Ooo, ya did it, now you’re gonna get it
By Tim McGrath
In Part One of Burning Down the Boy Scout Camp, (https://www.nearnorthnow.com/features-and-fun/random-bitsburning-down-the-boy-scout-camp)
we left the scouts of Troop 1234 recovering from a dreadful night. Snoring, farting adults, and a spring thunderstorm turned Michigan Monsoon threatened to bring an untimely end to the camp out. But these scouts are steadfast, and it would take more than these piffling inconveniences to send them packing. Hoo-rah!
“All our gear is a soggy mess, but this breeze, and that bright sun’ll get it all dried out in no time; so don’t look so glum, fellas. We’re cut from sterner stuff than that.” Mr. Franklin looked around at the dirty dozen standing in the dripping mess lying around the campsite.
“Well, lads, let’s get some hot grub rustle up. That’ll make us all feel better. Then we’re going to hit the trail – got all kinda things good scouts need to know about nature; you’ll love it. All our chow is safe and sound in the back of the car, so everybody hop to it. You all know your jobs.”
Camp stoves, coolers, grocery bags, pans, plates, silverware; everything needed for a breakfast feast, all appeared. A well-oiled machine of wrinkly, rumpled scouts knew what to do, and soon the magical smells of bacon, eggs, and pancakes – Mr. Franklin called them “pannycakes” - filled the air around our soggy site. He was right; a hot breakfast was the ticket.
Nature hikes are OK, unless every tree, bush, bug, and tiny bit of fungus becomes an opportunity for the scout leader to go on and on about it. Mr. Franklin thought we were complete ignoramuses about anything outdoors related, and, as such, believed it his duty to fill in all the holes of what we lacked in outdoor acumen. Soon, the enthusiasm of our merry band of scouts began flagging. Surprise and happiness at all the minutiae our leader was laying on us was gradually replaced with eye rolling and muttering. We sounded like the gripy old ladies who sat in the back of church.
“I can’t take this nature hike crap any more,” Chuck whispered to me. “Let’s ask him if we can go back to camp and start getting the fire ready. We’re gonna make hobo dinners for lunch.”
“Yeah, let’s go,” I whispered back.
“Mr. Franklin, is it OK if Tim and I run back to camp and get the fire going so it’s all ready when you guys come back?” Chuck asked.
“Sure, boys, that’ll be A-OK. Just make sure you use good scouting fire safety procedures. Wouldn’t want anything going up in flames. You know the way back?”
“Thanks, Mr. Franklin, we sure do,” Chuck yelled back over his shoulder as we skedaddled back down the trail to camp.
The fire pit we’d constructed was right out of the scout manual: large rocks forming a perimeter, all debris mostly cleared around the pit, a small indent in the ground for the wood to lie in: we had it going on, baby. It was the perfect set-up for hobo dinners. Just wait until the rest of the troop sees this masterpiece. Piling up small sticks, dry grass and weeds in the pit; we stood back to survey our handiwork.
Chuck grabbed a pack of matches from the storage box, and lit one.
“Stand back, Tim, I’m going to get this sucker rolling.” He lit one after another, and soon our pile of stuff was burning nicely.
Carefully, we added larger sticks, followed by a small log – a triumph of fire building right in front of us.
“Let’s let it burn down a little, Chuck, it’s big enough,” I said.
I turned away to pick up a large stick, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Chuck lob a large log onto the fire. A plume of sparks shot up, and drifted into the dead grass and weeds alongside the pit. A tiny patch of fire crackled to life. “Chuck, look!” I yelled. Sprinting to the spot, I desperately tried to stomp it out, but in that instant a gust of wind blew the small patch of flames into a roaring inferno. “Put it out! Put it out!” I screamed.
In less than a minute our entire campsite was ablaze. A group of older scouts saw what was happening and came running with shovels. “What’re you stupid little shits doing?” one of the older scouts bawled. “Don’t just stand there with your faces hanging out, get busy. We’ve got to get this out before the whole camp goes up!”
Chuck and I tore off our hooded sweatshirts and tried beating out the flames – an entirely futile gesture, as the flames moved so fast, and were so hot, it was impossible to get close.
Seemingly from out of nowhere fire engines appeared, and some old guy on a tractor began turning up the ground with a plow. Mr. Franklin, Mr. Bogard, and the rest of our troop came running into camp and battled the inferno with whatever they could grab. Scouts and leaders from the other troops ran every which way in a desperate fight to save the camp. After what felt like eternity, the tide began to turn, and soon the last flames were extinguished – the fire was finally out.
Looking at Chuck through the smoke and heat, I noticed his eyebrows were burned off, and his Princeton bangs were singed back up to the top of his forehead. Dirty trails of tears ran down his face and dripped off his blackened chin. He clung to the scorched remnant of his sweatshirt. Oh my gosh, what have we done, I thought.
After the last fire engine had left, the other troops had gone to pack up their stuff, and the old guy on the tractor had chugged off for home, Timmy Franklin walked up to Chuck and I. “Ooo, you did it, now you’re gonna get it. You’re in big trouble. You’ll probably get sued and end up in juvie. I’d hate to be you two idiots.”
“Pipe down, Timmy, don’t want to hear any of your guff. Go help Mr. Bogard and the other boys.” It was Mr. Franklin. “Chuck, you and Tim come with me. I want to show you two something.”
We walked silently around the charred field that was the camp. Little wisps of smoke filled the air, and ash we kicked up from the burnt grass and weeds covered our shoes.
“Look around you fellas, what do you see?” Everything was charred and smoky.
“It’s all burnt, Mr. Franklin. It was an accident; really. We did everything just like we were supposed to. I’m sorry for burning down the camp… am I really going to juvie? My mom’ll be really mad if I have to go. I’m supposed to go to my grandma’s house tomorrow,” I sniffled.
“Look again, men, what didn’t get burned?” he quietly asked. Chuck and I shrugged. “Look at our tent, all the buildings, the tents from the other troops. Not one of those things got burned. I don’t understand it; must be some sort of miracle. The fire stopped just short of all of it; can’t explain it. And, I know it was an accident, so don’t worry about going to juvenile detention. Timmy can be a big gasbag sometimes; don’t listen to him. I can’t figure out where he gets it. Well, c’mon, boys, it’s time to pack up and ship out for home.”
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