When I was a kid, we often went to Cook Forest, a state park in Northwestern Pennsylvania, for weekend camping trips in the 1950s-60s with Mom and Dad’s friends—the Flynns and McCarthy’s. As a kid, there was a lot to do at Cook Forest. There were trails to follow, wildlife to see, the most majestic trees. All those things that spark the imagination of youngsters and grow an appreciation for God’s creation. One of my favorite places at Cook Forest was the fire tower. Rindi Flynn and I would often race to the top. We would start out strong, but by about the fifth set of steps things slowed down considerably. Sometimes, we would get lost on one of the trails and had to use our sense of direction to get back.
Packing for these trips was a great affair—making sure we had all our supplies, sleeping bags, saws, hatchets and axes for firewood, and lots of hot dogs, hamburgers, and marshmallows to cook on those wonderful, smokey campfires. Once there, we would find an appropriate camp site and begin the unpacking. A lot of packing and unpacking. It was still quite the wilderness there in the 1950s-60s. Primitive outhouses, hand pumps for water, Smokey the Bear signs. We had to make sure the food was secure at night because racoons and bear would be snooping around for whatever goodies they could get. If food wasn’t secure, at daybreak the camp would look like a war zone of leftovers strewn about and trailing into the forest.
One particular camping expedition, however, was particularly difficult. We were setting up camp, and of course, I wanted to help. So Dad sent me into Warren’s pickup truck to fetch a hammer out of the back. I was climbing around trying to find the hammer when I slipped and landed on the teeth of a large two-man saw. The saw tooth had went deep into the inside of my thigh. I was bleeding and we were too far away from any civilization to drive me to a doctor, so Sue used some bandages and tape to apply pressure and stop the bleeding. Never did get it checked and to this day I have a 1” X 1” scar that looks incredibly like an old saw tooth. But that was just the beginning omen of this ill-fated trip.
The Flynns’ were styling. They had a small camping trailer. We were all sitting around the table in that camper one night and the kerosene lantern wasn’t working right. Dad was pumping it, and in a flash, it exploded catching the trailer on fire. Amid the commotion, Dad picked me up by my hair, which had caught on fire, and threw me out the door and I hit the ground and kept running. And even though his arm was on fire, he made sure everyone else was out before he emerged from the smoldering remains of the camper. It was a trip to forget, but we all remember it. Gave new meaning to Acts 2:3: “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.” I have no doubt, though, that the Holy Spirit was guiding Dad’s quick actions, the night I ran like my hair was on fire—because it was.