Pass the Merthiolate (Dad’s Unexpected, Beloved, and Quite Useful Legacy)

If you’ve ever been camping with us (and that speaks to at least a few dozen of you – hooray for ultra racing!) you’ve likely seen Geoff or I reach into the abyss that is the big green box. This magical trunk of wonder is full of, well, everything. Need waterproof matches for your gas stove? We’ve got that. A folding, handheld saw to cut that branch for your fire? Got that too. Some salt and pepper for your dinner? A tiny broom to sweep out your tent? Some environmentally friendly dish soap? Come on over to the green box.

And you can thank my Dad for his awesome foresight.

All Dad’s stickers, placed by Dad – believe it or not, I didn’t do that.

My Father was an avid outdoorsman. He fell somewhere on the scale between weekend-warrior and Bear Grylls. A long time hunter safety instructor, Dad could hold his own in the wilderness. Yet he was most often found in the type of campground that required a reservation, with his family, fishing poles, and the trusty Coleman stove in tow.

Because Dad loved camping and the outdoors so much, he obviously accumulated and collected a TON of stuff over the years. And as my Mother will confirm, accumulating “stuff” was definitely a specialty of his. And a lot of that camping and outdoor specific stuff ended up in the green box.

I don’t remember exactly when this plastic green storage tote came about, but if I had to guess, I’d place it around 1992. I’m basing that estimate solely on the fact that Dad clearly placed an “I love my humpback whale” sticker on it that I got from adopting a whale when I was 10 or 11.

The box contained all of the important camping gear, the “in case of emergency” camping gear, and an insane random assortment of “this looks neat” gear – most likely impulse or clearance rack purchases. Growing up, the green box came with us on every camping adventure, accumulating an assortment of souvenir stickers along the way.

This was actually probably pre-green box. Barely.

(Now the plethora of stickers on my car’s rocket box makes more sense, doesn’t it?)

When Dad unexpectedly died, Mom told us we could have whatever we wanted of his. Naturally, I asked for the magical green camping box. (And the massive Coleman cooler that pre-dates trendy Yetis, and I’d argue, works just as well. Also decorated by Dad with stickers.)

When the box finally made it’s way to our living room here in South Carolina, Geoff and I carefully and lovingly unpacked it’s contents. We marveled, we laughed, and I definitely shed a tear or two over the memories that accompanied so many of these items.

The green box has now become a staple in our camping, racing, and outdoor adventure kit. While some things in the box were removed, and other, newer things added, there are still a number of vintage and amazing pieces that we tote around from place to place. I’ve been joking for the past year that I need to write a blog post sharing some of my favorite (and “what the heck IS that?”) items. So, here we go.

Coleman Propane Stove

A true classic: the Coleman propane stove. If you haven’t owned one of these at some point in your camping life, well…what is it the kids say these days (I can’t believe I just typed that)...”Do you even camp, bro?” (I can’t believe I just typed that either. Ugh.)

There was a Labor Day weekend camping trip back when I was maybe 12 or 13, where Mom nearly lit Silver Lake State Park on fire with this particular stove. Propane leaked, she didn’t notice, lit the stove anyway, and next thing you know a massive fireball reached, what felt like, the top of the trees. Fortunately, other than some singed arm hairs and increased heart rates (for all of us), no damage was done…and we didn’t get kicked out.

Anyway, this 2 in 1 grill & stove has become a staple among our own camping supplies. So much so that our regular camping buddies offer to feed us if we promise to bring it in order to warm the food. Such a great deal!

Coleman Teflon II Griddle

What good is a propane stove if you can’t make yourself some Sunday morning pancakes? Enter: this vintage bad boy. The Coleman Teflon II Griddle. I’m not sure Teflon is considered safe anymore, but the attendees of Upstate Ultra’s Summer Trail Running Camp for Grownups didn’t care, as this griddle was put to work cooking up dozens of fun-fetti pancakes.

Google failed me in trying to age this thing, but we’re going to go ahead and call this one a vintage find. A true antique! Bonus: some guy name George Youngblood scribbled some info on the back for us. It appears this griddle cost a whopping $9.99.

Ozark Trail Stove Toaster

Pancakes not your thing? That’s OK. We’ve got the ability to make toast. Yeah, yeah, you could just lay the bread directly ON your stove, but you’re more likely to burn it that way. I know from experience.

I actually remember my Dad using this thing multiple times, thus, I find it hilarious that it still lives in the original cardboard package.

Sterno Folding Stove

Apparently, Dad wanted to ensure we could eat. Always. Because in addition to the above stove, and a single burner bottle top stove (not pictured), was this:

And of course, the accompanying Sterno cans.

I’ve never used a stove like this before. Hell, I’m pretty sure by the looks of it, this stove has never been used before. But I imagine it would be a great lightweight option to the aforementioned Coleman stove, because that sucker – and the accompanying propane tanks, are kind of heavy. Add in the Teflon griddle and you’ve got a regular upper body workout.

First Aid Kit – Definitely Older Than Me.

Look. At. This. Relic. It’s heavy. It’s rusty. It’s bloody amazing (pun totally intended, because it’s a first aid kit.) Hell, it even comes with Merthiolate (thimerosal).

I’m going to guess this Pac-Kit Safety First Aid Kit is from 1978, only because I found those numbers mixed in with some other numbers on the label inside the front of the case. I’m also fairly certain much of the contents are also from 1978, which I suppose could be considered a good thing.

