Thursday, June 14, 2012

Salt Flat Campers

No vegetation grew along the sulfur-smelling Salt Creek just north of the Louisiana border with Arkansas near my boyhood home. The oil field stream meandered lazily through the rotting stumps and logs of our wooded playground, sending out little salt water rivulets into the flat coves, bleaching the sand as white as snow at the edge of the pines and oaks. These “salt flats” were ideal camping places for the boys I ran with and we had marked our territory encompassing two of these.

Since we lived in different directions from the flats, we often set our date for camping by telephone and left for our rendezvous at various times. I worked as a messenger boy until dark, some had grocery store jobs after school, one had a drug store delivery position, and one or two had paper routes. Thus some of us arrived at the predetermined spot before dark to set up, but others showed up as late as midnight and even beyond. Campouts were not made for sleeping anyway. We always found plenty to talk about around the campfire and most of us brought interesting snacks that we shared: fried okra left from supper, boiled eggs, crackers, pickles, popcorn, bananas, apples, potato chips and other goodies. We ate and talked and giggled well beyond the arrival of the last camper. That was usually Allen, who had evening chores on his daddy’s farm.

One evening when I got home from one of our salt flat camping trips, I told Mother and Pop this story:  “Just after midnight, we heard Allen a quarter mile away, coming from the direction of their farm. At first we thought his crazy yelling was a prank to scare us, but when he didn’t let up as he got closer and we called his name, we knew something was wrong. When he got to camp, we saw that his leg was bleeding and he had little human-like teeth marks just below the calf of his right leg.

“When he finally calmed down and got his breath, Allen told us a little monkey-like creature had darted out from a thicket and grabbed his canvas pack of goodies. When he pulled back on the pack, the creature latched onto his leg and bit him. He said he had a hard time shaking it off and when he did, he started to light out for home, but saw some more of the little things in the edge of path he had just travelled, so he ran like the mischief toward camp.

“Tommy cleaned the bite mark and put rubbing alcohol on as Allen squirmed and hollered. He was fixing to tell his parents that a monkey bit him because he had no other explanation. Tommy said Allen will have to have several shots in his stomach. On the way back home today, Johnny and I saw small human-like footprints, like children’s, but the big toes went off funny.”

Of course I made this story up and told it at supper to watch Mother’s alarm grow and Pop’s skepticism turn into belief. They both swallowed the tall tale till Sunday of the next week when Mother asked Allen’s mom at church how the shots were going. I loved to spin a yarn.

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