Last evening, as I was thinking about July 15, I remembered its significance for my family of origin. On that day, 49 years ago, my brother Ray married Pat, the first of our siblings to tie the knot. Both of them are gone to heaven now, but the story of that week will live in infamy for years to come.
You see – and I am sure it was Dad’s idea – since it was July, we couldn’t just load the car up with everyone and head to Elgin, Illinois where the wedding was going to happen. Oh no. That would have been relatively simple, to pack everyone’s good clothes, tied to the roof of the station wagon, and load everyone in for the 700 mile trip, which of course we could make in 11 hours. Then we could enjoy all the wedding festivities and then head home, having called it a nice vacation of sorts.
But Dad, like Moses and the children of Israel, had bigger plans in store. The trip to Elgin would be only the first stop. Besides packing all of our nice clothes fit for a wedding, Dad also decided it was the perfect opportunity to also do some camping on the North Shore of Lake Superior (I expect that was his first choice vacation plan all along for that year, and why let a little thing like a wedding halfway across the country impinge on that!). So, after a fun wedding, and Tim and I taking the opportunity to shortsheet their bed before we left, we then turned northwest, and headed 7 ½ hours up to the campsite right on the edge of the lake.
This of course meant that we would not be sitting around the campfire in suits and long dresses. No – it meant that in addition to those clothes, we also needed to pack all the camping clothes, and the sleeping bags and air mattresses, and the tent, and the Coleman stove, and all the cooking pots and pans and all the food, and the lantern, and to top it off, they had purchased a brand new huge screen tent, since mosquitos on the north shore were large enough to carry at least the two youngest sisters away.
Oh, did I mention we also brought the cat along. Cookie, our black and white howler cat, who came both to Elgin and to the lake. The station wagon looked kind of like the Beverly Hillbillies truck, and not on a good day…
We set up the campsite, as usual, as far away from the bathrooms as possible. For some reason, Dad had us set things up on a slight hill – well, not so slight, with the screen tent on the crest, and the huge 9-person canvas tent next to it, but on the slope. You can imagine the tent was packed, as we also had to store the wedding clothes in the tent as well. We would sleep three on each side, and Mom and Dad in the middle. Looking back, it was always a rather significant logistical operation, and when it was all set up, we looked more like Washington’s troops than a family of now-eight persons, and a cat.
Now, it’s important to recall that Dad was an Air Force navigator, not an Army guy. Therefore, he felt no need to check out impending weather systems, since in a plane, they would just go up above the storms to clear skies. Down on the ground, however, it was a critical tactical error. We explored a bit, made supper, cleaned everything up, and then it was time to head to the bathrooms before heading to our cozy sleeping bags. Of course, the folks had also purchased a brand new super bright (for 1972), battery powered lantern light for us to use while walking the terrain over to the public restrooms. And of course, sister Julie insisted that she be the one to carry the lantern, and given permission to do so over our objections, and our prediction that she would break it. And of course, she made it five steps from the campsite before tripping over a rock and having the lantern break her fall – the brand new lens cracked all to heck. Great memories. I think we probably spent ten minutes assigning blame – Julie – while all the time, she kept saying it wasn’t her fault…
Well, we made it back to the tent, shut off all flashlights, secured Cookie inside, and spent the next hour sweating, and then throwing off the sleeping bag, and freezing, since it was the North Shore, after all. Finally, everyone managed to drift off into what we all hoped would be a nice night’s sleep.
I’m not quite sure what time it began to rain. Probably around 3 am, which is kind of a nice sound when you are inside the tent. Except it wasn’t a nice gentle rain that would just make everything damp the next morning – it was a all-out assault thunderstorm, with booming crackling lightning and lots… lots of rain. It poured for a few hours, I believe, just over our campsite.
It’s at this point that we have to employ a bit of physics and geometry to explain what happened next. As I mentioned, the tent was on a slope, with the screen tent on the crest of the hill, only about four feet away. Whereas tent poles are pretty sturdy, the poles used in a screen tent are pretty lightweight, since all you have to hold up is four walls of screen, and a canvas top. During the downpour, as it happened, the screen tent roof, which was not taught and tight, began to collect some of the rain. Actually, as it happened, it collected a LOT of rain – hundreds of gallons, I would estimate. Back to the pole issue. As the roof of the screen tent turned into a very effective water collection system, the poles, weak little things that they are, began to stress under the strain. Remember – crest of the hill, slope of the hill.
If you have every listened to Gordon Lightfoot’s song of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, you know that he paints the picture of the eventual break up of the massive freighter right there on Lake Superior. We had our own disaster in the making. I didn’t have a watch on, but I would surmise it was right about 5:30am when enough water – which is pretty heavy when you start talking hundreds of gallons – had filled the roof, that the pole closest to the downward slope of the hill gave way – it just bent in two. Water runs downhill. We heard the groan and the crack of the pole, and then the next thing we knew, all that water came rushing directly into the tent. We were floating and bobbing on our air mattresses and soaked sleeping bags.
Well, actually, everything was soaked. It’s remarkable to witness the power of water. It was like a dam had broken and we were downstream. You can imagine the screams coming from the tent, not to mention the panic of a certain black and white cat…
The image burned into my memory that morning was that of my father, in his underwear and t-shirt, in the pouring rain, tying things to the top of the car, and loading our little camping trailer. It was not a time for talking. Not for the 6 hour drive back home. You know those commercials that show a happy family in plaid shirts roasting marshmallows over the campfire? Well, you can’t start a campfire when every single piece of the forest is soaking wet, as well as your plaid shirts. No one ever shows that, but indeed, that was our experience.
When we got home, we spent a good deal of the day drying out all the camping stuff, while Dad took the mangled remains of the screen tent back to Sears, and got a new one. Being I was a teenager, and loved to spend more time with my friends than with my family, I saw this event as a God-authored gift to me, to cut short our beloved family camping experience for the year. But no – Dad and Mom simply shifted plans, and after all was dried out, we packed everything up again – minus the wedding clothes – and headed off to Lake Itasca for another camping memory.
What I learned from all of that in the summer of ’72, is a good lesson. Do one thing, and do it well, and then plan to do the next thing. Another way to say it is that camping and weddings don’t mix well, and when you throw in rainstorms, you can count on that. I have run into the greatest messes in my life when either I, or the organization I have been with, made plans that were complicated, multi-step, widely different and nearly promised an opportunity to be at least disappointed, if not waterlogged.
Let you intentional mindset always be tempered with a reasonable and thoughtful decision making. Life becomes a far more enjoyable experience when you don’t have to dry everything out after a disaster. Enjoy the day.
Word for the day: agglomeration. Pronounced uh-glom-uh-RAY-shun. It’s a messy word, isn’t it? It makes you think of a huge pile of stuff that you have to sort through. And you would be right. Actually, it comes from the Latin agglomerare, which means “to wind or add onto a ball” and the simpler root of glomus, which is “a ball of yarn or a ball-shaped mass.” When we were little and had to clean our room, for some reason, our approach was to put everything in the middle of the floor first. That jumbled cluster or mass of disparate objects was the actual definition of agglomeration. They will use the word to describe galaxies in the universe with millions of stars, or perhaps a village in Europe with a dozen different styles of houses all jumbled up with each other.
We humans have a tendency to “agglomerate.” Simplicity is the better path.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.