Campfire stories are a particular genre. Some are meant to be a bit spooky, have a gruesome ending, or end with a moral. I can imagine Norse Sagas being told around campfires. They have just the proper supply on hand of gore, doomed characters, and the supernatural.
But some years ago, I was on a long Memorial Day trip to Baxter State Forest. Camped near Mount Katahdin, we gathered nightly after days of climbing to eat, drink and tell stories.
One of our numbers was a proper old timer who had known Percival Baxter and had been in on the park’s founding. But Ron was early to bed and early to rise, so somewhere around ten, we were down to a hard core of campfire members. One night to mix things up, we decided to put story themes into a hat and have everyone pick a theme and, when it was their turn, tell a tale based on the guidance on the slip of paper. What could go wrong?
I drew a slip of paper that said “drinking.” This was easy. I told a tale about my friends on Boston Beacon Hill and how we used to have Truth or Consequences drinking contests in which the most outrageous teller of lies won. To my right, John drew another easy one, “horror.” At last, the hat with the slips of paper arrived at Harriet, a quiet young woman. With a big smile. she slowly drew the slip out of the hat, unfolded it, and then stopped. Someone snickered and asked, “Well, where’s the story? What does it say?” Harriet rolled the slip into a tiny ball and hurled it into the fire. After a moment of silence, she announced the theme -“Bodice Ripper” in such a quiet voice that we almost couldn’t hear it. Giggles came from some of the girls at the far end of the fire, and some of us males shifted uneasily on our log stools. Then, after a moment’s silence, she began a tale of innuendo and raging lust in Regency England that had to have been lifted whole cloth from a recently read Harlequin Romance. It easily rolled on for ten minutes, after which she rapidly departed the campfire. An embarrassed silence settled, and soon we banked the fire and went to our sleeping bags in ones and some twos.
The following morning was filled with breaking camp for the trip back to Boston. It was quieter than the usual last morning in camp, and a few glances were cast in Harriet’s direction.
No one ever admitted to adding that theme to the slips in the hat. I regularly hiked with many of the campers on the Katahdin trip. I periodically saw them at Appalachian Mountain Club local hikes and trips. Over the following year, we listed the names of the usual suspects for doing something like this but came to no conclusions. Finally, we decided that it was well that there seemed to be a bias toward camping stories, comedy, and goofy horror stories around the campfire. Bodice ripper was not the worst topic that could have been handed out, considering the sense of humor of some of our friends.
Oh, and we never saw Harriet on hikes again.