Friday, May 16, 2008

Dreams of My Children, Part 3

I had reached the conclusion of my ghost story. A dozen Boy Scouts sat in deathly quiet, their wide-open eyes reflecting the yellow flames of the campfire.
"And so," I whispered, it was the daughter, not the wicked stepmother, who ate the bubbling evil pie that the old gypsy had cursed."
The smoke drifted into the blackness of the sky. The fire hissed and crackled - the only sound on this dark, humid night.
"That's all?" one of the scouts asked in disbelief. "The daughter eats the pie? And that's supposed to be scary?"
"What a crummy story," another one said.
"I knew that one anyway," another boy said. "He didn't make it up. It's from a Stephen Kind novel – one of the Bachman books."

OK, so maybe storytelling is not my strength. Come to think of it, camping isn't, either. Here I am. Spending two nights at Camp Anawanna, supposedly teaching them about living in the wild, when I hadn't been on a campout since I was a Scout in 1961. Back then, driving the cars and making us do all the work and forcing us to build a goofy rope bridge across a creek were my father and a couple of other old grumps. Dad wasn't much of a camper, either, but he was very good at giving orders and yelling at us to keep quiet in the middle of the night.

Boys will be boys, I learned, whether it's 1961 or 1986. They do not like to do those chores that are absolutely necessary for a successful camping trip: staying dry, washing their mess kits, gathering firewood, sleeping. Nor do they enjoy participating in the educational activities planned by the Scoutmaster.

The intransigence makes normally easy-going adults, like me, become mean, cranky arm-twisters.
"We thought camping trips were supposed to be fun," one tenderfoot complained. "All we do is work, work, work."
"Work?!" I exploded. "This isn't work! It's fun! It's play-time!"

At night, I listened to the conversations in the tents scattered through the pine forest. Boys still talk about the same stuff they talked about a generation ago - pretty girls, fast cars and violent movies. They tell disgusting jokes and hold farting contests.

I walked around after midnight, grumbling and making threats to those boys who were too loud, and then I got back in my sleeping bag and tried in vain to brush out all the daddy-longlegs that had walked in the tent while I was out. I thought: Is all this really necessary? I suppose it is. Camping is part of the passage, and it's the job of grumpy adults to make sure no one falls overboard. We want our boys to grow up like us, and to do that, they need some of the same experiences.

Really, it's worth it, I told myself as I dug my fingers into the earth to keep from sliding down the hill and out the back of the tent, having foolishly pitched it on a slope. After all, this is part of my passage, too.

- July 1986

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