All the classic elements were present: The group of people thrown together in a primitive environment. Attacks by wild beasts. A less-than-successful search for food in the wild. Fire. Floods. Ominous weather. Gunfights. Mysterious, threatening strangers. Even a pregnant woman ready to go into labor at any moment.
It could have been a great low-budget scary movie. But, actually, it was just another typical family camping trip.
Just in case a little hyperbole may have crept into the first paragraph, perhaps I should clarify. Maybe a campground along the Missouri River in eastern South Dakota doesn't exactly qualify as a primitive environment. But hey, the cell phone coverage was spotty at best—and the closest wireless Internet access was at least three miles away.
The wild beasts? Okay, they weren't bears or mountain lions, but mosquitoes. There were hordes of them, though, and they were vicious. The search for food in the wild? Well, those who went fishing didn't quite catch enough for everyone for supper.
The fire, of course, was necessary for the roasted marshmallows and S'mores. The flooding and the ominous weather were real enough. Just ask the two people who went swimming under what in drier years is a picnic shelter. The thunderstorms, thankfully, passed north of us and all we got was a few drops of rain.
The gunfights were real, too, with countless shots exchanged from loaded weapons. One of the main participants was a retired law enforcement officer. The other was a toddler with less training but at least as much determination and a pretty good eye. The innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire didn't seem to mind. It's not a bad thing to be shot with a water gun on a 90-degree day.
The nine-months-pregnant mom missed her great opportunity by not going into labor. Her husband swore he could have the camper hooked up and on the road in seven minutes if necessary, but he never got the chance to prove it. Oh, well. Some people just don't have a full appreciation of the finer points of dramatic tension.
The mysterious, threatening strangers? Unfortunately, they were all too real. The fright factor is a little too genuine when you're awakened at 2:00 a.m. by a couple of drunks shouting and beating on one of the tents in your campsite. Even if the tent isn't yours, you're uncomfortably reminded that tents don't come equipped with deadbolt locks.
When the staggering pair came back at dawn, they decided for some incoherent reason of their own to pull a marker post out of the ground. This was in front of the family tent where four little kids were sleeping. Their mother's reaction was, "Get the baseball bat out of the van!"
The drunks were hustled off down the road by a pair of brothers-in-law who were more than big enough—and mad enough—to handle them even without the bat. The loaded water guns, though, might have come in handy. Meanwhile, back at the tent, someone else was calling 911. It was quite satisfying a bit later to see a burly cop, looking like a stereotype straight out of Hollywood, holding one of the drunks upright by a pair of handcuffs as he marched him past our campsites. One of them was arrested, and their hearty-partying group was evicted from the campground.
We learned later that the drunks were part of a large family reunion whose members had reserved about 20 campsites. I'd love to have heard the story from that family's perspective. Were the rest of them angry at us for turning in their sons/grandsons/nephews? Or did the drunks belong to "that" family—the one that the rest of relatives only invite to reunions because they have to? Maybe it was a relief to have them gone.
I just hope the reunion organizers had taken all their group photos the day before.