I don’t remember running through the center of camp. I don’t recall passing the flagpole or the four Dads lounging in their lawn chairs. I am quite sure they all saw me.
I picture them like four farm boys at the circus, their heads swiveling in union as a short clown traversed the three rings being chased by a bigger clown and then by another bigger clown. The only things that were missing that day at summer camp were the funny suits, a tiny car, and a clown horn.
After my brothers and I had vanished from sight, I have to assume one of the Dads asked my Dad, “Weren’t those three yours?”
There are two sounds from that day that I will never get out of my head. The first is my tennies digging into the wet beach and the ‘shwoop-shwoop-shwoop-shwoop’ sound of the sand being replaced by the ‘thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk’ of the wooden planks as I flew down the dock.
Everyone on the hill who witnessed Pan’s last second grasp of my shirt collar said if not for his heroics, I would have surely run off the dock and plunged into the water. A few believed I might have drown. Tilt later remarked the worst that would have happened to me was that I’d gotten a bath that week.
The second sound I distinctly remember is my Father bellowing, “What the hell is going on?”
Pan still had a hold of my shirt.
“Wes messed with our tent,” Tilt complained.
My heart was pounding so fast I thought it was going to burst through my chest.
“He what?” my Father asked.
Tilt confidently presented his evidence. “He yanked up one of our tent stakes.”
I stepped back from the edge of the dock. Pan released me. My Father looked at me and then his two older sons and shook his head. He sighed. “No he did not.”
“Told yah,” Pan fired at Tilt.
“He did too,” Tilt fired back.
My Father smiled. He sighed again. “No. He. Did. Not.”
Tilt pointed a finger at me. “I saw him him and Eldon sneaking around our tent.”
Pan raised his hands in the universal gesture of not guilty. “I wasn’t there for that.”
Tilt reloaded his finger and pointed it again at me. “And he yanked up a second stake, but this time we caught him red handed!”
Pan shrugged his shoulders. “I was there for that one.”
My Father waved his hands gesturing for his two older sons to move. Pan and Tilt stepped to the edges of the narrow dock allowing my Father to move closer to me. He placed one of his large hands on my head and asked, “Wesley, are you OK?”
I was still gasping for air so I nodded.
He tapped my head. “I didn’t think you could run that fast.” He turned to his older sons and said eight magic words. “You two owe your little brother an apology.”
During my life I have used those words to my advantage at multiple family events. I’ve also thought about having them carved into my headstone.
Their jaws dropped. Miraculously, I caught my breath.
Tilt blurted out, “What?”
“Dad, are you feeling OK?” Pan added with a concerned tone.
My Father reached into the front pocket of his pants. “I tripped over your stake.”
Tilt mumbled, “Huh?”
“Told yah he didn’t do it,” Pan quipped.
“Shut up,” Tilt shot back.
My Father continued, “Your Mother sent you three a letter.” He pulled an envelope from his pocket and waved it as if it were a white flag. “I tripped on your tent, trying to deliver it.”
Right on cue, my oldest brother spoke first. “Sorry Wes.”
And right on cue my older brother fell silent as he weighed his options by studied the faces around him before responding. Impatient with the delay, Pan lovingly smacked his brother’s shoulder with the back of his hand. “Apologize,” he demanded. Tilt smacked Pan’s shoulder then cocked his head to the side.
They locked eyes. They didn’t move. “Boys …,” my Father warned. He should just said ‘go’ because they immediately started pushing each other.
“What is your problem?” Pan pointedly inquired.
“I don’t have a problem. You have a problem!” Tilt insisted.
“Don’t you dare push me.”
“Don’t push me, if you know what’s good for you.”
My Dad was blocking my view so I didn’t see who tripped whom. All I know is one moment they were pushing and shoving, the next they were rolling around on the dock, and then ‘splash’, they were in the water.
Bobbing up to the surface I could hear them continue their endless argument. I looked over the edge of the dock and saw the waves slapping their faces as they treaded water to stay afloat. It was arguably one of the happiest days of my young life.
“You weren’t really thinking about swimming across the lake,” my Father asked me. “Were you?”
“The thought crossed my mind.”
He glanced down at his two sons in the water. “Well next time,” he said handing me Mom’s letter. “Think again.”
Walking up the hill with my Father at my side, I was greeted by my fellow campers as if I had medalled in the Olympics. Some who lined the path smiled at me. I smiled back. When my pace slowed because some kid stuck out his hand to shake mine, my Father’s powerful hand gripped my head and steered me back onto the path ahead.
As he left my side to rejoin his lawn chair buddies and I continued toward my tent, I realized the one face I hadn’t seen during my dock drama was Eldon’s.
I bounded into our tent. I excitedly began, “You would not believe what just happened.” I flopped down on my cot. “Guess who yanked the …”
I couldn’t finish the sentence.
He was there but he wasn’t. His head hung low over his lap. His arms rested on his thighs. Next to him on his sleeping bag were his glasses, a carefully opened envelope, and a once tri-folded single page letter written with big loopy block letters and little hearts drawn in the margins.
“What happened?” I murmured.
With the back of his hand he wiped the tears from his eyes and raised his head.
“I miss my little sisters.”
Stay tuned to this space for Part Four
and the exciting conclusion to
My First Film.