Let me tell you about tarps.
We have a tarp in our family. Flashback! You just got hit by one, right mom?
Our tarp was bigger than Alaska, heavier than sin, and 70s rockin' brown. Brown is a good color for tarps. It shows that you are serious about what you're doing and it hides dirt. I think my dad might have carried that tarp out of the Mekong Delta when he left Vietnam.
The first thing we did before we went camping was to try to and find the tarp. This would take at least an hour of frustrated searching and digging in the Bermuda Triangle that was our garage. During these tension fraught times there might (would) be raised voices and accusations flying back and forth like daggers in a ninja fight. I always wondered why it mattered who the last person to see the tarp was if at present no one remembered where it was. It could have been anyone one of my sisters, or my mom or dad. Me? Nah, I never helped unpack after trips. It totally wasn't me.
By the way we treated that tarp you would have thought it was a magic carpet. We could not go camping without it. If, after an hour of ninja daggers, there was still no tarp and you casually suggested that we could go camping without it, mom or dad would start yelling threats about giving the tarp your bed and making you sleep in the garage.
That last bit was probably a lie, probably.
The tarp has three main functions:
First, it acts as ground cover at your camping site. Once the tarp is on the ground, the tent goes on the tarp. The tarp prevents rocks and sticks from breaking through the bottom of the tent, and keeps ground water from seeping in during dewy mountain mornings.
Second, the tarp acts as an impromptu table cloth when you're eating in a picnic area of lesser standards. Before mom ever started cutting up sandwiches with the 10 inch buck knife (something else daddy brought back from Nam) that was always in the glove compartment of our station wagon, the tarp was taken out, shaken out, and snapped onto filthy tables from Cachuma to Lake Havasu. Herpes, tetanus, scurvy, and rabies were no match for the tarp. Lingering effects of Agent Orange? Perhaps.
Third, the tarp provided cover from both sun and rain when ropes were looped through the grommets on each of its four sides and it was hoisted up into the air and secured on trees. An oasis, a shelter, a welcome home from the brutalities of nature.
The tarp has more uses beyond this. For packing purposes, things can be wrapped in the tarp to protect them during the car trip. Upon returning home, the tarp can be used to cover boxes, which is important because you need to hide your valuables from garage robbers. The tarp is also an impromptu water slide, but it makes a very uncomfortable blanket.
You can see why the tarp is essential. It's obvious why it was worth fighting for.
I think my parents bought a new tarp when I was in junior high. Smaller, bright blue, not nearly as sturdy. A pale ghost of the tarp glory days, but in a pinch, it will do. As soon as I have my own garage, the first thing I'm going to do is take my money down to the Army surplus store and get myself a tarp. For camping, for living, for loving, for laughing, for a shadow by day, but not for a pillar by night, as the tarp is not fire proof, which is its only drawback.