My Forty Years Scribblin's
A Time to Remember

This was written in 1996 and published in the July-August 1996 issue of The Montana Journal. A teenager's practical joke backfires.

Imagine turning four exuberant teenagers loose in a wilderness camp in glorious golden summertime. Our neighbor was treating his niece to a vacation pack trip, and he took his two boys along. Pure combustion! And to add fuel to the fire, we had a boy of our own. Poor Rita, one girl against three boys who took turns thinking up devilment to make her vacation interesting. But she gave back as good as she got.

"I'll fix them. I'll get even with those rotten eggs," she vowed. Of course with that kind of a set-up, nobody was exempt from getting "pranked." There were sticks in the bed rolls, knots in the socks, whiskey bottles in the preacher's sleeping bag—nobody knew how they got there. One more obstacle in Rita's path: "Uncle" kept repeating warnings, "Don't get in the boss's hair. Don't rile that boss!" He had the poor kid believing the boss wanted to gobble up fifteen year-old girls for breakfast, ponytail and all.

The week slipped by all too fast. Carefree days passed with riding, fishing, and just plain monkeyshines. One of the highlights was a ride twelve miles down the river to Big Prairie Ranger Station to surprise the Forest Service crew and to show our newcomers the country. The surprise backfired. We arrived to find that the fire lookout up on Jumbo Peak had called in to warn them, "Twelve horseback riders headed your way." Evidently the isolated crew was hungry for company. We were warmly welcomed and sat on the porch in the shade of the big, beautiful pine trees to eat our pocket lunches and devour the lemonade and cookies they had waiting for us.

On the day before we had to break camp the men puttered about, getting ready for an early start for home. The boys saddled their horses and rode up Young's Creek to bring back one last mess of fish for supper. Rita and I stayed in camp to rest up for the coming ride—not that she needed any such curative measures. When the fishermen returned in early afternoon, Rita bounced out to the hitch rack, displaying an unusual interest in where they had gone, admiring the catch, and walking around the horses while they were being unsaddled. The boys allowed themselves to be roped in by all this sweetness and responded in kind. I looked on in amazement, wondering if I had become addled or were they really turning over a new leaf.

Came supper time. The fresh fried trout (and a heap of other stuff) melted away as if by magic. And eventually the activity died down. Men and boys were holding a confab in the bunk tents, mostly tall tales. Rita was darting in and out of my tent with a flashlight in her hand. She kept parting the tent flaps, looking out into the darkness. Being busy with advance preparations for breakfast and lunches for twelve people. I gave only a fleeting thought to why she was still up and active when everyone else was crawling into their "soogans."

The voices and the laughter faded, and the lights went out in the sleeping tents. Rita disappeared. Now I understood. She was about to launch her counter attack. She had a plan to "fix those rotten eggs," and it had to do with something in the saddle tent. I looked out to see her flashlight making crazy patterns inside the walls, and not wanting to spoil her fun, I could only hope that she would stop short of cutting something up.

With all the hubbub of departure the next morning, I forgot about Rita's little project. The horses were rounded up and tied at the hitch rack. Men and boys were everywhere, the inexperienced ones getting in the other ones' way. Rita was drying dishes for me preparatory to packing things away, since we would be back in three weeks to set up the camp for elk hunting season. There came a sudden commotion from the saddle tent that fronted a few feet from my cook tent door.

"Who the so-and-so and such-and-such (and a few hardly printable expressions) has been monkeyin' with my saddle?" The Boss, recognizing horse play, was laying it on a little thick for the benefit of attending ears. Rita's ponytail did a flip. She gave a startled gasp, clapped a hand over her mouth, and turned to me stricken-faced.

"His saddle?" she squeaked. The Boss, the ogre, had come in to get his saddle, but it wouldn't let loose. He gave a mighty heave, and out came three saddles. She had tied the stirrups together with good hard knots! Rita was a city girl, but she had done a remarkably good job of identifying their gear when the boys came in from fishing. Poor kid. How could she know that our boy, that day, had been riding his dad's saddle?

The four kids are now middle-aged people and have withstood the rigors of raising a batch of teenagers of their own. But they all have reason to remember the summer they went camping together in "The Bob."