Dirty kids, everything I own/am smelling like a hotdog due to the campfire smoke, unsanitary cooking conditions, bugs, sleeping in extremely tight quarters with five other individuals, sunburns, loud neighbors, no computer…
Camping was a blast this past weekend! No, I’m not being sarcastic. I was able to spend some very much needed quality time with my family. It’s funny how you can live under the same roof as someone and only just function in a disconnected mode due to everyday life. This weekend was exactly what everyone needed; the food was great, the drinks were flowing, and the conversations were plentiful. One night, the kids and I even played an intense game of nighttime tag, complete with glow-sticks, in the open field behind our camping spot. I haven’t had that much fun with my husband and kids in a very long time. It’s times like these that build memories and stories for years to come; that and when I jumped out and ‘boogady-boodady-booed’ the two little girls spying on us from behind a bush. They were probably just curious. I couldn’t see shit and thought they were my kids hiding. Alaina and Jameson laughed about that one for days.
With all of the fun and happy times, came a dark side to our weekend, however. I have never experienced anything so scary, so tragic, or so fearsome. Four nights later, and I am still having nightmares……
It was Friday afternoon… my dad had decided to visit the campsite and take part in all of our fun. The visit started out well enough: we played several games of bags, a little backyard baseball, and Grandpa even read a couple of books to MacKenzie. The skies began to turn a slight pink color, signifying time for me to start dinner.
I am a planner. Always have been, and always will be. Friday night’s planned dinner was ‘Tara Burgers’ and some campfire-roasted bluegill and catfish that we had caught earlier that day. To explain, ‘Tara Burgers’ are a camping staple of my family’s and are requested each time we camp: a burger patty, carrots, potatoes, onions, butter, and a healthy sprinkling of garlic salt, all wrapped up in a foil pouch and thrown in the fire coals to cook. We call them ‘Tara Burgers’ because my little sister learned the recipe while she was camping with the Girl Scouts when she was younger. Regardless the name, they are delicious. The bluegill and catfish are just as scrumptious: the fish scaled and cleaned and rubbed inside and out with salt, skewered on hotdog forks and roasted slowly over the fire. Mouths watering and tummies grumbling, my family all took their places around the campfire to await our dinner.
My dad is a hunter. No, not deer; he has been known to shoot a couple of rabbits and squirrels, but hasn’t done so in some time. The type of hunting I am talking about is mushroom hunting. Morels. Blondes, smokies… if they are out there, he will find them. Funny thing is though, my dad can’t stand mushrooms. He hunts for the hunt and surprises me with his find because he knows how much I love them.
While I was placing ‘Tara Burgers’ into the coals, Dad snuck off to his vehicle and came back with a small Ziploc baggie of cleaned morels. With a huge grin on his face, he handed me the mushrooms which were just begging to be breaded and fried. It wasn’t a good year for morels, at least not in the Central Illinois area. Dad had only taken down about 12 smokies. They were nice size, don’t get me wrong, but these babies were going to be savored very slowly.
As the good Prepper/planner that I am, I just happened to have some Andy’s fish fry stocked in our camper pantry for the morels. I gently drug their delicate little bodies through an egg-wash, seasoned with my special ‘morel seasoning’, smoothly tossed them into the fish fry batter, and placed them ever-so-carefully into a Dutch oven lid full of bubbling vegetable oil over the fire. Taking extreme caution not to burn the few delectable morsels, I turned and babied them until they were perfectly brown but still melt-in-your-mouth tender. I carefully pulled each morel out of the hot oil, and placed them gently on a plate on top of some folded paper towels on the picnic table.
And then it happened….
An annoying, whirring noise from down the road got increasingly louder. Two harsh LED lights punctured the falling darkness. MacKenzie cried. The whirring noise got louder and louder until… A golf cart skidded to a halt inches from our picnic table.
The parking brake clicked with a loud snap as a husky, crazy-haired woman jumped out from behind the wheel yelling, “howdy neighbors!” Who was this woman, and what did she want?! “I’m Marsha from down the road, campsite number 159, and just had to come see what was cooking! The smell!!” Marsha’s lips curled into an evil smirk, her pointed teeth dripping with saliva.
Masking my fear with an attempt at niceties, I replied, “M-Marsha, I’m Cari, and this is my family. Family, say hello to Marsha.” My husband, father and kids all murmured a “hello” in unison. Jameson gasped when Marsha moved in closer and put a wrinkled old hand upon the back of his chair.
“Yes, but what are you cooking?” Marsha drawled, moving closer still. I could have sworn I saw my dad shiver right there next to the fire, and my oldest daughter’s eyes were as big as saucers.
“Um, uh,” I stammered. “We are making Tara – um, foil packet dinners and some roasted fish.”
“Smells good!!” Marsha elongated the “good” into a teasing, menacing “ooo” word. I will never again be able to hear the words ‘pool’ or ‘soup’ or ‘shoe’ without thinking about Marsha’s exaggerated “ooo” mouth, cigarette smoke-enhanced lined lips traced with hot-pink lipstick that had been haphazardly applied.
Marsha slowly circled the backs of our chairs positioned around the campfire. My husband grasped the edge of his chair; his white knuckles like beacons against the darkening sky. MacKenzie wept silently on my lap, face buried in my arms surrounding her. Marsha was taking great pleasure circling, circling the family, emitting little cackles each time someone moved in their chair to keep her in sight.
And then… “What’s that?!” Oh no. Marsha flung a purple-flannel covered arm in the direction of our picnic table. And my morels. I blinked my eyes and within a second, Marsha was leaning over the picnic table, a look of hunger creeping over her face. “Are those mushrooms?” she began, her fingers walking their way up over the table and towards my tiny plate of heaven.
“Yes, but -,” I began, and without an invitation Marsha, this devil, snatched a morel off of the plate and just as quickly popped it in her mouth. I whimpered. “Marsha, I -,” I began to plead as another morel was snatched off the plate and gobbled up by this monster with big hair and an obviously bigger appetite. Eyes wide, I feverishly looked from my husband to my dad and back again. Wasn’t anyone going to stop this insanity?!
My husband stood up. “Now Ma’am, those are -,” but Martin was quickly cut off by an evil glare and a snarling growl from Marsha, who leaned back over the plate of morels like a vampire who had been disturbed from her feeding. Martin fell back into his chair without another word.
In fear-stricken silence, my family sat and watched while Marsha devoured smokie after beautiful smokie. A tear traced a silent path down my face as I watched Marsha engulf not only the very last morel, but wad up the grease-streaked paper towel and throw it into the fire. The only remaining evidence of the smokies was quickly engulfed by the flames just as quickly as their existence.
With a belch of satisfaction and an arrogant demeanor, Marsha mounted her fiberglass steed, stamped hard on the gas pedal and brought the cart to life. “That was very nice of ya’ll to share the last of your mushrooms with me, but I needs to get back to my dinner!” With that, Marsha and her belly full of my morels, was off, cackling the whole way back to campsite 159.
Now, I like a good campfire story just as much as the next one, but that shit is way scarier when it is real!