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Camping With Harry
Allen Fogelmyer was a red-haired, teenage acquaintance of mine who loved overnight camping trips on the weekends. He wasn’t a close friend but was a 7th grade classmate everybody had nicknamed “Harry”. The reason for that moniker was Harry had reached puberty ahead of his peers and had begun sprouting dark red hair on his chest and back. Although his name should have been spelled "Hairy" , that just didn't look right. Somebody once made him a present of a comb as a joke.
Harry had a deeply freckled face reminiscent of “Howdy Doody” and was on the skinny side. He was also a practical joker and had a slight mean streak. He never meant any real harm to anyone, but he tended to rub people the wrong way. Therefore he had a little trouble finding people to go camping with him.
However, he had all the latest camping gear and a couple of fine horses. These he used to entice others to go with him on camping trips. So, when he asked me and my younger brother, Mike, to accompany him one weekend it was hard to refuse since we also loved to go camping and fishing. If we had the gift of hindsight we would’ve thought twice about accepting Harry’s invitation.
As mentioned, Harry had two horses. He rode one, and I being older than Mike, rode the other. Mike always got the short end of the stick since he was born legally blind. To keep our horses unencumbered we made Mike carry all the gear in a huge backpack. He had a little trouble keeping up so we had to amble along at a snail’s pace, allowing him to be able to make out where the horses were.
Making Mike walk may seem cruel to some, but there was a reason. Our family had agreed to not treat him any differently than the rest of us. This allowed Mike to use his limited abilities to their fullest potential. Plus, I wanted to ride the horse.
We arrived at our destination. It was a secluded secret clearing in the woods close to a creek which Harry had unofficially claimed as his. It didn’t take long to set up camp. That’s when we discovered Harry had conveniently forgotten our food supply.
“I guess we’ll just have to rough it” Harry quipped with a hint of sarcasm. We hadn’t been at the camp site 30 minutes and already Harry was beginning to get on my nerves. “But don’t worry, I brought along a couple of “Pocket Fisherman’s”. Baby boomers will remember TV commercials about these small compact fishing gadgets. I had never used one before but they would have to do. So, it was off to the creek to catch something for supper.
I wasn’t too impressed with the gadgets’ performance but we did catch 4 small perch. They were barely enough to keep three growing teens from starving to death. Of course, Mike was unanimously elected to clean and cook the meager fare while Harry and I went to gather wood for a campfire. While doing this task, Harry called me over to look at some tracks. “Looky there, will ya” he exclaimed. “Those are bear tracks”!
Harry was aware I had a thing about wild bears in the woods. He had heard a story about my early childhood and a prank my granddad had pulled on me and my brothers involving an escaped bear roaming the countryside close to our farm house. Ever since then, bears and I never got along very well. However, those tracks didn’t really look like any I had seen before. But they must have been since Harry claimed they were.
By the time we returned with our armloads of firewood, Mike had cleaned the 4 small perch. I set about making a safe campfire surrounded by a circle of big rocks. The wood was stacked as to light quickly. I then asked Harry for some matches or lighter. His freckled face curled into a crooked grin, exposing a missing tooth. “I guess I forgot those too” he said nonchalantly. Mike and I had not brought any either since Harry had assured us he had everything we’d need. What were we going to do now?
Mike and I headed back to the creek, leaving Harry alone at the campsite, so we could cool our tempers down a bit. Mike suggested we start a fire using techniques learned while in the Boy Scouts. I had never actually tried making a fire that way but what did we have to lose?
Harry must’ve foreseen our solution to the problem because as we got back to the campsite he was emptying our canteens of water on all of the firewood. “What are you doing?” I hollered furiously. He quickly defended his actions by explaining the water was dirty and undrinkable. Mike and I weren’t buying that gambit and realized Harry was playing jokes on us.
However, I didn’t find it funny at all and lost my temper. Harry knew he was no match for me and took off towards the creek with me in hot pursuit. The horses, startled by the sudden disturbance broke loose from the stakes and bolted off. We’d have to find them later.
I tackled Harry bringing him to the ground and we both rolled into the creek where we wrestled around getting entirely soaked. Mike was jumping up and down screaming “Get him! Get him!” But the strangest thing happened. Suddenly I wasn’t angry anymore. We both began laughing and splashing around in the creek having a great old time. Mike joined in the melee and we all stripped down to do some skinny dipping. When we tired ourselves out we found our clothes had practically dried out so we put them back on and went to round up the horses. They had returned to the camp and we staked them out again.
We lay down exhausted from our exertions and dozed off in a peaceful nap. When Mike and I awoke Harry was already up. He had gathered more firewood and was igniting the fire with a lighter. “I was just kidding about the lighter” he said in his toothless grin. All was forgiven. Mike cooked up our tiny meal but Harry refused his portion. We assumed it was his way of apologizing for the pranks he had pulled.
While Mike and I ate, Harry remarked he had to make a nature call and slipped off into the woods. We were still hungry but realizing that was all there was we kept quiet. By now Harry Had been gone quite a while and we began to get a little worried about him. Had he run into that bear? We went to look for him.
We found him. There he was polishing off the last cans of food he had previously buried in case of an emergency. Harry stood up realizing fun and games were over. I belted him under his right eye and he went down. He knew better than to get back up. Mike and I spun around on our heels and marched furiously back to the fire.
It was now dark, so I restocked the campfire and we decided to go to bed. In our pup tent we drifted off to sleep scheming of ways to get even with Harry and didn’t care if he stayed out in the woods all night.
Along about midnight something woke me up. There were strange sounds coming from out in back of the tent. Scuffling noises and muffled growling. That was all I needed to hear to convince me that bear was paying us a visit. I scrambled out the front tent flap hollering for Mike to get up and run. Mike was still half asleep. I hadn’t run 10 feet when I felt a tug on my ankle and I hit the ground face first. The tent collapsed on Mike as he frantically tried to claw his way out.
Harry had slipped back into camp and had tied a length of rope to my leg and the other end to a tent stake. Once again, Harry sprinted off howling in glee.
However, we didn’t think it was very funny. Enough was enough. Mike and I set off walking home, leaving Harry to finish his camping trip alone.
Needless to say, we never went camping with him again.