Fire at Huddart Park by
(21 Stories)

Prompted By Vacations

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We used to go camping when I was a child. Mom and Dad had a big canvas tent, the kind you could stand up in. My sister and I slept on green cotton canvas cots, that stacked up to make bunk beds. Our sleeping bags were dark green with green plaid flannel inside. Mom and Dad had a double bed-sized air mattress on the floor of the tent. Their sleeping bags were red, with black and red plaid inside, and they zipped together. There was a Coleman gas lantern hanging from the center of the tent poles inside the roof. I loved the white mantle inside the lantern; it reminded me of a sock puppet. Daddy turned the knob until the flame burned smoothly, without sputtering.

Camping was fun when I was a kid. Fire was exciting and extinguished too soon.

coleman lantern

We had funny cotton bags my mother sewed for us, with blue and white flowered stripes and cotton cord drawstrings and our names printed on them in big letters with Magic Marker. They were about the size of small pumpkins, and we kept our toothbrushes in them, and probably our socks and underwear. Mom called them “ditty bags” — which is apparently a real name for a small canvas bag in which a sailor keeps his needles, thread, small tools, and other toiletries. (Today I learned that a ditty bag was also sometimes called a “housewife.” Thank goodness for the internet.) I probably kept my Secret Roll-On Deodorant in mine a few years later.


One weekend we camped at Huddart Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We had put up our tent, stacked up our cot bunks, taken a hike, eaten dinner (cooked on Coleman gas stove) – probably hot dogs or soup and sandwiches, with milk or Kool-Aid. Right before bed – we’d been brushing our teeth and spitting our toothpastey water into the bushes – a fire erupted at a neighboring campsite. Probably their stove, or maybe a grill. At any rate, it was suddenly much brighter than it had been – a redwood forest is very dark – and my mother, who had been washing our supper dishes in a plastic basin full of soapy water, ran across the campsite and tossed her dishwater on the neighbors fire! Easily the most exciting thing we’d seen in a year.

Unfortunately, the fire was gas, and the soapy water simply spread the flames further. My memory is fuzzy after that – probably my Dad grabbed the fire extinguisher we kept under the seat of our Plymouth station wagon and eventually the rangers came. The fire must have been pretty small to start with, and was soon just some smoky mud puddles in the once again quiet dark. My sister and I were packed away in our sleeping bags in our cots, the tent flap tied shut.

The photo above is from August, 1967.


Profile photo of Jennifer Swanton Brown Jennifer Swanton Brown
Poet. Nurse. Teacher. Mom. Daughter. Sister. Knitter. Swimmer. Contemplative in training. Follow "A Twirly Life" (

Tags: Camping, Huddart Park, Coleman lantern, Coleman stove, sleeping bags, ditty bags, gas fire
Characterizations: well written


  1. John Zussman says:

    Great details and the photo is priceless. (I really appreciate how you have found period photos to illustrate your stories.) Your story also shows how it’s often the things that go wrong that make an experience memorable—like unexpected rain at a California summer wedding.

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