A Tense Tent by Gary Benton
Every summer, when the temperature goes way up, Bubba and I go camping for a couple of days just to relax. We usually leave the kids at home and the two of us head for the nearest river, stream or lake. Most of the time having Bubba along is like having a fourteen-year-old boy with me, because he’s not the most mature man I’ve ever known. He still thinks like a kid, which is fine as long as you’re a kid, but he’s on the high side of his forties. I remember just a couple of weeks ago.
I banged on the door harder and finally saw a light come on through the cracked window of Bubba’s mobile home. After a few minutes the door swung open and there stood Bubba in bikini briefs, which his beer belly almost completely covered. He was wearing a sleeveless tank top that read, ‘If ya don’t like Umerika go home’ and unlaced combat boots.
Giving him a big twisted grin I asked, “You ‘bout ready to go?”
He scratched where it itched, gave me a dumb look and asked, “What are you talkin’ ‘bout and what time is it?”
“Me and you are goin’ campin’ for the next three days, or did you forget since last night? And, it’s a quarter after five.”
“Five? As in the mornin’?”
“Uh-huh, get your gear and let’s load my truck. I’d like to be down on the Piney River by daylight and that’s not far off. We can get in some trout fishin’.” As I spoke I felt my frustration growing, but it did every single time I went with Bubba. He was not the most dependable person in the world and he hated mornings. Once, as we sat around the campfire at night, he told me Army basic training had ruined mornings for him forever. I had to agree to up to a point. My drill instructor woke us each morning by banging on the inside of a trashcan with a nightstick and that’s one loud alarm clock! Anyway, back to the trip.
Daylight found us at the river and it was empty, and I mean not a soul around. I grinned and said, “Bubba, you get your tent up, while I gather the wood, unload the truck, and get some water to cook with.”
“I can do that!” He replied as he smiled, burped, and picked up the duffle bag that held his brand new tent. “And, I found a level spot with no rocks or sticks.”
“Good Bubba, now you do what needs to be done while I get busy too.” We had to park the truck a good mile from the campsite and then walk to the river. There was nice clear trail and it was no chore at all to start back toward the truck. I kind of enjoyed the fact the campsite was away from the traffic and noise of the road.
I unloaded the truck and brought the rest of the supplies back to camp, placing them on a large tarp near where the fire would be. I noticed Bubba was having some problems with the tent, so I asked, “Ya need some help?”
“Naw, this is simple. You do what you gotta do and I’ll have this thing up in no time.”
Right then and there I knew we were in trouble. See, any time Bubba thinks he’s in control of something, well, he ain’t. But, out of respect and to get away from his cursing, I walked off into the woods looking for dry wood. The temperature had been extremely hot the last month and finding the wood was no trouble at all. However, I noticed each time I returned to the camp with wood, Bubba was muttering and cursing to himself as he held various aluminum poles in his hands.
As soon as the wood was gathered, I asked, “Sure you don’t need any help?”
Bubba’s face was as red as a beet when he turned to me and said brusquely, “I said I’m doin’ this! You jess take yer buns and go some place for a while and let me do this. How can I get this done if you keep botherin’ me every hour or so? Heck, I got me one of them college degrees, so I ain’t ignert.”
I picked up my fishing pole, put on my vest, and donned my waders. In less than fifteen minutes I was trout fishing, with little luck. As I worked the far bank of the ice-cold stream, I heard a loud scream and a number of yells, all of which would have made a sailor blush. I knew Bubba was at ends with the tent, but I’d decided to stay out of it completely. Once he grew tired of attempting it, I’d return and have the tent up in less than ten minutes.
I had just made a cast when I smelled smoke and looking back toward our campsite I noticed dark black smoke rising to meet the clouds overhead. It was then I noticed a front was moving in and it looked like rain off to the west. Now, in my part of Missouri, the bad weather usually comes from the west, so I became slightly concerned about the tent at that point. Nonetheless, I’d decided to stay out of it, figuring Bubba was just cooking a meal. He always eats when he’s frustrated, angry, sad, happy, or excited, which is most of the time. His food comes in two colors when he cooks, dark brown or black.
Also, Bubba uses all kinds of dangerous stuff to start fires with. I’ve seen him use oil, plastics, charcoal lighter fluid and of course, gasoline. At the price of gas I’m surprised his tight butt would use it, but he has in the past. Once, after gas flared up with a loud whamp sound, flame leaped to the tops of trees, and while his eyebrows were still smoking, I had a long talk with him about the dangers of using gas to start fires. We had a real heart to heart talk about outdoors safety and he’s not used it since, as far as I knew, but something was making all of that black smoke. As usual, with Bubba around, I ignored it and continued fishing.
