It had been a memorable July 4th at Camp Colman. the bright sunshiny day had helped campers enjoy swimming, playing horseshoes, and making those ludicrous craft items you find years later in a box and ask aloud, “what the heck?”
The evening meal had been mouth watering grilled salmon courtesy of the camp’s patron, Ken Colman. After the sun had disappeared on the far side of Horsehead Bay, campers and staff assembled on the beach to ooh and awe at a fireworks show set off from the swimming float.
As silence finally subdued the crowd, everyone disappeared into the night.
But in Cabin 5, the fun had just begun.
When their counselor left them for adult R & R in the lodge, a voice cried out-
“Hurry up Pat, what’d you get?”
Flashlights beamed on a boy sitting crosslegged in the center of the floor, smiling as he ripped open the recently received package.
It was Pat’s birthday and his sister had kindly sent him a present. Inside lay the obligatory homemade cookies and an assortment of candy bars. But the real treats were hidden under layers of toilet paper.
Can you believe it!
“Man, whose got a match?
As none of the middle schoolers yet smoked, or admitted to it, they seemed to be out of luck. But, the older and always prepared sister had covered this eventuality. Under the secret stash of sparklers, missiles, and bombs was a pack of matches.
Cautious not to draw too much attention to their clandestine celebration, they lit the sparklers first, gleefully twirling their twinkling torches around the inside of the cabin before someone mentioned this might be a fire hazard.
the party moved outside.
“Hey, what are those?”
“Pop bottle rockets.”
“Yeah, what do you do with them?”
A Coke bottle appeared and was shoved, base first, into the ground, it’s nose pointed haphazardly across the center lawn.
A small digression for a note on local geography. Cabin 5 sat on one side of the large expanse of grass called the center lawn. On the far side of this lawn, perched nobly on a small hill, sat the camp lodge, out-of-bounds to campers but a late night respite for leaders and staff, At this point on a dark night, lights glowed inside the lodges windows but nothing stirred on the campus lawn or adjacent hillside.
For the uninitiated, a pop bottle rocket is a small missile attached to a stick. This explosive was slid into the waiting pop bottle and a match was lit. Wide eyes watched as the fuse glowed and quickly shrank to nothing and-
The real fun of pop bottle rockets is that they don’t just go “boom!” Rather, they hiss and whistle and screech as they twist madly towards their target.
This particular pop bottle rocket performed perfectly on its three second flight towards the lodge. As the missile exploded into the hillside there was a simultaneous scream and the distinct sound of something or someone crashing into the bushes.
This unexpected result was barely noticed by the frenzied pyrotechnicians.
“What else is there?”
“Jeez, what’s that, it’s huge?”
“Cherry bomb. Man, can it make noise.”
“Put it in the garbage can.”
another match burst into flame, a fuse lit, and the cherry bomb was tossed into a garbage can, lid dutifully replaced.
I swear that lid blew 10 feet into the air. The echo from the explosion reverberated up and down Horsehead Bay.
but what was even more surprising, is that before that lid crashed back to earth, a searchlight swept the area and a voice yelled out, “What’s going on!”
Somehow, in the seconds it took for Camp Director Jack to jump up the steps into Cabin 5, every single one of its delinquent residents was fast asleep deep inside his sleeping bag. All except for the unfortunate kid in the back corner scrambling for the safety of his upper bunk. The searchlight illuminating two squirming legs seeking shelter inside his bag disputed his innocence.
There was no happy ending to this story. The next day, all Cabin 5 campers were put on latrine duty, requiring multiple trips to the two outhouses , Nellie and Egypt, for cleaning purposes.
However, it was difficult for us not to smile as we walked back to camp after our odious chores. Somehow, Director jack had missed the birthday present box, and we lit up the remaining fireworks and dropped them down the outhouse toilets.
“Fire in the hole!”
(Camper name has been omitted in fearful deference to the ghost of departed Director Jack)
Footnote: This historian readily admits that fifty years of time and a failing memory may have resulted in some distortion of facts in recounting these events. However, I’m certain that the above mentioned garbage can lid flew at least ten feet up into the air. As for other Camp Coman happenings, the camper sleeping bag stuffed with jellyfish, the various articles of camper clothing run up the flagpole, the painful proddings by the Order of the Fork, the life altering impact of snipe bites, and the imaginative uses of peanut butter and marshmallow cream on the initiation outing to Dead Man’s Island, I shall entrust these details to more sound minded scholars. I will admit though, that I was the last one on the campfire stage to figure out the metaphysical mantra of the turbaned visiting Siam Prince Shambu -“ohwhatanassSiam.”
Additional footnote: For the curious, the unheard scream when the pop bottle rocket exploded into the hill below the lodge belonged to Jr. counselor Dan downey. Since nicknamed “ducker,” it is reported that Dan still suffers from PFSD, post fireworks stress syndrome. It was noted in the newsletter from his 50th high school reunion, that when a champagne cork popped off, “Ducker” dove under the refreshment table, causing some embarrassment and a lot of spilled drinks.
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Thanks! Nice to have such thoughts to brighten up cloudy days.