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Camping '73
Part 1

by Bud Johnson

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Copyright on this story text belongs at all times to the original author only, whether stated explicitly in the text or not. The original date of posting to the MMSA was: 24 Feb 2016

Men Camping in Summer ’73

The four men sit around the campfire on a late August night. The winds signal the approach of the fall season in the crisp night air. Bob and Jack left the campsite to get their jackets while Cliff and Bill stay behind, rubbing their hands by the fire. Rustling leaves on the air connects an imposing aroma to the hurried wind. It invigorates them. This is their last Saturday night in camp. All four men had to be home by Monday morning for work and that was 2, 4, 6, & 8 hours away; respectively. Cliff will be the first one of the men to leave. He’ll need to head back by noon on Sunday.

The men have been coming here for years. They were part of the same Army unit when they were younger. Jack was the drill sergeant for the regiment. They had met to celebrate Jack’s 60th birthday. He was just slightly older than the rest of the group. He joined the army almost a half decade before the other guys joined. Jack had a deep gruff voice that gets your attention coupled with his excellent ability as a leader. He had been promoted quickly in those early years.

On this night, they had been talking about their wives, kids, work, and just general reminiscing. Each had their own views in life and they told each other home and old war stories. The rest of the guys were well into their fifties.

Pretty soon it’s going to snow. Damn, time sure gets away from you. Bill said to Cliff as they waited for Bob and Jack to return. Cliff wondered out loud if Jack and Bob might be lost.

It’s been an hour. I remember when my son Joey drifted off like that once when he was a kid. He claimed he was lost after he strayed away from the campfire. Yeah, right! Cliff’s had a menacing tone in his voice.

He showed up two hours after his curfew. Boy, I tanned him good that night. His mother was frantic

You what? Bill queried.

The men were quiet for a minute.

I don’t suppose we can give the old Sarge a good, birthday lickin’... Cliff said with a snicker, running a stick through the fire. Bill relaxed.

Cliff continues, Anyway, Joey got a damned, good strapping that night. I took him by the ear back to the campsite to get him to tell me what he was really doing. I know my boys ...

For being late? Don’t you think that was a little harsh? Bill questions animatedly.

Not for my kids. Kids have to learn that when they say they are going to do something, they must do it. Following through is everything in life

I suppose. Bill said with a sigh. He relaxed again.

Off at some distance campfire, the sound of a distant camp party wrapping up is heard. It sounded like some family gathering. Kids would be back in school in less than a week in some places. The mood of the party added to the festiveness of the night. There was a curious feeling that was left suggesting a tension to the campgrounds too. Some of the kids were pretty hyper.

Bobby! Get over here! or Susie! Listen to your Mother! Statements like that could be heard echoing in the distance. When the sounds of a strapping, coupled with the yelps and cries of a teen aged boy became apparent too from the same area, the two men were not surprised.

Searching to validate what they were hearing, Cliff said, Boy, that kid was asking for it wasn’t he

The cracking leather resonated through the campground. The boy’s yelling resonated right through. Bill got a bit fidgety. He poked a stick in the fire again to keep it going as the final crack sounded. Bill was thinking to himself how he thought the times had changed, yet hadn’t. His place was vague.

The breeze picked up into a wind, swirling some embers in the flames. Bill shrugs and moves toward the pyre and grabs a few of the thicker pieces of wood. He tosses the logs in it to fuel the fire. Cliff grabbed a can of beer from the ice cooler, popped the top, and slugged it back. Bill gets one too. The sounds of the distant strapping had turned into the softer, sullen moans of the punished teenaged boy.

About that time, Bob & Jack came back. Jack said, Did you guys hear that smart-mouthed kid getting a lickin’ from his old man? About time too! Jack snipes. Cliff breaks out with a slight under toned smile.

They dug out the last two beers from the ice chest and the four men moved back to the fire.

These fathers today... Ha! Waited too long if you ask me. Bob said as he chugged some of his beer.

He could have handled it differently, said Bill, who had moved to the truck getting some extra cloths from his bag.

Maybe, said Jack.

But maybe not. I remember a time when I had to whip one of my boys at this very same campground back when was he was 13″.

You? Cliff said mockingly to Jack. Not the barking Sarge?!?

They all started laughing.

Jack recalled what happened: Some other campers brought him back to the tent. The blockhead kid got caught sneaking with some of the other kids into the canoe rental offices at 2 o’clock in the morning. This one camper named Grady was just pissed at all the kids. He had brought my son back in his car to my campsite. I didn’t have a choice really. My boys knew the routine

It was about 10 years ago. Jack had six kids. Most of them where grown and in college or starting their own families. The other men knew Jack to be a fair man. They knew his strictness first hand from serving with him.

Grady was agitated. He went on and on talking so that the other boys were sure to hear him. Damn, the old guy was calling me out. He was the campgrounds super attendant. What else could I do? My son knows better

Jack square off across from the fire poking it with a stick now.

I looked at Chris and called him to me. I grabbed him by his shoulder, pulled him closer. I told him how disappointed I was. There was a wood stump near by so I just looked him in the eye led him over there for his whipping. He might have been rebellious but he also knew what to do. With out a word, Chris dropped his trousers and lay right across that old stump as if I had told him too. He knew what to do

The fire crackled as Jack nudged some twigs around.

When I yanked my belt out, I caught a glimpse of one of the younger boys watching. Ah, the boldness of teenagers. It melted away. Jack snickers. They all fell in line after I strapped my boy and sent him back to his tent

Bill asks, How old was your boy then

13, I think

Thirteen is one of those tough ages for kids. Boys are awkward, hyper, and still unsure of themselves. But they are always pushing the conventional limits. It is a reckless age. These four men had all raised kids of their own. Back in the 1960s, spankings by the Dad was the common rule of the household just like it had been in the previous decades. Probably true in America since the founding of the nation.

Bob sat down next to Bill. It was the cricket time; a place in the night where the sounds of their chirping was louder than everything else. The story Jack had told seemed to Bob to make Bill fidgety.

You okay buddy? Bob asks Bill.

Bill said, Yeah. It just brought back some bad memories. All four men fell silent.

<End P1>

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