Smoky the Baptist Rides Again
By Connie Cavanaugh –
“I hate camping,” my husband confessed, late one night.
“You hate camping? Since when? We’ve camped for years!”
“I know,” he admitted. “But I’ve never liked it.”
“You’re the one who researched space efficient camping equipment and bought all those supplies,” I declared. I couldn’t believe my ears. We had camped all across the country with three kids. Everything fit into the trunk of a Volkswagen.
“I like research,” he said. “But not camping. I do it for the kids.”
Our kids loved camping. These adventures were the highpoint of their summer.
We were in a pickle. Not only had we promised our kids we would go camping as soon as school let out, we planned to go with another couple.
We finally concluded that tent camping was too rustic. Perhaps if we brought along a few more comforts, we would enjoy it more. The day we arrived at our campsite we looked like a Saharan camel train. Our van was stuffed, had a bulging topper strapped to the roof and we pulled a huge pop-up trailer.
When we got to our site, within ten minutes our bicycle camping companions, who carried everything in two backpacks and four saddlebags were finished. They erected their pup tent, slung a hammock between two trees, and made tea on what looked like a Bunsen burner. They sipped and watched as we constructed our forest kingdom.
It took three hours to assemble the trailer, the tent, and the screened gazebo for our camp kitchen. We looked like a feeding station for tornado victims. By the time we were done, it was late and everyone was hungry.
Dad got ready to fire up the Coleman stove on the picnic table inside the gazebo. The first “firing” of the season was usually worth watching. We dubbed him Smoky the Bear since he had stomped out many a potential forest fire that resulted from his pyrotechnics. Smoky’s method was to pump the stove until it threatened to burst and then stand back and toss a lit match. The explosion was spectacular. After the mushroom cloud dissipated, the small burner would flame merrily and we would cook dinner.
But this time, something malfunctioned. Kaboom! Flames shot up and out. Only this time, they kept shooting.
Smoky grabbed a beach towel to use as oven mitts. Gingerly he picked up the stove and, dancing like the great Ali, struggled through the tiny zippered opening in his attempt to save the gazebo. Once outside he doused the inferno with water and stomped on the smoldering towel.
He mopped his sweaty brow with the charred towel and looked up to where we were all standing, watching him with grateful amazement. This had been the best annual fireworks display to date. Slowly, we began to applaud.
”Whew!” he exclaimed. “I almost didn’t make it through that dinky doorway. Maybe we should leave it fully unzipped from now on in case this happens again.” The kids and I had noticed that the explosion had melted one entire mesh wall in the gazebo. You could drive a car through the hole that resulted.
“Oh that’s ok,” one of the smart alecks quipped, pointing. “Leave it zipped. We can use this new opening. It’s much bigger.”
Knowing he could never outdo this performance without risking hectares of prime forest, we made that camping trip our swan song. Nowadays we “camp” in an RV at a national park where open fires are not allowed.