Once proves enough for mother-daughter campers

The Human Condition for Sunday, June 30, 2013

With the summer camp season in full swing, I cannot help but remember my one experience.

Our Scout leader knew the outdoors better than Cabela’s. She was a pioneer who could create a cozy environment given only the bare essentials. Girls in our troop had circled the last Monday in June on the calendar. That was the day we were leaving for one entire week in the woods and we could not contain our excitement. For at least two months our talk had focused on building campfires, pitching tents, and cooking over open flames. This was Shangri la for city girls!

When our telephone rang Sunday afternoon I answered, but never expected to hear the next words.

“My mother is in the hospital with appendicitis,” my friend and fellow Scout sobbed. “She can’t be because we leave tomorrow morning and she’s our leader,” I replied, never thinking how callous I sounded. Quickly, I added, “Is she going to be all right?” My friend assured me that her mother would, indeed, recover nicely, but our long-awaited trek into the forest would have to be canceled. “Can we get a replacement leader?” I asked with sincere hope, but was told that it was too late to find another qualified Scout leader to accompany us.

I replaced the phone and started thinking.

“Mama, that was Carol; her mother is in the hospital.” After relating the details, I openly lamented that our trip was over before it began. Mother expressed genuine regret that the troop would have to wait until the following year.

“Mama, could you be our leader for the week? I know you could do it, and all the girls will help. We’ll be extra good and do everything you tell us, p-l-e-a-s-e?” I gave my best pleading look.

Now, here’s the problem. When I told my mama she could be successful, I was actually hoping she could pull it off. Nationally recognized in her field of journalism, she was comfortable speaking to an overflowing audience at Columbia University or instructing future journalists at the hands-on workshops at Ohio University. Her master’s degree had absolutely nothing in common with the culinary arts. In fact, I can truthfully state that we rarely dined at home. Our kitchen floor had pristine gold carpet. Yes, I was going onto the proverbial ledge to ask my mother to be our leader for a week.

She said, “Yes.” I ping-ponged from being elated that our troop was getting to implement the plans we’d created to the agony of realization that this mission could fail miserably.

I called the other girls. One did say, “Did you tell your mother that we’re not staying in a Holiday Inn?” I overlooked that comment for the time-being.

We met and checked into the camp Monday morning under torrential rains and skies that threatened more of the same. The scout supervisor pointed to the right.

“Your campsite is up there.” “Oh, that’s not too bad,” my mother murmured and started to the patch of cleared land sporting a welcoming picnic table. “NO!” the supervisor shouted over the pounding rain. “Your site is UP the hill.”

Well she should have called it a mountain because it was the steepest incline of all. The other 14 troops were fortunate to be on the ground floor or just a short walk uphill. We loaded ourselves with the supplies and started climbing. The rain was cascading downward as we were trying to walk up. Rivulets of water began rushing, then gushing toward us. What probably passed as a path on good, dry days was a sea of mud. We finally reached the pinnacle, and Mother suggested we pitch the tents. Somehow, we accomplished that feat, but it left us starving. Our leader whipped out peanut butter and crackers, and we campers were satiated.

Gathering kindling for a fire is difficult when everything around is soaked. We managed to build a campfire before starting the leaf identification project, one of the week’s objectives. Dinnertime was nearing and two of the girls started boiling water for spaghetti. We had decided that might be the easiest to heat and eat.

We made it through the night, but the rain continued to pour. We had dug a latrine that afternoon, but it had washed down the hill and into a lower campsite, we discovered later. Tuesday we were undaunted and started into the woods to fulfill more assignments, agreeing that the rain could not last forever. That night we cooked hot dogs on sticks and made s’mores. Honestly, nothing has ever tasted as good since then.

By Wednesday morning, the rain had increased, and our tents had to be re-adjusted. A few girls were crying because they were wet and miserable and openly wondered if we could just go home. Well, we all were wet and miserable, but the consensus was to stick it out. My mother called my dad.

“Go to McDonalds and bring us food. We need cheeseburgers, fries and soft drinks. I’ll send a few girls down to the bottom of the hill to get the bags from you.”

That was the panacea for our depressed troop. Unfortunately, the aroma wafted into the other campsites. We heard accusations. “I smell McDonalds!”, “Where’s that wonderful smell coming from?” and “Do you have enough for me?”

In addition to food, my dad carried the message that our area was under a flash flood warning for the next several days since the rain had no intention of abating. Outdoor initiatives had been replaced by survival tactics. We abandoned traipsing down the nearly impassable hill for additional forest lessons. Instead, the girls listened as Mother told ghost stories to help pass the time, and waited until my dad brought Taco Bell on Thursday.

Friday morning we tore down the camp and slid downhill to the meeting. Our troop won no ribbons and no acclaim. In fact, we were chastised for the rations of delicious restaurant food.

From that day forward, my mother and I vowed to never again go camping. We decided we were the reason hotels were created.

Human Condition is a column for Advocate readers about poignant or funny stories, approximately 600 words in length. Send submissions to: Human Condition, Sunday Advocate Magazine, 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810, or email submissions to mag@theadvocate.com. If you would like your submission to appear on our website, include a sentence stating that you would like your submission to appear online as well as in the print edition. Manuscripts will not be returned but are kept on file for one year to allow early submission of seasonal stories (Christmas, Halloween tales, etc.). There is no payment for Human Condition.