Sunday, March 2, 2014

Hanging Out


My childhood friends and I had a lot of freedom, especially in the summertime. The primary way we expressed our independence and liberty was to head out on a camping trip. We always let our parents know, in a general sense, where we would be camping and we never had to search too long for some good old boy in a pickup truck to haul us and our gear to a location in hiking distance of our destination.

The Ouachita River bottom was our most common site in those days. On the plus side of that location: we could fish, swim, climb trees, dig for treasure and tell stories around the campfire. On the negative side: the mosquitos seemed as big as humming birds and they were attracted to boy flesh. We also came home laden with red bugs and ticks. Wild hogs were another problem, the bold kind that did not mind rooting around the campsite after we finally hit the hay. We eventually learned to acquire hammocks with mosquito netting from the Army Surplus store after the oldest of our group showed up with one. Hanging between two trees, a hammock was a hog-free resting place for the woods-weary kid.

The campfire stories often became quite scary, depending upon the skill of the yarn-spinner. Some could make you see, hear, taste, feel and smell all the elements of the tale. And, somehow the good storytellers always tended towards the horror genre late at night. I do not remember a single story about the Bigfoot, though. That mythical dude did not emerge in the Southern imagination until I was grown. But we did hear stories about panthers, crazy medical doctors who had gone wild and lived in the swamps, huge hogs that had an extra growth deformity (these big guys walked on their hind legs), and, my favorite, little monkey-like creatures, escapees from an exotic circus, that liked blood.

Interestingly, I never had nightmares after these stories. I guess I knew it was a story that could not impinge upon my sense of reality. In those days, I was skeptical enough not to suspend my disbelief. But some of the other kids, especially the younger ones, did have hollering fits during the night. Some of these were genuine nightmares. Others were calculated to further enhance the spooky ambience of the night.

The high point of our outings, to me at least, was breakfast. Mother packed me some eggs wrapped in newspaper stuffed down in a jar to keep them from breaking. She also packed an iron skillet, some wrapped-up bacon, and a half-loaf of light bread. I could not wait to hear the sizzle, smell the fat, and sink my teeth into the grease-sodden “toast.” I felt sorry for the kids that brought only donuts, or, ugh, peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast. I fared sumptuously and, to this day, I like a good breakfast. I do not care for horror stories, however. Even the great Poe does not ring my chimes. The only horror story I like is Gone With the Wind.

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