When my sons, ages eight and ten, learned that I was taking my scouts on a fall campout, they begged to come with me. I was leery of taking them at that time of year. The weather could be unpredictable. There could be a forty degree temperature drop in just a few hours. If we ended up with freezing temperatures it would be all I could do to take care of my scouts without having the responsibility of two small boys.

They continued to plead with me, so the night before the camping trip I turned on the news to check the weather report. The weatherman said the air was circulating from the south and would stay mild. With that reassurance I told them they could go.

When I arrived home from work on the night of the campout, they were waiting. I hurried and changed into my camping gear. I made sure we all had long johns, heavy sweaters, thick coats, and warm, dry boots.

“But, Dad,” the oldest complained, “we’ll be too hot.”

“You can always put on only what layers you need,” I told him, “but you can’t add on what you don’t have.”

We met at the church and loaded the scouts and gear into my van and into my assistant scoutmaster’s truck. Soon we were on our way.

When we arrived at the campsite, the evening was quite pleasant as we set up camp. I helped the boys that were supposed to cook dinner to get the fire going, and we started cooking. The other scouts headed off to play a game of steal the flag. I gave my sons some cookies I had brought to keep them satisfied until dinner was ready.

As we busily worked on the food, my assistant scoutmaster came and put his hand on my shoulder. He pointed to the western sky. I turned to look at the black clouds that were rolling quickly toward us even us as he spoke. “I think we better hurry.”

We called all of the boys in and had them recheck tent stakes as well as help move the dinner forward as fast as possible. The food was only about half done when the storm hit us. Wind blew everything everywhere. The fire would flame high, and then flicker almost to embers before rising high again. It made it almost impossible to keep an even heat.

Suddenly a freezing sleet started to fall, and with it the temperature began to plummet. The scouts rushed to their tents. I hurried my sons into ours, got them into dry clothes and tucked into sleeping bags. Then I grabbed my rain coat and returned to finish cooking the food as best I could. While I did, the sleet worked its way through my rain coat in little freezing streams down my back.

By the time I finished cooking, all of the scouts had changed into dry clothes and bundled up in their sleeping bags, so my assistant and I took food around to them. After everyone else was fed, my assistant took some food and retired to his tent, while I took what was left to my tent to share with my sons.

It was the bottom of the pan, and was burnt from my struggles trying to keep a fire going in the freezing sleet. I fed my sons the best of it and choked down as much of the charcoaled remains as I could stand. I put on some dry clothes, and slid, shivering, into my sleeping bag for a long, sleepless night, wondering if I would ever get warm. As I did, my oldest son turned to me.

“Dad, what do you think Mom and the girls are doing right now?”

I thought of them, warm and comfortable at home. “They are probably eating pizza and watching a movie,” I replied.

He sighed. “Poor girls. They never get to do anything fun like we do.”


Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at [email protected] ; or visit his website