The closest thing to summer camp I ever experienced was in the backyard, curled up-fetal position-in an aluminum arm chair screaming my head off when those horrid June bugs whirred around me and crashed into my arm or leg or forehead. It’s always the forehead because everything in the universe has a special attraction to it. My uncle bought sparklers a week before 4th of July and he’d light them for us. I was afraid of those too. I’m no dummy, I didn’t want to catch myself on fire. Lights, bugs, and fire weren’t my favorite things.
I did want to go to summer camp, though. It looked fun from the comfort of our couch on a hot summer day, flickering on the other side of the TV screen. Pile up in a bus with friends, lug around a ton of luggage (don’t forget the swimsuit), and wave the parents goodbye for a week or two of bunkmates in a rustic cabin with plenty of outdoor activities. Of course, they never show the mosquitos, and you can’t smell the bug spray. It looked fun though.
My sister and I had healthy imaginations and a knack for re-creating and staging things we missed out on. Especially during summer breaks. Long summer days at Nana and Papa’s were the norm while my parents worked. Occasionally, my dad “watched” us while Mom worked twelve hour shifts sewing the pockets onto Levi’s jeans or inspecting the denim to make them. I don’t recall where Mom worked that summer, but we did experience our own little camp. Once. Under the bed.
I took my first-born role seriously and coordinated a real camp-out complete with a campfire. One of my cousins was with us that day, so the three of us grabbed a flashlight, matches, and my mom’s votive candles. Mom’s bed was high off the floor so we easily fit underneath. The bedspread hung down low enough to conceal us. We had the perfect tent. On our tummies, we prepared our camp to tell ghost stories.
I arranged the candles in the middle and lit them. We sang goofy songs and started telling ghost stories, made up on the fly. The candles flickered and went out. Strike, no light. Strike, no light. Strike, no light. We used all the matches to no avail. Without a campfire, we can’t tell good ghost stories. I remembered watching my mom when she cooked and a burner didn’t cooperate. She’d rip up a brown paper grocery bag, twist a strip, and light it with another burner. Then she’d turn the faulty burner back on, the gas flow would pick it up and voilà, it’s on.
Aha, I can do that! We wriggled out from underneath the bed and I retrieved a paper bag. Mimicking the procedure, I handed my sister hold the lit up “match stick” and bring it into the bedroom while I scrambled for a candle. The flame quickly made its way down and before we could light the candle, it found her finger instead. “Oww!” She didn’t quite know what to do as the flame grew and there was no time for the candle. I grabbed her arm and led her to the kitchen sink. “Throw it in!” I ran the cold water, doused the flame and put her finger under it. I went to the fridge and took out the tub of margarine and doctored the burn slathering some onto her finger, another kitchen observation.
I returned to the sink to make sure the flame was completely out. There wasn’t much left of the singed paper bag strip. I was relieved the flame didn’t get worse. It didn’t occur to me that we shouldn’t light candles under the bed either, but hey, we wanted to go camping. We crawled under the bed to try again, but it wasn’t the same. Camping mood extinguished, we didn’t continue with the ghost stories either. Putting the candles back, we left no evidence of our outdoor adventure. Dad didn’t suspect a thing.