It was the summer after the 8th grade. My science teacher, Mr. Peterson, put together a summer science day camp. For one week he would head some day long thing; a field trip, or full day study of some specific principle, with science at the heart. I am a nerd now because I was a nerd then. Of course my folks signed me up for the thing.
I don’t remember a lot of it, mostly because it wasn’t all that impressive and you will find out why soon enough. I remember one field trip to a local state park where we observed trilobite fossil impressions in a huge rock. Pretty cool. I remember a few days stuck in a classroom working on some very lame experiments. Well, lame for a nerd who had launched a huge hot air balloon from his drive way.
The highlight of the camp slated for the final day was a trip to High Point, NC, a place where you can see four states from one single spot. This meant a winding ride up into the Appalachian mountains. About seven pre-teens, gals and guys, huddled in the back of an empty rental van. There were no seats so we sat on the hard floor with our backs against the walls.
The trip up was merely that. We met at the school early in the morning, climbed in the van, and road for hours. We made a stop or two along the way to observe something silly here or there but nothing notable to real Geeks. But we were the kids. Mr. Peterson was the adult in charge of the van so we had to go where he went.
He didn’t seem to have a plan. This became obvious, even to us kids, especially once we got to our destination. Never put a bunch of nerds together if you don’t have a clear plan. All of us figured out, calculating when we left and how long it took to get where we were going, that we were not going to get back when scheduled. This led to a bunch of questions for which Mr. Peterson didn’t have an answer other than, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll make it.” While many adults use that line when addressing kids, they usually try to keep a pleasant demeanor. But clearly we had found a chink in Mr. Peterson’s armor because he did not deliver that statement with any degree of pleasantry. The entire camp had been weak and this stuck out the worst. We were on to him and he was feeling it.
At High Point we were marched up double time to the viewing area and then hustled down just as quickly, with hardly any observation time at all, and then herded back into the van for the return trip. At some point we stopped at a rather dingy little Stop ‘N’ Go to get our promised ‘meal,’ which ended up being chips and cokes.
There at the counter were two large jars. One was pickled eggs and the other was pickled pigs’ feet. If you do not know it is an old southern thing and it is exactly what it is called, young pigs’ feet that have been pickled. Disgusting. Of course we all pointed and gagged at the sight. I guess Mr. Peterson wasn’t feeling too happy with this brood of smart-asses that had figured him out and he felt the need to get even. So the idiot bought a couple of the pig’s feet, I think mostly just to gross us out, and then shooed us all back into the van.
There we sat as Mr. Peterson raced us down the Appalachians. Bad idea number one. The roads are narrow and very winding. We sat in the back munching our chips and drinking cokes. Bad idea number two. He would have served himself better had he allocated time for proper meals and time to digest. Mr. Peterson pulls out the pig’s feet. Bad idea number three. The smell filled the van and a pleasant smell it most definitely was not.
Dark had settled in. He was late and he knew it and he knew that we knew it. He decided that using the brake was only making his problems worse. Bad idea number four. We were bumping and jostling and bouncing around in the back of the van, the horrible smell of pickled pig’s feet filling the air and dark closing in. One of the gang began to feel queasy. We let Mr. Peterson know, he better start slowing down. He shot back something about using brakes on mountain roads causes them to burn out. Yeah right. It just seemed to make him go faster.
The ill feeling kid began to beg, literally. “Please, you have to slow down. I’m going to be sick. Please.” “Shut up. You’ll be fine,” was the reply. We were all watching the kid. Suddenly his face turned a very pale green and we all knew. We moved away as quickly as we could, shouting, “STOP!” The kid blew chunks like I have never seen before. I mean, I’ve seen sick, but this was large volume, projectile vomiting at its best. It shot across the van in a straight line like a rocket, hitting the opposite wall with force, spraying and splashing everywhere.
Maybe the kid would have gotten sick from the jostling alone. Being enclosed in a windowless van certainly wouldn’t be good for anyone who suffers from motion sickness. The soda didn’t help either, and the pickled pig’s feet smell only made it all worse. Of course we had to stop then and clean things up as best we could. Mr. Peterson was then forced to travel the speed limit.
Needless to say, he received quite a few stern comments from parents when we arrived home several hours late. But not as bad as several weeks later when it was learned that the proposal for the camp that he had given to the school board bore little resemblance to what had actually occurred over the week.
Months later he appeared before a board of inquiry asking where the several thousands of dollars had gone too. He never taught again, thank goodness. I hope he enjoyed his pickled pig’s feet.