FEATURE — July 1980. The final day of my husband’s month-long grounding had finally arrived. He’d been doing hard time under the watchful eyes of his parents for accidentally flooding a multi-troop boy scout camp at the start of summer.
He would have told you then that his 12-year old self hadn’t exactly wanted to flood the campsite, he’d simply been curious to see if he could make water climb a small hill. After strategically placing a few wood planks in the powerful irrigation ditch above the camp, he and his friends quickly discovered two important facts: 1) they could indeed make water climb uphill; and 2) they couldn’t make it stop.
Within the hour, the entire valley basin – and the boy scout campsite – was flooded in knee-high water.
My husband and his friends were quickly discovered, removed from camp and put back into the arms of their parents, who were all too happy to help the boys feel the consequences of their actions. As they should have.
But now, he’d done his penance. He’d learned his lesson. His punishment was over, and his summer vacation could finally begin.
First on the agenda: hiking up to the foothills for an overnight campout with his best friend.
They arrived at their campsite, unloaded their gear and breathed in the freedom of their new circumstances. It felt amazing to be out in the world again. This was going to be the best night of their lives. They just knew it.
They also knew they should probably test out making a fire before night fell. Just in case they had trouble. Neither of them wanted to be cold or hungry on the best night of their lives.
Good thing they’d brought matches. And good thing there was some dry grass around.
The first fire they lit took hold quickly before they stomped it out. They realized they’d have no trouble making a fire later in the evening. They also realized it was exhilarating to have the power to both light and stomp out a fire.
So, they did it again. And again. And again.
Each time they lit a fire, they’d let it go slightly longer before stomping it out, thrilled with their ability to control an ever-growing lick of flames. They were two young gods under the wide, open sky – wild, free and powerful!
You can probably guess what happened next. The flames got beyond the control of their boots.
What had been a three-foot-circumference controlled burn, was quickly becoming anything but – and was devouring the grass around their campsite with an ever-increasing appetite.
The two boys looked at each other, looked at the fire, and sprinted toward the nearby spring. They could still fix this.
But they made no dent. It could have been the fact that as they ferried the single small bucket back and forth from the stream to the fire, they lost more water on their jostled run than ever made it onto the burn site. But more than likely, they were simply outmatched by the fire they had created.
Two hours later, a large red fire engine with two soot-covered and defeated boys atop it pulled into the serene circle of my husband’s childhood home. The boys knew they were in for the worst punishment of their lives. They also knew they deserved it.
My husband’s father was the only one home. He took one look at the boys, closed his eyes and shook his head sadly, then ordered them into the car with their smoky gear.
Minutes later they pulled into the parking lot of the 7-Eleven. My husband figured his dad needed supplies to aid him in their punishment. Maybe he’d buy some duct tape or rope. Whatever it was, the boys would take their lickings without complaint.
Instead, his father gave each boy $1 and sent them inside to buy whatever treat they wanted.
Another twenty minutes later, a half-eaten Millionaire bar and a soda in his hand, my husband and his friend were deposited back up in the foothills to resume their campout. Only this time, without matches.
As his father drove away, my husband shook his head, too stunned to even speak. But he knew his dad had just taught him – without hardly saying a word – something important about forgiveness and second chances.
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