Earthworms’ Castings

With Jean Ponzi

Camp Stools
Artifacts of Simple Summers

We had four of them at my Gramma and Grampa’s house in West Allis, Wisconsin, for two girl and two boy cousins. The oldest one was me.

Clearing them out a corner of my grown-up basement revived summer memories.
Camp stools use a beautifully simple seating design: two wooden 1x2s on each side, each bolted to move as an X-brace. Two cross pieces at the top, fitted with splines, secure one modest canvas strip. Two more cross pieces, screwed to the X-sticks near the ground, make these little chairs super-sturdy, and pretty light weight. Unlike today’s metal or plastic legged outdoor chairs, you could repair any part of these stools yourself, to sustainably keep on sitting.

Three of our camp stools still have their original deep orange heavyweight cotton seat. One has a canvas seat, with a 1960s turquoise and brown stripe. Fabric used before that must have worn through. The canvas was a funny color choice for my earth-toned family.
I also have one camp stool that I got here in St. Louis, long after I had outgrown kiddie seats. This one has an additional H-shaped wooden section fixed into the X-bolts. It flips up and gives you a back rest! What a concept: spinal comfort.

My cousins and I parked our stools in the driveway and rode our trikes around them. We leaned two together to make tents for stuffed animals. Sometimes we took them to Greenfield Park. We’d sit in a line by the park lagoon throwing hunks of day-old bakery story Wonder Bread to the ducks.

The best times on our camp stools were many, many days in the summer that I-94, the first Interstate Highway through Wisconsin, was being built right at the end of Gramma and Grampa’s back yard. I was maybe five years old.

Gramma, my cousins Kristin and Brian, little brother Marshall and I – and sometimes my mother and Auntie Corrine (their Mom) – would trek way, way back to the farthest border of the yard. We’d perch on those (pretty uncomfortable) stools for hours, watching the road machines dig and grade and pour concrete. Zip-Zowie, what fun!

There was no highway fence across the backyards of Gramma’s block yet. We could have run right down to the construction zone. But we were well-mannered children. Each of our camp stools was our place, and we stayed (safely) on it.

Other kinds of outdoor chairs bring up remembrances from my basement.
Two classic wooden Director’s Chairs needed a good cleaning-off. I inherited them in my 20s, from a really grown-up friend who owned her home. Now I will probably pass them on. Their canvas seats and backs are stained, and one is spattered with silver solder from the summer we rebuilt our bathroom, directly above that storage space. I have prudently also saved a spare set of canvas seats and backs, tidily stored in a plastic bag.

Two blue canvas metal-framework fold-up chairs, the kind that accordion into their own cylindrical drawstring bag, invite me to sit and revisit multiple summers.

I bought those chairs at the start of an epic car trip North with my Gramma, to her girlhood places, when I was only 46 and she was 91. They are Shakespeare brand folding chairs; heavier than their 21st century counterparts, but strong and practical. Each one has a little armrest net to hold your beverage.

Gramma and I sat in them side-by-side, watching fireworks on the Fourth of July on the Minnesota Iron Range, in St. Louis County, a thousand miles north of here.
And over every year since 2001, friends and I have shared these chairs, enjoying the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, live and free in Forest Park, at theater parties I’ve organized. With a cold one handy on one arm, these Shakespeare chairs continue to serve as summer-fun seating.

Circulating good stuff, a beloved young family with two young boys now uses my vintage camp stools.

Join Jean Ponzi every week for Conversations in Green. Her Earthworms podcasts come from KDHX St. Louis Independent Media – you can pick ‘em up at iTunes.