The Ink Well Prompt #20: All the World's a Summer Camp

Image by Nicole Turner from Pixabay


When his son Orton came to him and said, “I guess we can't go to summer camp this year, huh?” police captain Ironwood Hamilton gave him an answer that he and the city council would make possible for every family in Tinyville:

“Son, all the world is a summer camp this year. The safest place beside being inside this year is outside in the great, airy wide open, even if that just means we set up a tent on the yard and roast marshmallows together as a family. But, I think we can do just a little better than that.”

And thus, every family with children in Tinyville received Captain Hamilton's “All the World's a Summer Camp” guide for family summer activities to do while spread out in Lofton County's vast open spaces.

The Dubois family in Virginia only had one child in it – Louisa Dubois Chennault, the nine-year-old granddaughter of Jean-Luc and Ébène-Cerise Dubois. They had brought her up to Virginia with them because their friend Thomas Stepforth Sr. offered advanced educational programs for children like Louisa who were child prodigies.

The trouble was, the Dubois grandparents and uncles Jules and Gilbert were all working. But that left quiet, firm Uncle Jean-Paul, retired from both the Judge Advocate General wing of the U.S. Army and Interpol.

Uncles Jules and Gilbert were playfellow friends to their precocious young niece, but Major Dubois was not having that. Louisa was always welcome to come sit and watch him do his legal consulting work, but the minute she started getting nosy and wanting to know every detail, the conversation went like this:

“I am doing legal analysis, Louisa. I can demonstrate how that works right now. The basic form is called IRAC – Issue, Rule, Application, and Conclusion.”

“Okay, got it!”

“Issue: it is 7:45pm, and you are interrupting me when you should be getting ready for bed. What is the rule, Louisa?”

“Um … I have to be in bed by 8:00.”

“Application: you have fifteen minutes to go brush your teeth and put your bedclothes on. Conclusion?”

“Good night, Uncle Jean-Paul!”

Major Dubois had that no-nonsense love, but …

“I remember how to put up a tent. We can go camping, Louisa.”


And she ran right from her seat by her Uncle Jules to go hug her Uncle Jean-Paul – and then ran back.

“I'm sorry, Uncle Jules, but I gotta go – you know what you need? What you need is a big Louisa to keep you company and marry you, and as soon as I get back I'm going to help you find one that won't need to run off and y'all can go stock picking and stuff together always, just like Uncle Gilbert is getting! When I get back, we'll start working on it!”

Off she ran to start packing, and the retired major shook his head.

“Why do y'all let that child talk to you like that?” he said.

“Jean-Paul, you just don't understand.”

“That makes two of us, Jules.”

Major Dubois was one of only five people in the world – her parents and Dubois grandparents being the other four – with whom Louisa could not negotiate the fact of her childhood. Occasionally he let her and her equally prodigious friend Vertran Stepforth slide in their hilarious misapprehensions of adulthood, but he knew that to allow children to skip ahead too far was dangerous. So, without scaring Louisa with the dangers of the world, he blocked the path to her ruin and guided her firmly and powerfully into proper growth.

Out to the campsite on Delford Drake Field; most Black families who were participating in the family camping programs had taken a space in this place they had named for a community hero.

Of course, small trouble was in route … .

“Hey, Dad – Louisa is over here! Let's make camp over here, y'all!”

That was Vertran Stepforth, nine-year-old child prodigy who had proposed marriage to Louisa the other week.

“Vertran, everyone's space is pre-assigned, and the Stepforth family space is where you need to be right now. Go on back.”

“Okay, but I was thinking that I can convince the Joneses to switch spots with us, and then –.”

“Vertran, you think you are a grown man. I am what you think you are, and you are about to learn the difference.”

Major Dubois looked across the field at the Stepforth camp spot, then looked at Vertran, narrowed his eyes, and dropped his bass voice to the bottom.

“I said –.”

“Yes, sir – see you later, Uncle Major!”

And as Vertran flew across the field as if shot out of a cannon, Louisa came out of the tent she and her uncle would be sharing.

“Wait until you see what I've done with the place, Uncle! I tell you, these tents need interior decoration!”

“I'm coming to inspect it. Did you follow my instructions exactly?”

“Um … let me double-check real quick!”

And there another cannonball went, back into childhood and obedience.

Major Dubois gave Louisa time to make corrections, and then went into his tent and found things just right.

“Well done, Louisa,” he said. “Now, you can decorate the interior as you like, except for my sleeping bag and the immediate area around it.”


“You have 20 minutes, after which you and I will need to go catch our supper.”


“Do you see a restaurant anywhere around here – or a store?”


“So, we're going fishing.”

“Oh – okay!”

