Chapter 4

After a quick breakfast, I put my two-man tent and my backpack into Dad’s SUV, along with a cooler filled with food. The van was big enough to accommodate all five of us and our belongings.

We stopped at Oliver’s house first. He was standing on his front porch talking with his mother. When he saw us, he kissed his mother, picked up his backpack and loaded it into the van. He and I both got in the middle seat together.

“I almost didn’t come,” said Oliver.

“Why?” I asked.

“I was just so down after yesterday that I didn’t want to come. But Mom and Callie ganged up on me, telling me it would be good for me to get away from the town for a few days. They finally convinced me, but I’m still pretty down.”

I nodded. “Yesterday was awful,” I responded. “I didn’t sleep well myself. I sure understand your being down. But try not to let it get to you. After all, that was one person out of the whole town.”

“Yeah, but the problem is I never know who or where the next person is until they unload on me. What if there’s someone like that at the campgrounds?”

“We’ll deal with that if it happens. Remember, we’ve all got your back and I’m sure there’s a park ranger or someone there who can help us if we need it. You’re perfectly safe.” I put my arm over his shoulders and hugged him tight.

One by one we picked up the others and were soon on our way east to the park.

When we arrived we saw that there was indeed a ranger’s station at the entrance. We checked into the park, paid our fee, received a map, and were directed to our campsite.

I had asked for one near the stream and as remote as possible. Sure enough, we got just what I’d asked for. We unloaded the van, being careful to put the coolers in the shade, and said goodbye to Dad. He said he’d be back after breakfast on Monday, so we were on our own for three nights.

I wanted to pitch the tents but the rest of the boys wanted to explore, so we walked first to the stream, which was almost a river. It was flowing very slowly and looked good for swimming. Then we explored one of the many trails through the woods. It was cool enough under the trees and we walked a good distance until we met another trail. On our map I found the two trails, discovering that the new one would take us back to the campground.

By then we were ready to return for a swim. At the campsite, we dug out our suits and went to the restrooms, which were not far away. As soon as we had changed, we jogged back to the campsite where we dropped off our shorts, T-shirts, sneakers, and socks. Again, Vinny had sunblock, so soon we were slathered with the stuff and went to the stream.

Sticking a foot in, I discovered that the water was pretty cold. Of course, the others ran in and dunked themselves right away, while I crept in, little by little.

The water was deep enough for swimming. As usual, we swam around splashing and dunking each other. Looking down the stream a bit, Art saw a rope swing hanging from a tree. We swam down to it and climbed out of the water. Art found that it was easy to climb up the tree. He reached out, gathered in the rope, and swung out over the water. Letting go, he dropped into the stream with a yell and a big splash. The other guys followed him until it was my turn.

I had watched the others, wondering what would happen if I didn’t let go of the rope and swung back, slamming into the tree. But peer pressure is a strong motivator, and I soon found myself swinging out over the water. In my anxiety I may have let go of the rope a little soon, but I was far enough out that I dropped safely into the water.

Rising to the surface, I flipped my head to clear the water off my face and swam over to Oliver, who dunked me again. When I came up for air, he said quietly, “You were a little reluctant to do that, weren’t you?”

“Yeah, but I decided I could trust you guys.”

When we finished swimming, we made our way back to the campsite and got out the food we needed to make sandwiches. There was a picnic table at the site, so we sat there. As we ate we talked about what we’d do in the afternoon.

After lunch, we pitched the two tents, Oliver and I laying out our sleeping bags in the pup tent, while the others settled into the bigger tent Pete had brought.

Some of the guys wanted to go fishing, so when we were settled in, they got their fishing rods. They were using flies for bait. We all knew that the middle of the day was the worst time for fishing, but that didn’t seem to stop anyone.

Neither Oliver nor I had a fishing rod, so we just sat on the stream bank and kibitzed, joking that the others weren’t really fishing, they just wanted to take a nap.

Soon we were all asleep.

We were awakened by a shout from Vinny, whose fishing rod was bending as the line played out. Reacting quickly, he began to reel in the fish, playing with it some. Eventually the fish came to the surface and Vinny flipped it onto the bank, where he dispatched it quickly. The fish was a lovely brook trout, and we congratulated him.

“Oh, gosh,” he said, “does anyone know how to clean a fish?”

Art volunteered as long as he could have some of the fish when Vinny cooked it. Vinny was reluctant at first but finally realized he wouldn’t get any if the fish wasn’t cleaned.

We stood around as Art placed the fish on some foil on the table. Watching as he worked, we ewed at the fish guts, which Art threw into the trash. Then he wrapped the fish in the foil and set it in the cooler.

