My junior year in high school my dad decided to take a job in Dumas, Texas, with Piggly Wiggly. He’d worked for the chain in Floydada, Texas, and then tried his hand at store ownership there. His partner in that endeavor lacked a couple of necessary attributes, money and business acumen, and soon that business failed. So when Daddy was asked to take over the store in Dumas, it was a blessing. For everyone but me.
I’d gone to school in Floydada since kindergarten. All of my friends were there. My future was all mapped out. I was a junior, for Pete’s sake. What kind of parents make their child move their junior year in high school? Well, apparently parents who need to make a living.
They let me finish out the school year in Floydada. I lived with my mother’s parents for three of the longest months of my life, and then moved to Dumas in late May of 1974 to rejoin my family. I moped a lot. There I was in a strange town during the summer of what should have been the best time of my life. Truthfully it ended up being a pretty great summer, but I certainly didn’t want anyone to know that. “Work the guilt,” was my unconscious motto.
My dad had the brilliant idea that we should embark on family camping adventures that summer, so he bought this ginormous green and white striped tent at a garage sale. It was hideous, but he got this crazy notion that we should dub it the Hall-iday Inn. Our last name was Hall. Pretty clever, eh?
Soon we were immersed in a frenzy of camping. Many weekends we’d head to Lake Fryer near Perryton where we’d swim, pretend to fish, and be jolly. We even took the tent to Tres Ritos in New Mexico where Mom stepped on a rusty coat hanger and had to have a tetanus shot.
One fateful weekend we arrived at our campsite near Lake Fryer after dark and had to set up the tent by flashlight. I called dibs on the top bunk of the double decker cot and after we all made trips to the communal outhouse we retired for the evening. Sometime in the wee hours a fearsome storm blew in. A boom of thunder woke me. Bursts of lightning flashed outside the Hall-iday Inn. Then a gust of wind forced it’s way beneath our tent and blew us over and over and over. I screamed like Shelley Winters in the “Poseidon Adventure.” Mom told me to shut up.
Once the tent stopped rolling we took stock of our physical well being. Mom and Dad were fine. My younger brothers were accounted for, and I was ok, but embarrassed by my histrionics of the previous few minutes as we went tumbling toward the lake. We couldn’t find the zippered entrance to the tent, but Dad had his pocket knife. My brothers begged him tearfully not to cut the tent, but that seemed to be our only recourse to escaping from that collapsed canvas of doom.
Fortunately we had friends camping nearby who came to our rescue and took us in for the night. As I recall that ended our camping obsession, and we went back to being a normal family. I never could have admitted to my dad how much I enjoyed those camping trips. Those really were the last times that the five of us vacationed as a family. Those were the days before I met Studly, before any of us thought too much about the changes that were upon us. I hope I told Daddy “thank you” at some point for bringing us together in that tent in the summer of 1974.