I sat on one side of the center of camp on a log. Eldon sat on the other side in a chair in front of my Dad. Eldon spoke so softly I couldn’t hear what he was saying. The conversation must have been serious because all four of the Dads stopped drinking their coffee.
Suddenly, I was showered with lake water. “Stop it,” I protested. Fresh from the beach, my two older idiot brothers had snuck up behind me and shook their dripping wet heads at me. I stood up to dry my glasses with my dirty t-shirt.
Both my brothers were blessed with 20/20 vision. Ever since I got my glasses, my Mother, in her infinite wisdom, decreed my glasses were never to be used for a scavenger hunt initiated by my brothers even if my behavior, in their opinion, warranted it.
So instead, my brothers invented new and clever ways to punish me when I was a brat. If my infraction was minor, they’d press their sweaty thumbprints on the lenses. Moving up the brat ladder meant I’d find the bows swabbed with toothpaste or ketchup. And if I’d been really bad, they’d place my glasses in plain view but out of my reach on the top bookshelf in our shared bedroom so I would have to use a chair to retrieve them.
Tilt stroked the beach towel draped around his neck. “How come you didn’t go swimming Twerp?” he asked. I answered by flashing him my very-annoyed face. He ignored me and turned his attention to what was happening on the other side of the flagpole.
Pan wiped his face with his beach towel and asked, “What’s going on over there Wes?”
I finished drying my glasses and perched them on my nose. “Eldon wanted to talk to Dad,” I answered.
Pan whispered to me, “Why’s Eldon crying?”
Tilt raised his eyebrows. “Oh yeah, he is crying. Why’s he doing that Twerp?”
I shook my head. “I dunno. He got a letter from home.”
Tilt nudged me. “How come you’re not over there? You two do everything together.”
“He …”, I paused and shrugged my shoulders. “He … wanted to talk to Dad alone.” I looked at my brothers. “What do you think they’re talking about?”
Pan answered confidently, “Eldon wants to go home.”
Tilt poked me. “What did you do?”
“I didn’t do nothing. How do you know he wants to go home?”
“I can read his lips.” Pan lowered his chin. “Can’t you see ‘em?”
I squinted at Eldon.
Tilt smiled. “You can’t see him can you?”
I squinted harder.
“What’s he saying now Wes?”
“What’s he saying now Wes?”
Pan shook his head. “I’m telling Dad you need new glasses.”
Tilt added with a grin, “Ask for a new brain while you’re at it.”
“How come you didn’t hit a tree when we were chasing you?” Pan asked me.
“He’ll start hitting trees when he hits puberty,” Tilt quipped. “Let’s hope it hurts as much.” My two older idiot brothers laughed.
The Four Dads and Eldon slowly rose to their feet.
Tilt mumbled, “Oh oh.”
“What?” I chirped.
Each of the Four Dads took turns patting Eldon’s shoulder. Eldon wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. Our Dad glanced at us and then led Eldon to our side of the flag pole.
“Wesley,” Dad said clearing his throat. “Eldon wants to go for a walk. You wanna go with him?”
The afternoon sun sparkled on the lake. “My Dad got a new job in Milwaukee,” Eldon said. “We’re moving.” He kicked at the sandy beach. He picked up a stone and threw it in the water. It hit with a “kerplunk” and disappeared.
I stared at the waves lapping the shore, my hands dangling in my pockets. “When?” I asked.
Eldon picked up another stone and tossed it. “My Mom and Dad are packing up our house.” He planted his hands in his pockets and looked at me. “We leave when I get home.” He stared out over the lake. “I miss my sisters.”
Eldon was the oldest of four. His three little sisters all looked like him except they didn’t wear glasses. Their names were Margaret, Mary, and Maddie. Most everyone simply referred to them as the M’s like, How’s the M’s? Where’s the M’s?
The way I told them apart was by their height. Margaret, the youngest, was the shortest, then Mary, and finally Maddie, who was just an inch shorter than Eldon. Although they weren’t triplets, with identical big brown eyes and similar shades of light brown hair, they looked like a Minnesota version of nested Russian dolls.
If they were all together, like standing in the candy isle of the drug store, I had no problem identifying who was who. But separated, I couldn’t tell them apart. Misidentifying one of them, as I often did like in the school cafeteria, produced an identical reaction no matter whom I was addressing. She’d tip her head to one side, stomp a foot and say, “I’m blank, not blank”. “
Whether attending a friend’s birthday party dressed in matching sundresses or walking down the sidewalk in hand-me-down jeans and t-shirts, they always looked like they’d just left a fashion shoot. Their Mom had an impeccable eye for small town couture.
And if Eldon and the M’s were out and about town without their parents, they were inseparable. If someone they didn’t know approached them, they’d all grab one another and close ranks. No one ever cut between them. And they had the cutest early warning system. One sister would tug another and in perfect unison all three would say, “Eldon.” Their voices blended like prepubescent angels.
I spotted a flat rock near my tennis shoe. I pitched it at the lake. It skipped three times then disappeared. “Are you gonna go home?” I asked.
“I think so.”
“Your Dad coming to pick you up?”
“Dunno. Your Dad’s gonna drive to town and call my Dad.” Eldon threw another stone in the water. “Your Dad said he’d drive me home.”
A little ways down the shoreline a couple of kids climbed into a canoe and paddled out onto the lake. I watched them glide across the water.
