By Nicholas Mecca
You would think at my age I would know better, but having spent six weeks in a pup tent in Lebanon in 1958 at age 24, I asked myself, “How tough could it be to spend one overnight in a tent?” A piece of cake!
This exciting life episode began quite innocently with a phone call from one of my grandsons. He pleaded, “Papa, I want to go camping Saturday. Would you take me?”
One would expect to first hear from the lad’s mother. Oh, no. My daughter, the attorney, knows how difficult it is for a macho grandfather to deny his grandson. Responding “no” was not an option. My beautiful, loving daughter would morph into a she-bear.
Traveling in convoy, we arrived a little before dark. First, set up the tent. Next, build a campfire. The site had a flooded fire pit – scorched earth encircled by a jumble of rocks. “Dig a runoff ditch,” barked the Boy Scout leader. Several boys set to work. Within minutes, water was draining away from the pit and a fire was burning.
It turned dark and began to rain. The temperature was inching downward. I noticed a couple of boys still digging, creating a hole, which was quickly filling with water. Finally, exhausted, the young miners stopped. But too late. Their miniature well was situated strategically between the fire pit and the crowded end of a picnic table. Anyone approaching the table dipped one leg or the other knee deep into that cistern. The language heard was appropriate for neither a baptismal ceremony nor young ears.
At this point my grandson was dripping wet. I ushered him into the tent for a change of clothing. Entering the tent meant that I had to bend forward from the waist, assuming a most uncomfortable partial U position.
More fun. A night march was ordered. After emerging from the woods, it was back into the tent for another change of clothing. I again exited the tent with my body in the dreaded partial U posture.
“Chow time!” The first good news since arriving at camp. My tin of Dinty Moore beef stew was ready. Dinty, however, was not welcome in camp. “Camp burgers” were the preferred menu. A camp burger consists of chopped beef, formed on site into a patty, layered with a slice of wet cabbage, a slice of onion and a second swath of cabbage. This “to die for” entree was wrapped in aluminum foil and thrown into a blazing fire.
The recipe called for a cooking time of 40 minutes. “What?” I dug our camp burgers from the fire after a mere 10 minutes and suggested that my grandson should have the privilege of taking the first bite. Peeling away what remained of the foil, he carefully studied the blob and bit into it. Quickly there came a series of loud curses, any one of which would deny him the Eagle Scout badge.
Finally, Dinty Moore beef stew! Someone suggested that we throw our can unopened into the fire. Oh boy! The last thing we need is a beef stew explosion. Punching holes in the top of the can, I tossed it into the fire, retrieving it in less than a minute. My grandson and I gave Dinty three stars.
Quietly, we agreed that it was time to leave. After another change of clothing, we were back on the main thoroughfare. The song “Going Home” kept repeating in my brain.
When we finally walked in the door, my grandson was shivering and I was disheveled and half bent over. My wife began to laugh hysterically for an obscenely long time. She drew a hot bath for my grandson, leaving me alone to shift for myself. To this day, she and my daughter find great amusement in my near-death experience.
Final dicta: Straighten up, love your grandkids and adore and fear your daughters.