When I was 20, I needed a job for the summer months and decided to accept an opportunity at a sleepaway camp. Since I was studying to be a teacher, I thought being a camp counselor for a group of six-year-old girls was apropos. I was to stay in a large tent with the campers, take them to their daily activities, and sleep out under the stars with them for one night. How difficult could the job be?
Before any activities started, we arranged for sleeping spots for each girl on cots in our tent and were given the task of picking a name. After much talking and for no apparent reason, my girls decided to call themselves the "Beanies."
Daily activities with the Beanies followed the designated schedule: breakfast, then art, sports, lunch, music, games, and everyone ended their day by swimming in the lake before dinner and then talking around the campfire and making s'mores. These daily activities commenced with few problems, but then came my night under the stars with my six Beanies.
We took our sleeping bags, mosquito spray, matches, cooking ingredients for the s'mores, and my flashlight and trudged to our predetermined area in the woods. I had the children park their sleeping bags outside of the fire area and directed them to help me gather wood, and I started the campfire. We made our s'mores, and when darkness fell the Beanies wanted a ghost story. I didn't want to really frighten them, so I made up what I thought was a mild story called "Punkster the Pumpkin," about an entity who lived somewhere in camp. "Sometimes when children walk down the path, Punkster rolls after them and tries to catch them," I said. "You'll know he's coming when you hear the leaves crunching and the wind blowing." Then I naively said, "Time for bed!"
Soon all of the campers were cuddled inside of their sleeping bags. I put a few more sticks on the fire, got inside my bag, and shut my eyes. Then little Marcy spoke up. "I'm afraid of Punkster the Pumpkin!"
"Sweetie, it was just a story. He isn't real," I said in my calmest voice. But all the campers began to cry; they were afraid of Punkster too.
I sighed in defeat. "We are going back to camp." I put out the fire and we made our way along the forest path toward our tent — but when the wind picked up and leaves began to blow across the path, my Beanies screamed and took off running down the path with me in hot pursuit. When we arrived at the tent, I had the children put their sleeping bags on their cots and climb inside. I told them that everything was fine, and they were out cold in no time. I finally climbed in my own sleeping bag and closed my eyes.
Sometime during the night, a storm hit. The rain came down, and the wind blew ferociously. Suddenly a large gust of wind blew the tent away, and it began flipping down the road. With no protection from the rain, the children and I ran to retrieve the tent while they yelled, "We're afraid of Punkster!" With the help of a couple other counselors, we were able to erect the tent again, and the Beanies climbed back inside their wet sleeping bags.
The next day, I was exhausted and looked it too. By the time we headed down to the lake to swim, I needed some alone time. The lifeguard agreed to watch the Beanies for 10 minutes while I floated around by myself. But as I swam to the left side of the lake, she shouted, "Beth, don't go over there! There's a large . . . " I felt a sharp pain in my derrière. I screamed, got out of the water, and ran to the nurse's station. All my campers climbed out of the lake and ran after me.
A camp supervisor drove me to an emergency care clinic where I was treated. A couple stitches later, the physician asked me what had happened and rolled his eyes in disbelief when I explained, "I got bitten by a snapping turtle."
When I returned to the camp, the Beanies ran to hug me. They were relieved to hear about the turtle. "We thought Punkster got you." I sighed as I sat down gingerly at dinnertime.
There were other adventures to be experienced with the Beanies, but none like camping under the stars and the invasion of my made-up Punkster the Pumpkin.
Beth Praed is a published author with five books and articles in Guideposts Magazine and Christianity Today.