Returning to camp less than an hour later for a sandwich, I found him sleeping on the tarp and the tent was nowhere to be seen. At that point I heard a deep rumble of thunder off in the distance and when I looked overhead the dark, almost black, clouds were rolling violently.
“Bubba Lee! Where’s the tent? We’re goin’ to need it seriously in just a few minutes.”
He stirred slightly, moaned and opened one eye. Raising his head somewhat he said, “I burnt it up! Them di-rections was all in Chinese or somethin’ and the pictures was all up side down! Next time I’ll only buy American, or Japanese.”
“Son, we need to get . . .”
There came an extremely loud crack of thunder and a long finger of white reached out across the dry horizon in front of me. Beyond any doubt, we had a serious summer storm coming and no shelter. Now, I figured I could have a lean-to up in just a few minutes or we could run to the truck, but which? See, us country boys don’t like to give up when we start something, so I let the truck idea disappear quickly. I’d drown in the falling rain before I’d head to my truck first. I just hoped we didn’t have a tornado, because there were no places for shelter near the river.
Working quickly, as Bubba sat on the tarp and complained, I soon had a lean-to made and all of our supplies under the taunt canvas material. I knew then we’d stay dry even in the heaviest rains. I threw in a few small and large pieces of wood so starting a fire after the rain would be easier for us.
As the first light and soft drops of rain fell, I turned and said, “Bubba, ya need to get under this shelter before the heavy rain comes.”
He sat there, angry and unmoving, but replied, “I’ll be there in a minute or three.”
Suddenly the sky grew almost black, a long jagged white line moved overhead, and three loud cracks and booms were heard. The shelter rocked and swayed in the high winds and I knew it was just a matter of seconds before the storm struck. The rain grew heavier, but my hard-headed cousin Bubba still sat there unmoving in the wetness, reminding me of a carved stone Buddha I’d once seen in Asia. I knew the rain was warm, as was the temperature, so he was safe enough, but then the hail came. Fist small scatter clumps of pea shaped ice then gradually they grew in size until they were almost as big as a pecan shell. At that point I had a visitor under the lean-to. Now, Bubba might have a hard-head, but he ain’t no fool. Large hail hurts, or so he claimed later.
“Dog gone it!” he yelled, “I left my backpack over by the log and it’s soaked now!”
“Go get it.” I said with a grin.
“Not in this hail I’m not. I’ll just get me some sleep.” He stated as he leaned back and used one of the logs I’d brought in as a pillow. Within minutes he was sound asleep.
Well, Bubba thought he’d made our shelter on level ground, I’d used the same spot because of a lack of time, but he hadn’t. About an hour after he’d fallen asleep I noticed small rivers of water running between my legs as I proofread one of my latest western novels. Quickly glancing around, I saw the water from the hillside behind us was cutting into the loose sandy soil and the overflow was running right under our shelter. The hail had stopped, but the rain was still coming down in buckets. I could have got up and dug a shallow trench around the shelter to keep the water out, but I didn’t. Instead I went back to my reading, after all the water was warm.
“Help me! I’m drownin’!” I heard a scream and then a cough from beside me a few minutes later and when I looked over Bubba’s head had fallen from the log and his face was in the water.
I reached down, grabbed the back of his dirty shirt and lifted his face from the water, “Bubba, you ain’t in no danger of drownin’.”
“I could have. I read someplace it only takes a teaspoon of water to drown a feller.” He stated as he sat up, and I wondered where he’d ever read anything.
“And, I read someplace you can tread water for days out in the ocean . . . so what?” I put a bookmark in my book and closed it, placing it in my backpack.
“How come you didn’t dig no trench around the shelter? That’s what I would have done?”
“Then why didn’t you?”
“Heck fire, I was a sleepin’.”
“I was readin’.”
Many long minutes passed in complete silence, which in itself is very unusual when Bubba is around. The rain continued to beat a steady tattoo on the taunt canvas overhead. I watched the water strike the mud puddles in front of our shelter and as the norm; I love to see the strength of a good summer storm.
I was feeling very serene and relaxed when I heard Bubba say, “Look, this has turned out to be a bad time to camp. What ya say we swing by the store, get a six pack of cola’s, some pork rinds and head over to my house to watch some wrestlin’ on the television?”
I gave it thought for a few minutes and then replied, “Ok, Bubba, if you want to do that. But, when are we goin’ on our summer campin’ trip?”
He removed his Lortz Feedlot and Bridle Gifts cap, scratched his bald head and said, “How ‘bout next weekend? But, this time you bring the tent.”
I gave an inner chuckle, smiled and replied, “Sure Bubba, sure. As soon as this rain lets up we’ll leave.”
Late the next afternoon we were home.