Friday, September 16, 2011

That ol' Canvas Tent

The following morning around five o’clock, I was sleeping like a baby, when something cracked me with a vengeance on the head!  As I lay there, trying to gather my wits and diagnose my smarting, a resounding clank issued from the graniteware coffeepot.  Having retreated into a fetal position, I was fighting desperately to remain unconscious, when something pelted a nearby rock and splattered my face with ice.  With this I sat up instantly and scanned the camp! Additional bombardments began peppering the camp, and all at once something landed in my lap.  Examining the little intruder, I discovered a hailstone about the size of a marble.  Within moments the occasional pelting had built to a fever pitch, and the deluge threatened to bury me in my sheets.
   Just as my poor sleep muddled mind was preparing to dictate some action, the camp lit up with a nearby lightning strike; thunder followed instantly, and gale force winds began to ravage the camp!  Suddenly the previously peaceful scene took on all the urgency of an angry ants nest!  The unsecured canvas abruptly abandoned the kid’s wagon, subjecting its unsuspecting inhabitants to the onslaught of hail.  All the Kinney kids heads popped up, and little Eliza let out a blood-curdling scream!  Anyone not already awake was on their feet and reconnoitering now! 
   I sprang to my feet and embedded my toe in a big ol’ slab of granite, and the camp came alive with frantic folks in nightgowns!  Springing from his cot in a red cotton nightshirt, Griz became hopelessly entangled in the tent support, and wet canvas came down around Asa and Meda’s ears.  Mariah struggled to light a lantern, donned a robe, and rushed to assist the kids. The combination of Eliza’s unsettling outburst, and the heartening glow of Mariah’s lantern, quickly drew all the campers to the back of the wagon.  Nehemiah and I respread the canvas, and then, desperate for cover from the pummeling hail, fourteen of us squeezed in the bed of that crowded shelter. Once our initial fright had subsided, Eliza became amused and gave a giggle.  Lidge was the first to give our assembly voice.  “Well Jeez Louise!”  He articulated disgustedly, “so much for sleepin’ in!”  And the whole congregation laughed until we cried! 
   All fourteen of us sat there shoulder to shoulder, with the little ones in our laps, cowering from the thunder and hugging each other for warmth.  Teeth chattered, nightshirts dripped, and we listened to the rain on the roof of that canvas tent. Thirty minutes later the storm subsided and Mokelumne peeked from the canvas and gave the all clear.  The unexpected deluge had beaten the collapsed tent flat and covered most everything else with a half inch of hail.  The campfire was drowned and all our bedding soaked!  Asa set about resuscitating the campfire, and we tied a rope to several trees and hung the soggy bedding out to dry. The towering thunderheads flashed intermittently as they slowly advanced to the north, and eventually the welcome sun peeked over the ridge.  Despite our best efforts, the children could not be reconciled to sleep.  Lynn dried their hair and assisted with nature calls, and eventually chaos relented and order returned. The campfire being reconstituted, Asa fed it lavishly with pinecones and pitchy limbs, until at last it responded and produced a spectacular blaze!  The dry, pitch-laden fuel cracked and popped intermittently, and the nighty-clad children formed ranks and gathered round.  Their little hineys steamed from the warmth of the fire, and we tried unsuccessfully to get them to wear their shoes. 
   Within thirty minutes the full sun had made short work of our accumulation of hail, and the temperature gradually warmed back into the seventies.  Lidge and I led an expedition to bring back additional firewood, and our party returned to the welcome aroma of smoked bacon and heating griddles.  Lynn started the bacon frying and Mariah and I helped Mokelumne peel potatoes. Asa had brought along the big pot from the restaurant, and once it was boiling, he prepared to add the coffee.  Rolling up his sleeves, he reached into the burlap bag and meticulously brought out three handfuls, as he counted, “That’s one for me, and one for you, and one more for the pot.”  Then he brought out his pocket watch and noted the time.  “Three minutes ought to do it.”  He said, carefully winding his timepiece, “peel an eye and holler if she starts to boil over.”  Leaving me to observe the pot, he walked to the tailgate where Lynn was cracking eggs.  He selected several pieces of eggshell, eyed them approvingly and returned to the boiling pot.  “Has it been three minutes?” he enquired, checking his timepiece. Hearing no reply, he glanced at his watch and suggested that was close enough.  Removing the pot and observing the swirling froth in the top, he set it to rest and allow the grounds to settle.  After a moment he lifted the lid and dropped in the handful of shells.  “That’ll help settle the grounds.” He says, “Don’t ask me why, but it always worked for Dad.”
   By this time Griz had the batter prepared; Nehemiah poured it on the griddle, and the aroma in camp was enough to drive me wild!  After Griz had produced several healthy stacks of pancakes, Mariah cooked the remaining batter, producing animal shaped cakes for all the kids.  Golden brown with melted butter and awash in maple syrup, ya can’t beat pancakes eaten by a crackling fire. I’ll remember that breakfast till the good Lord calls me home!  We had hotcakes & bacon with scrambled eggs, a huge pan of fried potatoes, and I don’t believe I’ve ever enjoyed coffee more!  The smell of the campfire, the melodious call of Steller’s jays, and the invigorating mountain air, all left an impression embedded in my soul. 
   During the rest of the week, we went hiking and swimming, took afternoon naps, went picnicking up at Loon, and enjoyed a snipe hunt that the kids won’t soon forget, but looking back now, I treasure the fellowship most.  That week with my family and all of my friends, the MacCauleys, and Asa and Meda, produced memories of loved ones I’ll treasure for the rest of my days.  When I make it to Heaven and the Lord sees me in and asks how my best days were spent, I’ll remind him of the week that we spent up at Loon, when we camped in that ol’ canvas tent.  Obie’s Quest

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