Campfire Fairy Tales

Memory is a powerful thing, and strange, too, triggered by seemingly inconsequential sounds, smells, feelings.

The smell of a campfire in summer drags me, no longer kicking and screaming, into memories of family tent-camping trips. I hated camping as a kid. My parents always chose the primitive sites for the privacy and I don’t know, the mud, I guess? I would ride my bicycle up the hill at our most frequented camping ground to use the proper bathroom and marvel at the dry grass, the unfiltered sunlight, the showers.

One camping trip, I asked my mom to take this picture for a prettiest eyes contest in Teen Magazine. Because thirteen.

But there were good times despite my need to pee in a tiled environment. My brother and I would hunt for fossils in various creek beds, stifling our disappointment when the dinosaur teeth we found turned out to be horn coral by digging up blue-grey clay, or capturing crawdads. Some years we went to Red River Gorge and went caving, negotiating tight crawl spaces in our shorts and sneakers, straddling shadowy crevices and feeling the gooseflesh rise on our bare legs, not sure if the culprit was a fear of falling or the subterranean chill. We ate our weight in BBQ chips and s’mores, biked everywhere, conjured ridiculous stories in the dark. One particular trip we slept all together in a tent that was so small I now feel my parents ought to be sainted, and my father told us a ghost story with some kind of beastie, reaching out at an opportune moment and clawing at the side of the tent with his fingernails. We shrieked and laughed and slept, eventually.

Even now when I shake the sand out of my daughters’ shoes after they’ve been digging at school, the grit sticks to my fingers and clings to the hairs on my arms, drawing out memories of lakeside picnics and water so murky you never knew what you were getting into. Now I know: it was goose poop and mud.

But ignorance was bliss, and that meant bare feet and cannonballs and not washing my hands as often as I should have done before indulging in the aforementioned chips. Because really, isn’t childhood about impulse? Going and doing and being as on as possible, as often as possible? What do you think?

Better yet, what do you remember?

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