Dad pitched the tent a couple days before the sleepover was scheduled. He said it needed to air out, that it was musty from having been in the shed for so long. It was his thick green canvas army tent. You could fit a table and chairs for six and still have room for sleeping bags if you wanted to. It was humongous.
He didn’t put it up very often and when he did there was a lot of cussing. Aunt Arlene used to laugh and say there weren’t enough cuss words for Dennis, my dad, so he made up new ones as he went. She was right. When he was mad, any word could become a swear and the use of them became a competitive sport, in which he was the only athlete. For years I thought the word “touchhole” was obscene until some girlfriends and I got hysterical by saying it and actually looked it up. It’s not a cuss by Merriam-Webster’s account, but in my father’s mouth, it was atrocious.
When the tent came out of the shed, my mother started searching for enough loose change to take us for ice cream. She couldn’t stand to listen to it and she did not want to start hearing Dad’s vocabulary come out of our eight and six year old mouths. No thank you. By the time we got home, the tent was up under the stand of birch trees. Dad was sitting on a lawn chair inside the tent and drinking a can of beer.
I visited the tent every day, running circles inside it and pretending it was a circus tent. Sometimes, I lay down in the middle of it with my arms and legs stretched out, imagining my Dad in the army. Finally the day arrived for the sleepover and my mother had to sweep all the grass and gravel out of the tent. Maybe it got in there when I rode my bike around inside it, but who knows?
My friends Amy, Leslie, Debbie, and Marsha came over with their sleeping bags and pillows, but it was hours before dark and so we had hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill and made cake in my Easy Bake oven. We strung beads to make necklaces and bracelets until the sun sank below the tree line and it was time to drag our sleeping bags across the grass and put them in the tent. After some discussion, we decided we would sleep with our heads in the middle of the tent with our feet extending out from the center like a star.
We told stories and played with our flashlights until my mother yelled from the house to stop wasting the batteries. We turned them off and continued to talk, laughing until my mother called out that we would wake the dead and the dead would go to the tent first to see what the commotion was about.
We tossed and turned on the hard ground and the dampness crept into our blankets, making our skin feel clammy. Putting our heads inside our sleeping bags, we filled them with our breath and flailed against the mosquitoes buzzing in our ears until a light shower of rain pattered us to sleep.