Oh! the old swimmin’-hole! whare the crick so still and deep
Looked like a baby-river that was laying half asleep,
And the gurgle of the worter round the drift jest below
Sounded like the laugh of something we onc’t ust to know
Before we could remember anything but the eyes
Of the angels lookin’ out as we left Paradise . . .
— James Whitcomb Riley
The trouble started at a Fern Hill Parent Teacher meeting.
Every year, the school has three or four of these get-togethers for each class, low key affairs where twenty or so parents circle up with the group’s teachers. It’s a chance for everyone to re-connect, catch up on schoolyard news, troubleshoot problems.
“So, Don, where are we going camping this year?” says one parent, during a lull.
Every year on Memorial Day Weekend, the whole school reserves sites at a state park and troops off for three days of car camping. It’s not an official school event—more a tradition. One or two parents do the organizing, which mostly means reserving the sites. Don is in charge this year.
“We don’t know yet,” Don says. “But Wolf will be helping.”
Several parents swivel their heads to look upon the surprised face of the newly appointed Assistant Organizer for the Spring Camping Trip. I look at Don, who looks back with a Cheshire grin.
“Uh, I guess so,” I say.
Inexplicably, the word no has just disapparated from my vocabulary.
It’s kind of a shock, but I think I’m okay with it. Nick looks forward to the trip every year, and every year, Nora and I get better at it. We have a nice big tent I can stand up in now, and an air mattress with a manageable leak.
“So it’s settled?” says Don.
HALL OF FAME
But I’m not in the room anymore. I’m back at Olive Grove, the sleep over camp I went to long ago, ten golden summers that sing to me now of verdant youth, another Eden.
I twice took Nick to visit this camp, which continues on, oblivious to time.
“Maybe next year,” he said each time after the tour.
One thing bothered me about the last trip. Nick and I had been standing outside the old rec hall. Above its doors, in bold letters, a sign I’d never noticed before proclaimed HALL OF FAME, and listed some luminaries of the place–past directors, song leaders, and so on. I wasn’t on the list.
“Is your name up there, dada?” Nick said.
I had loved Olive Grove and had even been head counselor once, but my contributions, apparently, had not been immortal.
“No,” I said.
A new deficiency, out of left field. There was nothing else to say.
Ah, but now, I find myself thinking, when I go home tonight, I will have something to say. I imagine the conversation:
Nick, guess what! Something wondrous has happened.
Nick, tonight your father has become something immortal.
Yes, really! You are looking at the newly appointed Assistant Organizer for the Fern Hill Spring Camping Trip.
He is speechless with admiration. I am fatherhood redeemed.
PIECE OF CAKE
The Parent Teacher meeting is over. Nora and I turn to go. Don approaches.
“That was kind of unfair of me tonight,” he says. “Are you sure it’s okay?”
How hard can it be? Besides, we’re not talking about my organizing the trip. The title, after all, has the word assistant in it. Don will carry the bulk of the load. He’ll tell me what he needs done, show me the ropes, break me in. He’ll be there every step of the way.
“Just let me know what you need,” I say.
He flashes the Cheshire grin.
“Piece of cake,” he says.
Camp director continues next time with Promotion. Oh, does it continue.
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