Fire In The Hole! Reflections From Summer Camp

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.

Fireworks!

Wow!

Jeez!

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.

“kaboom!”

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!”

Respectfully submitted,

Camper 4601

(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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Jumping Off

leaning out the open door
time roars by
it’s gone
no more
I wonder what my life might be
had I the courage to jump free

behind me in the train’s cocoon
dreams fly off to distant moons
faces glued to heartless screens
joyless stares and silent screams

and so we travel every day
secure and safe or so we say
the child no longer comes to play
the status quo will have its way

will I stay an untold story
remain in hopeless purgatory
pretending that I care no more
soul crying for its need to soar

then I jumped off into space
the unknown flying in my face
It’s not clear where I will land
no matter
I am free again

tio stib

2016, 2017, 2019

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Afternoon Sun

for the first time 
in seeming months
we sat at water’s edge
mesmerized by stillness
listening
to the gentle lap of waves
feeling the warmth
of afternoon sun
slowly melt our frozen souls

shadows passed
as geese honked overhead
laughing children scurried by

Ah…
I heard a voice within

at last,
there is hope again

tio stib

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Blind Man on a Bench

a surprise lover
the cool breeze kisses my cheek
my body delights
in sunshine’s warm embrace

wavelets lap softly on the sand
the scent of seashore drifts into my nose
a fly buzzes by

birds surround me
chirping behind
squawking above
honking across the water
laughter approaches

raucous conversation
“good morning!”
“Good morning to you”
the footsteps fade
a blast of male perfume persists

I bite an apple
crisp
juicy
sour
my lips pucker

smile

immersed in a beautiful day
mind swimming in memories
a blind man on a bench

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 6 – A Shared Life

“for better for worse, in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part.”

These thoughts are part of many marriage ceremonies, I’ve committed to them myself. Yet, until recently, I’ve never fully grasped their significance.

In the past, the bumps on our life road were never terminal, there was always a way out, there was always tomorrow, things would get better, time was on our side.

That’s not our reality now. Alzheimer’s dementia is no game of the day, not a trivial illness that will go away, we’ve now entered a path that is one way only, and it well end only one way.

Most of us take all measures to avoid the subject of death and dying. In younger years, I was certainly that way. However, later in life, death has knocked on my door several times and I’ve learned to open my heart and appreciate the gift of being with other’s as they end their life journey. Is this tough work? Beyond words. But, so are the rewards.

Being blind has humbled me. Blindness took away many freedoms, many activities and experiences I often took for granted. Our life now, our shared life, is simple. There are no complicated agendas, no long “to do” lists. We get up and enjoy the wonders of a new day. I listen as my wife delights in describing hummingbirds hovering at the feeder, as she greets passersby and talks to children, and reminds me we have to buy more cookies.

Our shared life has become a series of special days. Our special days have become a series of precious moments.

tio stib

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Wondering What I Will Be

I wonder if I’ll ever be
happy with just plain old me
accepting what the mirror can see
surrender to reality

stop playing the re-invention game
lusting after love and fame
stop playing other people’s games
hope the world will speak my name

I wonder who I will be
when I give up on changing me
exhaust all possibilities
get up one day and let it be

tio stib

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My Dementia Diary 5 – Groundhog Day

In the 1993 fantasy comedy film, “Groundhog Day,”the main character, a weatherman named Phil Connors, discovers that he has become stuck in a time loop where the day he is living repeats itself over and over. No matter what he does, Connors wakes up to the same day, again and again.

Connors soon realizes that no matter what he does, no matter how insane his actions are or how much he messes up, no one will remember. He will wake up tomorrow and start all over again. However, it also becomes apparent that whenever he does something that improves the lives of others, this good carries forward and when he wakes up the next day, the world is better.

I find myself in my own “Groundhog Day” loop, but mine is no fantasy.

My wife’s deteriorating mental condition has resulted in her mind not being able to remember anything in the recent past. This means that when I screw up, as I often do, and say something that upsets her, she gets angry, but in a short time, if I’m patient and let the storm pass, she soon forgets all about what had happened.

I get to start all over again.

My daily focus is my wife’s happiness. Still, my ego, my expectations, jump up and bite me far too often. I say the wrong things. I don’t pay enough attention to her. I get angry at life. She gets upset and pulls away. Realizing my mistake, I go into sooth and patience mode, and eventually we get back to calm again. I store the experience in my mind and the next day, I do my best to avoid a recurrence.

I’m getting smarter at recognizing the triggers that have set me off previously, taking better care of balancing my own needs to minimize frustration, enjoying the purity of my wife’s simple joy of being.

Will I escape this time loop? Phil, committing to make himself and the lives of those around him better, eventually does so through the power of love.

At this point, love is the only answer that holds out hope for me.

tio stib