Much like the typical Midwestern family, my family went camping a lot when I was younger. I loved camping, and a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was a Girl Scout starting at the age of 5, so my inner adventurer was alive and well, but also because I was an only child who grew up with a house full of boys next door.
The youngest, we’ll call him Jay, was my age, and in the same grade as me at school. Jay and I were thick as thieves. We made brownies together, played dress up, dug for worms and ran over to each other’s houses in the middle of winter butt-ass naked to ask if the other could play. The middle boy next door, we’ll call him Scott was three years older than Jay and I, and tolerated us sometimes. The eldest, Daniel, was 7 years older than us, and usually too cool to be associated with Jay and I, unless the rare occasion presented itself, such that you’ll see below.
Jay, Scott, Daniel & I have grown into real people together, and our parents still live next door to one another. We’ve celebrated occasions and mourned together. I have a super soft spot in my heart for that entire family, as if they are really my own blood. I honestly hope that never goes away, and we stay in each other’s lives always.
We, my parents and I, often went camping up in Wisconsin with the family next door as a big group, and it was quite possibly some of the best vacations I can remember as a kid (I think this is because I finally wasn’t so alone, it was like instant siblings!) – minus Disney World, of course, because reasons.
The first of such trips, Collaborative Camping, if you will, Jay and I were 5, Scott was 8, Daniel was 12. We set up camp at some small lake in Wisconsin full of lily pads and squishy algae and leeches (the idea of leeches, to a kid like me, was horrifying. I thought they latched on the moment your skin touched the water, and never let go, and you eventually died a horrible and painful death of exsanguination… Now that I think about it, I will bet a million dollars this is what Scott or Daniel told Jay and I. Naturally, we believed it! This, among other reasons was why this turned out to be NOT our favorite place to camp…)
Daniel had his own mini tent, because he was too good to be around us “kids” at that age, and I stayed in a tent with my parents, Jay & Scott and their parents were in their own tent. We were a tent army! For whatever reason the first full day camping, Daniel had gone off to do his own tween thing, and Jay & Scott decided they were going to pick on me. This happened from time to time, because I was the only girl, and not really their sister, so I could be an easy target. They’d made me cry at one point that day, so our parents put their heads together in secret, and came up with a solution.
That night, we were all around the camp fire, their dad told a scary story, about the legend of the Lake Monster who lie dormant in the lake just 20 feet away from our tents! The Lake Monster would crawl out of the lake at night and steal children! The Lake Monster especially loved children who were NOT NICE!! Once the Lake Monster stole children, they were never seen or heard from again!!!
All of the kids were shooketh.
As we laid down for sleep, I was terrified. My parents explained to me, in hushed voices so as not to be overheard, that the parents had made that story up so that Jay and Scott would stop being brats, and behave themselves – The Lake Monster absolutely did not exist and therefore I had no reason to be scared. Besides, even if the Lake Monster did exist, I was caring, kind and gentle, and therefore the Lake Monster would want nothing to do with me! With this, I was satisfied that I was safe, thrilled to be in on the prank, and slept wonderfully that night.
We woke up to commotion. Something was wrong! We emerged from our family tent, and Jay was in tears. Scott was frantic, and their parents looked knowingly upon them.
Scott said, “Daniel is gone! His whole tent, all of his stuff is… is GONE!!!”
We all looked towards where Daniel’s tent had been the last two nights, and sure enough, there wasn’t a stake left to be seen! Jay cried harder. I looked on wide-eyed.
Their parents said, “The Lake Monster! He must have got him!” They feigned devastation well.
Scott finally broke. Tears came to his eyes. The two sat there and cried, while both of our parents made coffee, and started the fire for breakfast, and we (that were in on the prank) went about divvying up Daniel’s things.
Their mom said, “Well, Angela, Guinea (their guinea pig) loves you, and we bought her for Daniel, so why don’t you take her?” I happily agreed, again, absolutely thrilled to be in on this “big kid prank”.
Their dad said, “I think I’ll take Daniel’s bike, because it’s too big for either of you, Jay & Scott.”
We went through our morning, Jay and Scott were devastated, but not surprisingly very kind, thoughtful and even helpful!
By lunch time, Daniel came back to our camp site, his gear in tow, much to the delight and relief of Jay and Scott, but they had learned their lesson.
When his homecoming was complete, Daniel looked at me, and winked. I felt truly loved.