Clearly, we avoided catastrophe.

There were definitely a few additions over the years, and as such, the kit remains in the green box, now toted from race to campground to adventure with our little family. I’m not sure the band-aids even stick anymore. But I’m hoping after last years “we lost a finger” incident, our family is done with campground emergencies.

Yellow Jacket Trap

I don’t even know where to start with this one. But perhaps the “Free Bait Included” mention in the top right corner. This confuses me, because without the bait, what would this thing even be useful for? Are yellowjackets similar to lobsters, in that they can crawl through a hole into a trap, but then suddenly completely forget how to get back out?

OK I know that’s not exactly how lobster traps work, but seriously.

I can only imagine that there’s some sort of glue or tape (or there was) in this trap. Regardless, as much as Yellow Jackets can be assholes…I am not a fan of killing nature. We’re in their home, after all. Sorry Dad, this one isn’t getting used. But the cartoon character Yellow Jacket on the box is hilarious!

Candle Lanterns – a Plethora of Them.

Since we got the box, I was wondering what my Dad’s obsession with these tiny lanterns was, especially since most of them weren’t used. Then it occurred to me…I probably did this.

I vaguely remember wandering Eastern Mountain Sports as a pre-teen and teenager before holidays such as Christmas or Father’s Day, wanting to buy my Dad something I’d hoped he would love. Of course, as a teenager, I didn’t have a lot of money, and as anyone who has frequented places like EMS or REI can tell you, outdoor gear can get pricey.

But there were always smaller things in the under $20 range – gear, knick knacks, and things that were more of the “gift” persuasion rather than hardcore outdoor equipment. Those are the things I would buy Dad, and because he was my Dad…he kept them all.

Now, that’s only a theory. Dad also really loved railroad lanterns, so I wouldn’t put it past him to collect these as well. I’ll never know, but I’ll definitely hang on to these.

The Extractor

Let’s get back to the yellow jackets, shall we? Actually, Yellow Jackets bite with their mouths, over and over, and I’m pretty sure there’s nothing to extract. But if a friendly honey bee is having a bad day and gets you, or worse, a rattlesnake, well you’ll be glad you had “The Extractor” on hand.

This is also unused, which once again means the Gannoe family clearly avoided any confrontation with venomous snakes or angry bees. Recent research and evidence seems fairly overwhelming that snake bite treatment kits don’t work. But, this thing takes up such a small piece of real estate in the big green box, so it stays. Hopefully, as a good luck charm to ward off any snake bites, because the venomous snakes are certainly NOT strangers here in the South.

Folding Shovel

I have no recollection of this being used while camping as a child. But, with children of my own, particularly one who has a fondness for digging holes, this shovel has come in quite handy. Maybe not for it’s original intended purpose, but man does that kid love to dig a good hole.

This Broom

Believe it or not, this tiny piece of plastic truly brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my face when I found it in the box. You see, my Dad had quite the ability to convince my little sister and I that tedious chores were actually really fun tasks, and weren’t we SO lucky to be able to be the ones who get to perform them? Upon arriving to a campground, Cathy and I would take turns blowing up Mom and Dad’s massive air mattress with the foot pump, laughing our tails off the entire time. We thought the manual labor was hilarious.

And so was sweeping out the tent before and after camping with this tiny yellow broom and dustpan. I remember fighting over who got to use it first.

When you lose someone you love, you’ll find it incredibly odd and surprising what sort of things mean the most to you. I’m fairly certain that while my Dad collected these items (and oh, so much more) and placed them in the big green box, he never imagined that one day after he left this world, his “stuff” would continue to adventure with their intended purpose in the hands of his kids.

Yes, I’m pretty certain that Dad never intended for one of his lasting legacies to be this big green box and all of it’s random contents. But here we are. And every single time I use one of these items, I feel a connection to my dad.

Day by day I’m realizing that the people you love leave a lasting imprint on your soul. They may be “gone” from the physical world, but they are never truly gone. They are present in the things you love that they instilled in you. The actions they took in their lifetime that helped you, directly or indirectly, down the path you are on now. The life lessons they taught you that molded and shaped you into the person you are today.

As Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh once said:

“When we lose someone we love, we should remember that the person has not become nothing.  ‘Something’ cannot become ‘nothing,’ and ‘nothing’ cannot become, ‘something.’  Science can help us understand this, because matter cannot be destroyed—it can become energy.  And energy can become matter, but it cannot be destroyed.  In the same way, our beloved was not destroyed; she has just taken on another form.  That form may be a cloud, a child or the breeze.  We can see our loved one in everything.

Thank you for the memories, Dad. And for making sure my soup was nice and hot and my tent was swept clean while we were camping last weekend.

About Heather

Hi. I'm Heather. Exercise physiologist by day, adventure seeker...also by day, and sometimes night. I like: mountains, running long distances, rabbits, sleeping in tents, poking at campfires with a stick, and Gordon Lightfoot. I dislike: peanut butter, bent tent poles, sitting still for too long, and writing "about me" sections.

1 comment on “Pass the Merthiolate (Dad’s Unexpected, Beloved, and Quite Useful Legacy)

  1. Beautiful post Heather. I haven’t thought about merthiolate in years but it was a staple in my house as well. Thanks for sharing the wonderful memories of your dad and the green box.

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