It was summer. I didn’t want to be camping, and neither did my wife, but there are some church obligations you must keep.
We had one job, and that was to prevent the Baptist youth group from committing sin. Teenagers have the natural ability to sin on camping trips. It is in their genes.
Teenagers can commit any one of the top-ten sins before breakfast. I’m talking classic sins like envy, malice, greed, or replacing the cream filling in a Twinkie with Colgate toothpaste.
And if kids can’t commit one of these, they invent new sins.
One such sin would be shining a flashlight into the chaperones’ tents and saying, “Oooooo.” Which is supposed to be frightening, but it isn’t. It’s not even remotely scary to hear a pre-pubescent voice say, “Oooooo” after dark.
If I were a kid, and I really wanted to annoy my youth chaperones—and I’m just thinking out loud here—I would empty a jar of honey into their shoes and let the sugar ants engulf their sneakers like a hellish scene from a B-movie horror film. Not that I’ve ever done that.
When we were kids, my Little League team took lots of camping trips. On one such trip, my cousin brought an entire gym bag full of illicit items.
Because this is a family column, I won’t tell you what he actually brought. So let’s just say he brought cans of A&W root beer and some gospel magazines.
The problem was, my aunt was also on this camping trip. Do you remember the sadistic warden in “Cool Hand Luke” played by Strother Martin, who abused Luke because of a sick, twisted compulsion? My aunt was like him, only she was a Freewill Baptist.
She would make randomized tent visits. And on that particular night, she discovered her son’s tent was filled with the whole team.
She barged into the tent, speaking in tongues, swinging a lantern. She grabbed my cousin by his earlobe, dragged him through the woods, and somewhere in the night we heard what sounded like a baptism.
But that is not what I remember most about those camping trips. What I remember was an old man named Brother Willie.
He had white hair and a reddish complexion. He and his wife would accompany us as chaperones. They had no children, and I don’t even know what their connection was with the team.
I heard once that Brother Willie’s son had died in a car accident, and it left the couple childless.
Brother Willie could do it all. He did elaborate mind-reading magic tricks. He’d tell his wife, Anne, to go stand behind a tree. The boys would pick a card from a deck, and Miss Anne would always know which card it was.
He could make coins come out of our ears, or tell funny stories that would test the limits of the human bladder. And his jokes. Oh, man. I remember all his jokes:
A dog goes to the telegram office and writes: “Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof, woof, woof, woof, woof, woof, woof.”
The clerk says to the dog, “There are eleven words here, we only allow ten words. How about leaving off one of the woofs?”
“But wait,” the dog says, “that wouldn’t make any sense at all.”
And how about these:
A masochist is someone who enjoys a cold shower in the morning, so he takes a hot one.
Verily did the Lord said unto John, “Come forth, and you shall receive eternal life.” But John came fifth and won a toaster.
How many Church of Christ people does it take to screw in a lightbulb? One. They’re efficient and not very funny.
Stupid punchlines, I know. But when I was a kid, I would laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe.
“Tell another one!” we would all shout to Brother Willie. And he would keep going until the sun came up.
So I have fond memories of camping trips. But being a youth group chaperone is a different story. It holds no tender memories for me.
My wife and I saw the flashlight and heard a voice say, “Ooooo.”
My wife finally kicked me out of the tent. So I called a youth group meeting around the campfire. I decided to tell jokes, and try to entertain the kids the way an old man once entertained me.
But the kids didn’t laugh. They didn’t even crack smiles. I guess outdated jokes about dogs must seem kind of corny in today’s world.
Anyway, that was a long time ago. Those kids have families of their own today, and I have a bad back. And I don’t even remember where I was going with this.
Oh, yes. Now I remember.
If by chance any of those children happen to be reading, I want to say something to them from the bottom of my heart.
It was me. I put honey in your shoes you little heathens.