? didn't hate camping with every fiber of my being, I'd take my own family back there now, so they could experience maybe a fraction of what I did all those years.

Plus, how many people can say, "Thanks for the memories, Big Bone!" and not be talking about something sordid? Can you? If so, share some of your favorite Big Bone memories. If not, then please keep your other big bone memories to yourself, thanks.

Someday, maybe I'll write a book about a place like Big Bone, but until then, take a gander at the books I've already written (I'm not a machine, people!). You can find them on my author page on Amazon. I also have an author page on Facebook that's pretty fun. Drop by and say hi!


  1. For you to post a blog like this and then ask everyone to keep it clean is really not cool.

  2. I'm a prude that way. And for some people, it doesn't go without saying to keep it classy. Ahem. (I'm talking about myself, by the way. It's someone's full-time job to remind me to keep it classy.)