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Almost Fiction: Camping, a cold and grizzly bears

By Sam Jones

I have been fighting this damned cold for more than a week. It just hangs on refusing to pay any attention to my attempts to kill it. Robitussin, ibuprofen, aspirin, chicken soup, pizza, whiskey have all taken the edge off but none have succeeded in the kill shot; none have plunged a dagger into this cold, cutting its guts out, killing it once and for all.

My father had a three-part cure for “the common cold;” two parts cannot be discussed in polite society but the third part was his recipe for making a secret cough medicine: 2 ounces of whiskey (preferably rye whiskey), 1 tablespoon full of honey (heated to a liquid) and a half ounce of lemon juice (preferably from a fresh lemon, not that nasty lemon juice out of a bottle). Mix well in a highball glass. When the glass feels warm take it down in one slug.

The lemon clears out the croup, the honey soothes the throat and the whiskey does what whiskey does; it feels warm and toasty all the way down to your toes, makes you relax, takes away your aches and pains and allows you to take a nice nap.

My father’s recipe has worked many times but with this damned cold I’m not cured and am now considering postponing the annual Death Valley motorcycle camping trip I take with a couple of biker buddies.

This year I’m about to wimp out, feel sorry for myself, stay home and binge on Netflix soap operas. Although my father has been gone for many years, oozing with contempt and disapproval, I can hear him saying, “What’s your problem, Bunkie? You got a little cold? Poor baby’s got an itsy-bitsy cold? Let’s stop the world so little Sammy can blow his nose. You’re going to let your buddies go by themselves? What a sissy. You can be sick in the desert just as easy as you can be sick at home; what is the difference? Pack honey and lemon and lots of whiskey and stop your sniveling. You bought that cargo trailer to pull behind your great big Harley; pack your blue baby blanket and some chicken soup and go. Don’t be such a sissy.” My father didn’t believe in whiners, excuses, apologies, justifications, alibis or explanations of any kind.

When I was a kid, camping was the way my family took their vacation. There was no money for fancy trips to Hawaii or Disneyland; I didn’t know anyone that had ever taken a cruise or even stayed in a motel. I thought hotels were where gangsters hid out while on the lam from the cops.

For the first five years of my life my father did his camping in the South Pacific ducking Japanese bullets. When he came home he got busy making a living, putting food on the table and saving money. So, when Dad finally took a vacation we went camping. There was Mom and Dad, my younger brother and me in a beat-up Chevy station wagon. We had a homemade cook box and a mattress took the place of the folding rear seats. Mom and Dad slept there. Stephen was three or four; he slept across the front seat. I was a Cub Scout, knew everything there was to know about camping, had been given a used Army surplus pup tent and a canteen from a neighbor, so I was thrown out of the car to set up camp and fend for myself. We were hardcore.

“Trench around the edges of your tent. It might rain. And watch out for grizzly bears. They come around the campgrounds at night looking for food.”

With a sharp stick I spent most of the morning digging a ditch to catch the pretend runoff from the fantasy deluge that Dad predicted for the night. With that accomplished, I went to work on defense against grizzly bears. It didn’t matter in the slightest that no grizzers had been seen in California since they affixed one on the state flag in 1846.

I needed an alarm system. That would require string and tin cans. Being prepared, I had a large ball of heavy twine. Good. There were tin cans in the nearby trash bins. Good.

This would be easy. Running the twine from tree to tree, looping it around a post, around a big rock and another tree encircling my tent area, I tied it off. Next I collected the tin cans, tying them on the twine about every three feet. Finally a collection of stones had to be found to drop in the tin cans. A raccoon or a snake might sneak under my alarm system but no grizzly could escape detection.

As I planned my defense, Dad sat on the tailgate of the Chevy drinking coffee, inexplicably smiling to himself. I assumed that he was proud of what a great job I was doing. “If a grizzer does come, how are you going to defend yourself?” he wondered, with a knowing smirk.

Proudly, without comment, I turned sideways, displaying a genuine imitation leather sheath hanging off my belt which housed the hunting knife that I had bought with my allowance at the County Fair.

“Good luck,” he said sarcastically with very little voice inflection.

When the alarm system was completed, jiggling the string, listening to the rocks in the cans rattle loudly enough to wake the dead, Dad asked, “Where did you get the tin cans?”

“Over there in the trash bin,” I answered.

“Did you wash them out?”

“No, why?”

“Then they are full of garbage and food smells. Are you trying to bait the grizzers and draw them in?”

Damn, he was right. Hell, that’s their job; grizzlies would come from miles around to get the morsels out of the cans. I cut the twine and threw the cans back in the trash. Now, if the grizzers come, I’m on my own, just me and my dollar knife from the County Fair.

Dad was peculiarly amused. Thinking back on it, I have to wince at my father’s bizarre sense of humor.

So… packing some extra honey and lemon in the cargo trailer, increasing the usual quantity of whiskey, walking around the motorcycle rig checking the lights and the hitch like a fighter pilot before a sortie, I pop two more ibuprofen, fire the Harley and head out for camping at Death Valley.

Inside my helmet there is my father’s mischievous devious laughter. If I die of pneumonia it would be preferable to listening to him tease me from the great beyond for being a sissy. I have to go.

One comment

  1. Sam,
    Great job on your latest story in TP. I noticed how much this flashes back to TET
    ‘68 … or any other day ‘back in the day’. 50 years and not a day goes by I don’t
    think of those that never returned. I guess this is all that’s left, the memory
    of what it was to be part of something even if for not the better whole.

    You and I have talked (?) before … the first was an invite to a 3 day poker run in
    Lake Hughes CA @ 3 Points, put on by the Viet Nam Vets M/C back in 2000. I think you stopped and had a beer on Saturday and left as you had prior engagements. The crowd was about 100 and 20 of those were LA County Sheriff. We made it through without incident and put up funds for Veterans Hospital yet to be built in Lancaster, CA.

    I’ve relocated to Wyoming and living the dream for the most part .. getting replacement parts from the VA helps in keeping me riding. Slow as they may be in getting some things done, it’s not the office staff who try so hard to make things
    happen … it’s the system, the hurry up and wait created years ago that no one has fixed.

    So, at the fringe of 70 I look more to the quality of riding than the amount. Although sometimes it takes more miles to get the quality out of it. And, a new found revelation… the two defining things in life are growing up and growing old! Both can and will hurt like hell for the lessons learned.

    Just had to drop another line … hope your day is full.

    Warren
    VNV-LV M/C
    X Chapter
    Wyoming

    Death is just a change in addresses . . . but, you don’t have to pack!

    ps…. read the article on Riding the Cowboy State. Lots of truth to all of it but
    Buffalo Bill Museum is in Cody, WY not MT the map shows that, not Larry King.

    [Reply]

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