camping, United States

A random travel memory from my youth…

Warning: this is kind of a horrifying story about a trip I took to the Eastern Shore when I was about ten years old. It was originally posted on the Blogspot version of my Overeducated Housewife blog. I would put it on my newer WordPress version of that blog, but when it comes down to it, this is a travel story… and this blog needs some love. So here’s my mortifying camping story from the 80s. It’s not for the faint of heart!

The featured photo is of a 1977 Volkswagen Westfalia camper van. My dad had one exactly like it back in the early 80s. In fact, this guy’s video below shows a van that looks very much like the one my dad had, right down to the green plaid upholstery. Wonder if it also smells like pancake syrup, like my dad’s van did… When the top wasn’t popped, I could swing on the bar used to push up the camper top as we cruised down the interstates. In those days, kids didn’t have to be strapped down.

Here goes…

Back in the early 80s, when I was about nine years old, I went with a friend to Annapolis, Maryland.  I stayed with her and her grandparents for about a week.  Then my parents picked me up and we drove back to Virginia by way of the Eastern Shore.  I seem to remember stopping in Chincoteague and Assateague, where there are wild ponies. 

Being a horse crazy kid, I was pretty excited about visiting there.  My dad was driving an ugly, bright orange, VW van with a popup top.  I remember spending the night in it at a campground in Maryland.  The next morning, my dad decided he wanted to go swimming in the pool.  I went with him.  Unbeknownst to us, the pool was closed, but for some reason, we were able to access it.

After a few minutes, my dad got out of the pool, but left me in the water.  Next thing I know, I hear this old man yell “Hey!  What’s that kid doing in the pool?!” 

I quickly got out.  He confronted me, asking what I was doing swimming.  I told him my dad had gone swimming and I was with him.  The guy said, “Oh, so your father can’t read either?  There’s no swimming when no one’s around!”  In retrospect, I realize that guy was unnecessarily mean to me, but at the time, I was really humiliated and upset.  I’m sure he yelled at me because he was worried about liability, but as a young girl, I didn’t know about such things.  He made me cry.

Mortified by the man’s sharp words, I ran back to the camper, where I refused to sit on a seat, lest someone see me.  My parents took me to breakfast at a Hardee’s.  Because it was late morning, I wanted a cheeseburger, but they weren’t serving them and my dad said, “This is one of those places where you have to order what they want to serve you at the time they want to serve it.”  

My parents hadn’t seen the guy yell at me, and when I told my dad about it, he kind of blew it off.  I stayed upset, though, because it was his fault I was in the water in the first place.  And hell, he hadn’t even gotten me out of the water when he decided to get out himself.  As an adult, I realize how stupid that was.  Nowadays, someone might have called CPS.  Fortunately, the only harm was my extreme embarrassment and shame.

Later that day, we went to Assateague and Chincoteague. I remember going to the beach at Assateague, marveling at how much less crowded it was than Virginia Beach usually is. We drove through the national park and picked up a book about the wild ponies, though I don’t remember if I actually saw any. I did have a friend in school who owned a Chincoteague pony and used to win a lot of awards with her in barrel racing. Then later, we visited a water slide… the very first one I had ever been on in my lifetime, at that point.

It was a pretty cool slide and I couldn’t wait to get on it.  As I was about to sit down, I slipped and went down backwards.  I was terrified, but apparently going down backwards impressed a bunch of people, including a cute teenaged boy who congratulated me for my “bravery”, even though I had only gone down backwards because I’d totally slipped and fallen.  The water slide fame made up for the scary encounter with the campground guy.

Over the years, I remembered that trip so fondly. Even the campground was kind of fun… at least before the guy yelled at me. I haven’t been able to visit Chincoteague or Assateague since then, but I always fantasized about going back, and maybe riding the slide again.

Don’t read any further if you’re squeamish…

Years later, I wondered about that water slide. Out of a sense of nostalgia, I went looking for evidence that it still existed. I finally found it when I read a story about the man who had owned the slide at a water park he and a friend had opened called “Wet & Wild”.

Turns out he was a sex offender named James Jenkins, and years after the water slide closed, he got caught molesting a 13 year old girl. That, in and of itself might be shocking, except for the fact that Jenkins was so upset about his uncontrollable urges to molest little girls that, in 2003, he decided to castrate himself with a razor while taking a shower in jail. He’d asked a guard for a razor so he could be clean shaven for court the next day. The guard had hesitated, but then gave him the razor. Jenkins put an apple in his mouth to muffle his screams and tied a shoelace around his scrotum as he removed his own testicles. Having cut them off, he then flushed them down a toilet in the jail.

Needless to say, I was shocked to read about that.  At the time that I found the news story, it was the only thing I could find that mentioned the 80s era water slide in Chincoteague that I remembered so well.  I don’t think the slide is still in existence.  I’ve looked for pictures or mentions of it.  I’m pretty positive that Jenkins’ slide was the one we visited because, at the time, it was the only slide in the area.  

So, on that trip to Chincoteague on the way home, not only did I get yelled at by a scary, mean old man at a campground, but I also visited a water slide owned by a pervert.  And not only was the guy a pervert, but he later actually took it upon himself to cut off his own balls with a razor and flush them down the toilet. The up side to this story is, Jenkins later said that castrating himself “saved him” from his obsessions.

And all those years, I thought it was the mean guy at the campground who was offensive.

I’m glad childhood is over.


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