You are being held at gunpoint, and your assailant says you have 10 seconds to make him/her change their mind about shooting you. What do you say?
It sounds odd, because, when I was in the 7th grade, this scenario actually happened. And herein lies a tale of science camp, regional Indian tribes, long hikes and a kleptomaniac classmate.
Every year, at the Lutheran school I attended from 1st to 8th grade, the 7th graders went to science camp. This was not the fun science camp my two children got to attend with cool teenage counselors, singing and “fun facts”, but really an outdoor version of my science class, with all the labs and homework you could pile on in a few days. I love science, but I didn’t like my teacher, and the feeling was pretty much mutual. For dissection labs, he was big on drawing what you found when you say, dissected a worm. If your art skills were less than stellar, it had a direct impact on your grade. He also ran the church youth group, and if you didn’t participate, it was a black mark on your character. I didn’t excel at anatomical drawings and I avoided youth group. So I was pretty much a loss as far as Mr. L. was concerned.
Science camp took place at the Boy Scout camp, Camp Yaw Paw, in the Ramapo Valley near Mahwah, NJ. (Note: Northern New Jersey towns are either impossible to say Indian names or Dutch names, especially if you aren’t a native). On top of having to spend three days with my least favorite teacher doing scientific experiments all day, there was the infamous “first day hike”. This involved taking the entire class on a several hour hike through the camp, the sole purpose which was to tire us all out so we would sleep that night and not cause trouble.
Now adjacent to the camp was a community of a regional Indian tribe, now called Ramapough Mountain Indians, but then known by the derogatory term the Jackson Whites. At that time, the community kept to themselves, which made them a bit mysterious and the subject of unkind urban legends.
To continue the story. This particular hike took us out to the perimeter of the park, by the upper part of Cannonball Lake, if memory serves me. As we hiked along the lake, we discovered appeared to be an abandoned Jeep. A few of the students investigated the contents until our teacher told them to get away from it and move along. We then veered away from the lakeside and started towards the dirt road trail back to camp.
A few of the students lagged behind the main group, talking and messing around. I was always a slow and steady hiker and joined them. We were deep in teenage silliness when we heard someone run up behind us and say very loudly.
“WHERE ARE MY KEYS”
We turned around to see a Ramapough Mountain Indian man pointing a shotgun at us with an extremely angry look on his face. I remember we all just froze like statues, but somehow finding the courage to say.
“We don’t have your keys, mister”
One of the adult chaperones happened to look back and realized that something was terribly amiss. He alerted the rest of the group and our teacher went up to speak to the Indian. Our teacher then did a quick interrogation of the student body and located the keys with one of our more ditsy classmates, who later declared vehemently over her dinner that night, “Well that vehicle looked abandoned”. The keys were returned to their owner and we continued marching on.
I don’t think that the Ramapough Mountain Indian would have actually shot us, but I do know how to answer today’s writing assignment. I would say…
“WE DON’T HAVE YOUR KEYS, MISTER. HAVE YOU CHECKED OUR CLASSMATE TERRI’S POCKETS BY CHANCE?”