The telephone rang just as my family walked in the door after a 5 ½ hour drive from my uncle’s farmhouse in Slinger, Wisconsin to our home on K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base, Michigan.  I wasn’t even up the stairs to my bedroom when my mom yelled out, “You’re going to Girl Scout Camp with Lou Ann tonight for the weekend.  Don’t bother unpacking!”

Awww, damn. 

Lou Ann was my troop leader and desperate for a Girl Scout representative from our little troop. I was frackin’ exhausted and twelve-years old, which is to say Girl Scouts sucks. But my mom had paid for the annual registration fee and I was stuck.  Lou Ann came to pick me up within the hour. 

We drove to Escanaba, a few hours away, to the State Fairgrounds and stopped off at an Arby’s along the way.  Not my first choice, or tenth choice, of fast food stops but I was outnumbered by another local troop leader and her daughter, not to mention my own troop leader.  They were all like MEAT MEAT MEAT MEAT MEAT!!!!!  I’m not a big meat-eater, never have been.  It was forced down my throat that day as Lou Ann couldn’t bear to carry the burden of lying to my mother about providing me with a square meal but really only allowing me to eat the french fries.  I felt betrayed.  Here I was, filling in as the enthusiastic Girl Scout and ready to carry my troop’s flag in the following day’s Jamboree parade and Lou Ann couldn’t keep her mouth shut about a simple order of french fries? 

She would regret this later.

Anyway, it was summertime and summers in Upper Michigan are stunning.  Usually, the temps stick around the 70s and 80s, if it’s a heat wave.  These are the kinds of summers you wish for as a kid and I was fortunate enough to enjoy a childhood full of perfect summers.  This whole campout, however, put a damper on my plans to experience another perfect summer.  It had been hijacked by the Girl Scouts and their damn Jamboree.

For starters, a heat wave had actually pushed through.  And it wasn’t just in the 80s.  The temperatures had in fact reached the 90s.  Yellowstone was on fire.  The upper Midwest was suffering from drought conditions.  My mother had also forgotten (or purposely refused) to give me spending cash to buy souvenirs and junkfood (again, was Lou Ann in on this?) so I ended up having to trade some of my favorite handmade trinkets in order to obtain other things.  Like a small bucket of strawberries. 

I would regret this later.

The daughter of the other troop leader was a snot of a girl but the only person I knew at camp.  She and I ended up bunking in the tent together while our two troop leaders shared the tent to the right.  To the left of us was a burly bearded Girl Scout Dad who snored like a freight train. 

Can I go home now?

Sometime in the middle of the night, a thunderstorm popped up over our campsite and made sleep impossible (as if the snoring burly man next door wasn’t doing a job of that already).  All of a sudden, my stomach lurched and I flung myself out of the tent, screaming for Lou Ann as I blindly pushed myself through the rain in the general direction of the bathrooms.  Lou Ann appeared outside of her tent and walked toward me just as everything in my stomach forcefully found its way out.  Why I was bothering to make it to the bathroom in the pitch black night during a thunderstorm, I don’t know.  I guess I was trying to be discreet and polite or something. 

Lou Ann helped me clean up and I found my way back to the tent only to be up again a few more times.  Still, as I was raised to only vomit in a toilet, Lou Ann and I blindly and stupidly bumbled around the campground as I spewed all over the damn place while the lightning blew up all around us.  Never once did I make it to a bathroom.  But golly gee, if I didn’t keep trying!

So, can I go home NOW!?

And I was awoken at daybreak to carry a heavy beast of a flag in a stupid parade that didn’t even start for hours.  Nevermind the night I’d just endured, EVERYONE LOVES A PARADE!


Standing in line at the beginning of the parade, I noticed other Girl Scout troops had at least three or four girls representing them.  Did my other troop members say no to this gem of a deal or was I the only one Lou Ann had called?  It didn’t matter.  I was making it miserable for everyone involved.  Even the poor little blond girl from L’Anse who offered to walk my flag for me when I nearly passed out from the heat and exhaustion of the past 24 hours.

Red Cross officials took over and determined that I had suffered dehydration, some sort of food poisoning from the Arby’s sandwich or the strawberries, AND that I had been overtaken by heat stroke.  As this was back in the day of land-lines only, it took the Red Cross nurses a few hours to contact my parents.  Hours after the parade was over, my parents were at the campground and ready to take me home.

I stretched out across the back seat of my parent’s Chevy Astro minivan and tried to fall asleep.  I had just endured the most hellish 24 hours of my childhood.  Even though the drive home was peppered with my father’s instructions to “WATCH FOR FUNNEL CLOUDS!” , I still felt a sense of overwhelming calm.

It turns out that a funnel cloud did make contact with land.  Lou Ann called me the very next day to check on me and see how I was feeling.  “I feel great!”  I did!  I don’t remember being anything but relieved and better!

“It’s a good thing you left last night, Dena.  A tornado hit the camp ground and everybody’s tents were blown from one side of the field to the other!  Would you believe the burly snoring man slept through the entire thing!?”

Seriously.  Someone had to fetch him and his tent (he was still in it) to make sure he wasn’t injured.  He was fine.  And the Jamboree was cut short and everyone was sent home.

I never went back to Girl Scouts or ate a strawberry again.  I did successfully reintroduce my taste buds to the Arby’s sandwich.  I attempted camping in March of this year with my own daughter’s Girl Scout troop.  And the whole time I asked my then-8-year-old:

Can I go home NOW!?!?


About Dena

I'm a suburban Clevelander by way of Oklahoma City, by way of North Florida, by way of Southern Maryland, by way of Upper Michigan, by way of Northern Italy, by way of Lower Michigan, by way of Texas. Because of living in so many places, I have something in common with almost everyone I meet. I love reading, writing, and American history (especially reading or writing about American history). I'm interested in culture of place, historical trauma, and writing about the kinds of histories most people don't know about.
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