Eldon looked at me. “It just doesn’t feel right. Me here and them at home packing everything up.”
I nodded in agreement.
“We should finish your film,” Eldon said.
“Shouldn’t waste the film.”
“My brothers aren’t gonna cooperate.”
“Don’t need ‘em.”
“Do too. They’re the whole point of the film.”
“You can make a film about camp.”
“That sounds boring.”
“Doesn’t have to be. You could, you know, show how to build a fire, how to cook at camp, that kind of thing.”
“Geez that sounds really boring.”
“Hey,” he said slapping his thigh. “”Cept for me, no one in my family has ever been camping.” With the wave of a hand he added, “I know they’d be interested in a film like that.”
I tilted my head at him. “Really?”
Eldon nodded then nudged his glasses back up his nose.
When we got back to our tent I pulled out the camera and was ready to finish the roll of film as quickly as possible. But Eldon wanted to slow things down and be very precise with every single step. It was his idea so I agreed.
He took his time building the fire, prepping our food, and waiting until the fire was just right before placing our tin foil wrapped hobo dinners in the glowing red-hot coals. With every step, we talked before I filmed and then we’d talk some more, and then I’d film some more. By the time we’d finishing eating, the sun was setting.
“Cump-knee ten-hut,” barked Mr. B. The campers, Dads, and I snapped to attention. Two kids lowered the flag and carefully folded it into a tight triangle.
“Wait a minute,” Mr. B shouted over the anxious crowd. We all froze in our tracks. “Tonight, we’re going to roast marshmallows and make smores.” Everyone in camp squealed. “So get a sweater and a switch and get back here as soon as you can.”
Wedged around the flickering yellow campfire under a clear night sky filled with stars were two-dozen happy campers. Eldon and I held our marshmallow-skewered-by-twig over the glowing red coals until the white mallow turned a golden brown. When squeezed between a layer of chocolate and graham cracker, the sticky white goo billowed. It tasted like summer.
Everyone was still licking their fingers and chins when Pan and Tilt walked out of the shadows. In Tilt’s hand was the movie camera.
“Hey everybody,” Tilt announced. “Who wants to be in Wes’ film?” All the campers cheered.
I jumped to my feet and marched up to my brothers. “What are you doing? That’s my camera,” I scolded.
“Careful Twerp,” Tilt said handing the camera to Pan. “Everyone’s watching.” Then he grabbed my wrist with one hand and reached into his pocket with the other. He turned my hand upward then dropped two quarters in my palm. “Now we’re even.”
I looked at the coins and then looked at my older brother. For once I was speechless.
Pan smiled at me. “Get back there next to Eldon.”
“You can’t film now.” I protested. “It’s too dark.”
Tilt smiled and shouted, “Lights! Camera!” Suddenly, a bank of flashlights lit up the ground. Then he yelled, “Action!” Two-dozen beams of light began to sweep back and forth in every direction like mini searchlights at a film premiere in the forest. Pan filmed as he waded through the sea of laughing and jumping boys encouraging each one to aim the light up into their face and mug to the camera. The experience was all just pure joy.
Pan pointed the camera at Eldon and I. “Smile,” he said. As if on cue, the bank of flashlights pointed at us. Pan walked up to us for a close up. Eldon had the biggest grin on his face. All the light made me squint.
Exhausted by the long day, we slowly made our way back to our tent and crawled into our sleeping bags.
Eldon sat up. “Can I tell you a secret?”
“Your brothers love you.”
I sat up. “I doubt that.”
He looked at me and laughed.
Eldon had the most distinctive laugh I have ever heard in my entire life. He sounded like he was singing, “Hill, hill, hill, hill”.
“Yah know, when they were chasing you, if they wanted to catch you, they would’ve. If they wanted you to fall in the lake, you would’ve.”
“How do you know that? You weren’t there.”
“Didn’t need to be. I know that, because that’s what big brothers do. They protect you.” Then he added, “You just don’t see it.”
It took me awhile to come up with my rebuttal. “But little brothers,” I began. “Aren’t like little sisters.” I turned to him to finish my sentence. I never finished the thought because he had fallen asleep.
The next morning Eldon was packed and ready to leave before I awoke. He and my Dad were going to leave before the raising of the flag. We walked in silence down the path to the clearing near our camp where all the cars were parked. The Dad’s and my brothers were there to say goodbye to Eldon.
My Dad opened the door of our car. Eldon tossed his knapsack in the back. One by one he shook the hand of each of the Dads and thanked them. He even thanked my brothers. The scene had the feeling of a commanding officer leaving his field troops. That is until he got to me. He looked at me with sad brown eyes. He nudged his glasses up his nose. I was glad he wasn’t crying because I think I was.
He hugged me. “Well, see yah Wes.”
“Time to go boys,” I heard my Dad say.
I released him. “Yeah,” I said. “See yah Eldon.”
Tilt raised the camera to his eye. “Wait a minute. Let me get a shot.”
I could hear the camera whirling behind me as my Dad slid behind the steering wheel and started the car. Eldon waved at me then climbed in. The car rolled down the dusty forest road and disappeared around a bend.
“Look now Wes,” Tilt chirped.
I felt a tear rolling down my cheek. “Go to hell.”
Stay tuned to this space for Part Five
and the conclusion to
My First Film.