Soon, we were back at the rope swing, happily flying out over the water and plunging in. As we swam we were joined by two other boys ̶ Shane, who was older than us and Vance, who was younger than we were. Neither of them had any reluctance using the rope swing. Vance told us they had been there before and had really wanted our campsite, but their mother opted for one nearer the restrooms.

By five o’clock we were ready to eat. Saying goodbye to Shane and Vance, we all went into the woods to gather firewood. Returning, we got out the hamburger meat, buns, raw veggies, potato chips, and onions. Pete cut up the onions while Vinny and I made a fire in the stone fireplace. Oliver and Art made the hamburger patties, and soon we were ready to cook.

Is there anything more delicious than food cooked over an open fire? I doubt it. As we ate, Vinny cooked his fish and cut it in two, offering Art his choice of the two pieces. It did smell good!

After we ate, we sat around making s’mores and talking about what we might do the next day. I got out the map and saw that there was a trail which climbed up to a lookout spot, so we decided we’d climb it if the weather was good.

When it was dark, we began getting ready for bed. Art was careful to put the lid on the trash can. Then, taking our toothbrushes and toothpaste, we went to the restrooms, peed, brushed our teeth. Returning to our campsite, we stripped to our boxers, climbed into our sleeping bags, and settled in for the night.

Oliver and I chatted for a little while. “I’m glad my family convinced me to come,” he said, “because I’m having a great time.”

We could hear the others talking quietly and laughing in their tent, but in time we all grew quiet.

I awoke in the early morning, uncertain at first of what had awakened me. Then I heard some rustling about outside. I grabbed my flashlight, unzipped the tent, and peered out, hoping I wouldn’t be staring at a skunk.

As I flashed the light towards the trash can, I saw that the cover had been pushed off and a raccoon was halfway into the can. My light didn’t seem to bother him any; he just kept digging and eating away. When he finished and climbed out, he looked at me without any alarm, jumped down from the can, and waddled off into the woods.

In the morning, as we ate breakfast and made lunches including sandwiches, Hershey bars, oranges, and full canteens for our hike, Vinny suggested that Shane and Vance might want to climb with us. He went to their campsite to invite them, and soon they were at our site with their backpacks.

We set off about 10:00 o’clock, following the trail the map indicated. It was a little warmer that day, but we took our time, drank plenty of water, and rested occasionally. The climb was quite steep in places, and it took us over an hour to reach the lookout.

Emerging from the woods onto a large granite outcrop, we looked out toward the west over the valley below us. We couldn’t actually see the campground but we did spot the road we had taken to get to the park. It was a beautiful, late summer day with a cooling breeze. We took out our lunches, chatting as always and munching away.

When Shane and Vance told us that they were from Knoxville, I asked if they’d been to the shopping mall where I’d helped to install the alarm system. They enthused about it, especially about the food court, where they could get anything they wanted.

We all talked about school some, remembering that the fall semester wasn’t far away. Then we talked about random subjects like movies, TV shows, and music.

We dozed some on the rock, awakening to discover that we all had a little sunburn, but we were tanned enough that it didn’t really affect us much.

Packing up, we hiked back down to the campground, where we climbed into our tents to put on our swimming trunks.

Shane and Vance joined us again at the rope swing, and we all had a great time swinging, dunking, swimming, and laughing.

When we were hungry, we said goodbye to Shane and Vance and returned to our tents to make supper. Again we gathered firewood and then cooked hotdogs, which we had with buns, more raw veggies, chips, and finally more s’mores.

As we sat after supper, the boys in the other tent decided they would get up early and try some fishing while Oliver and I decided to sleep in, but we said we’d make breakfast for everyone and call the fishermen when it was ready.

in our tent later, as Oliver and I lay talking quietly, he moved over to me and hugged me. When I responded, he kissed me, on the lips! I was surprised but I really liked that kiss, so I pulled him to me and we kissed longer. It was my first boy-kiss; in fact, it was my first kiss with anybody other than my family.

Pulling apart, we lay back and I heard Oliver sigh. “You weren’t grossed out by what I did?” he asked.

“No, did I act like I was grossed out?”

“Well, no, but I was scared you would be and wouldn’t want to be my friend anymore.”

“I want to be your friend now more than ever.”

“Thanks,” he said. He was silent for a while before he said, “I guess the only thing worse than a Black boy is a queer Black boy.”

“Well, I don’t think there’s a thing wrong with you. I love everything about you.”

“D’you mean that? That you love me?”

Thinking for a moment, I said, “Yeah, I do.”

“Oh, wow!” He reached out, searching for my hand. We fell asleep that way, facing each other and holding hands.