Twenty minutes later, Major Dubois and Louisa were standing in Emerald Creek, and Louisa had her first little rod and reel. She had already learned about bait and hooks and fish, and her uncle spent the next hour showing her how to cast her hook and reel in her line. She hooked a whole shoe someone had thrown into the creek, and was very pleased.

“Oh, so you just expect me to catch lunch and dinner, niece, while you increase your shoe collection?”

“Well, you didn't say fish was all I could catch!”

“I suppose I didn't, Louisa,” he said, with a big smile. “Okay – got one. Go on and re-bait your hook while I do this – watch your fingers.”

After Louisa had re-baited her hook and cast her line again, she noticed her uncle's stance in the water and copied it … he just stood there like a black steel statue and calmly, patiently reeled dinner on in.

“I expected more action,” she said. “That's not how it looks in the cartoons at all.”

“Life generally doesn't look like the cartoons, Louisa. Still, watch your own line – you are about to get that action.”

Louisa dug her little feet into the creek bed and got ready, but still –.

“Oh no – it's way too big!”

“No, it's not.”

Major Dubois knelt down in the water and put his arms around Louisa.

“Just do what I taught you, Louisa. It will get tired and give up before you will. Reel it on in.”

The contest went on for twenty minutes, with Louisa nearly dropping her rod several times when her line ran to the end – “Oh, no!” – but her uncle never let go of her until – .

“I did it!”

“You surely did, Louisa – there's lunch, and I have dinner!”

Back to shore, and fish cleaning – “Ewwwwww! … but then again, that is kinda interesting … .” – and then back to camp where Major Dubois showed Louisa how to make a campfire and how to cook fish over an open flame.

After lunch and learning how to completely extinguish a fire, uncle and niece went for a long hike up into the foothills of the Blue Ridge. When they turned around to go back to camp, Major Dubois put Louisa on his big, broad shoulders so she could see as far into the Roanoke Valley as being nine feet in the air would allow her.

“Wow … God really did a good job on all this.”

“He certainly did, Louisa.”

On the way back down to camp, Major Dubois showed Louisa how to find fatwood – wood at the joints of dead pine branches and the trunk where the resin of the trees tended to settle. The wood swelled with the resins, hence the name “fatwood.” It was excellent for starting fires, and Louisa was impressed with how little fatwood it took to kindle the big evening campfire her uncle built.

Trout and fire-roasted corn cobs – and then Major Dubois handed his niece a box of graham crackers.

“You know what time it is.”

“S'mores – yaaaaaaaaay!”

And as a lovely summer day faded into a glorious summer night, uncle and niece made Dubois-style s'mores – to keep from breaking the graham crackers over the hard chocolate bars, Major Dubois put the chocolate in a pan and put it close enough to the fire to melt it without burning it, and then crumbled pecans off into it before he and Louisa dipped their graham crackers and roasted marshmallows in it. It was messy, but –.

“It's just so good!” Louisa said. “I wish Vertran could have some.”

“I told Major Stepforth how to do these yesterday,” Major Dubois said. “You know how we Duboises have to bless the people with our food knowledge.”

“Oh, thank you, Uncle!”

Across the field, a little boy's silhouette stood in front of his family campfire.

“Hey, Uncle Major – these are the best s'mores ever! Thank you!”

“You're welcome, Vertran!” Major Dubois shouted back, with a smile. “Good night!”

“Say, I was thinking –.”

Good night, Vertran.

“Yes, sir – good night, Uncle Major!”

Louisa missed that little interaction: she was trying to double-stack a s'more and was falling over trying to open her mouth wide enough to get it in on one bite.

“And this is why God invented uncles,” Major Dubois said as he caught Louisa with one hand and took the double-stacked s'more out of her hand with the other.

“I almost got it in!”

“What was the plan if you had? There's no way you could chew and swallow a bite that big.”

“Well, I was going to figure it out!”

“And instead, God invented uncles, Louisa. You can eat that as two s'mores, and then we'll clean up, brush our teeth, get ready for bed, and then look at the stars and tell stories until we are tired.”

“You mean I don't have to go to bed?”

“What bed? No bed, so no bedtime.”


Major Dubois put his jacket down so Louisa could sit by him and not get her pajamas dusty, but she climbed right up into his lap … they told stories to each other by the fire until his deep, soft voice and calm heartbeat put to her to sleep, all snuggled up with him. He picked her up after a while, making sure to flick the droplets of his tears out of her thick dark hair before taking her into the tent.

“Now why would I let you be a little adult, Louisa,” he said as he put her in her sleeping bag, “when you still have so much life to live and enjoy as a cherished, deeply loved little girl?”

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