Published 2:19 am Sunday, March 6, 2011
Photos of young people enjoying outdoor recreation don’t always show the whole truth. For example, Boy Scouts and Explorers are almost always shown as being engaged in healthy, character building activities. I was reminded of this recently when browsing through an album dated in the 1960’s.
In the latter part of that decade, the leader of the Picayune, Miss., Air Explorer Squadron recruited me to help supervise the boys. We were acquainted because of our mutual love of flying. He also needed help because, as a business pilot, he was often called to fly around the country on short notice.
In the weeks following my introduction to the squadron, a summer weekend camping trip to the lower Pearl River was planned. At the last minute, my friend was called by his boss to make an urgent business trip. He apologetically called me and said that I would be doing a solo on that camp out with eight or nine boys barely in their teens. After some hasty adjustment to the transportation arrangements, all seemed in readiness.
We drove to Logtown in lower Hancock county and launched our two ancient johnboats. Our route took us through a cutoff out to the Pearl River, and then upstream to a nice shady bluff overlooking the slowly moving water. Once ashore, everyone toted camping gear to the top. The boys were experienced at this sort of thing and quickly began setting up camp.
Dan, the next-oldest and ringlea … ahh … natural spokesman, noted that two bags of food had been inadvertently left in a car at the landing. I glanced around. Each of the boys were busily working on tents, digging a latrine, and cleaning the site. I told Dan that I’d make a run back and get the missing goodies.
As I descended the bluff, I remembered that my .22 rifle was in my tent. I stopped and called back in what I hoped was an intimidating tone of voice.
His head popped in sight and he answered in a sassily respectful tone of voice, “Yessir, Mr. Mac?”
“Dan, you boys stay away from my tent. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, messes with my rifle, you hear?”
“Oh nossir! We wouldn’t do nuthin’ like that!”
Eyeing him dubiously, my thought was, “Humph! Sure! And camels don’t live in Egypt, either.”
I shoved off, cranked the motor, and headed south. I was motoring out of the cutoff on the return trip, about fifteen minutes from camp, when I heard a single whiplash crack from the general direction of the camp.
I should interject at this point that these boys learned firearms handling during their preteen years. They were trusted with firearms and had often hunted together. They knew their responsibilities and took them seriously. The .22 wasn’t used frivolously. Something useful had been fired upon, but what?
I drove the johnboat up on the bank below the bluff and killed the outboard. Nothing was stirring above me. I listened for a moment, then picked up a bag of edibles and trudge up the steep pathway. At the top, a couple of boys were meandering aimlessly. Some were idly whittling. Two were staring at the sky as if they had never seen a cloud before. It was all too staged; it was all too pat. Then, like a cartoon light bulb flash, realization hit me!
I called out, “Dan!” He jumped from behind a large pine tree.
“Yessir, Mr. Mac?”
“Dan, did any of you boys shoot the rifle while I was gone?”
“Us? Oh, nossir! We wouldn’t do that! You said not to!”
I looked steadily at his open, innocent face, then leaned closer and spoke quietly, “Dan, I’m going to go back down to the boat and get the other bag of groceries. If I come back and find a dead snake in my tent … get this … I-will-skin-you-alive-do-you-hear-me?”
Dan held my gaze, but pasty guilt flooded his eyes. He didn’t answer.
Breaking the tableau, I abruptly turned back and descended the bluff slowly. I retrieved the paper bag of bus and mustard. As I straightened up, a dead snake, recently expired— no doubt, whizzed over the top of the bluff and splashed into the river.
I have to admit, the rest of the camp out was fun but exasperating. We fished, told stories around the campfire, and had a very good time. They continued to try to catch me unawares with other pranks and I had to use every wit to try to stay ahead of them.
John McDonald is a retired Quality Control/ Engineering Test Technician who attended local schools (Union, Industrial, Picayune High, and PRCC).
He is a veteran of the Cuban Blockade (U.S. Navy) and Vietnam (Civil Service). He was a crew member of the U.S.N.S. Card, T-AKV-43, when it was sunk in the Saigon River in 1964.
McDonald is married to the former Vivian Baker and a long-time resident of the Leetown community. He has written a few locally-published articles and poems. Some of his favorite subjects are tales and anecdotes about the Lee family. Though mostly a “househusband” now, he has enjoyed hobbies such as fishing, flying, and nature photography.