Mack Williams: Memories of a 'banana boat' campout

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 2, 2012

By Mack Williams
        The first time I went camping was with my son’s high school science class to Hanging Rock State Park in the year 1999, but my first “indoor” camping experience was back in 1968. The 1999 camping experience was under a tent, and the 1968 camping experience was under a roof. I guess it might be said that all of us “camp out” on the surface of this earth, whether it be in tents, huts, houses or Buckingham Palace!
In June of 1968, Pastor Floyd W. Bost took some of the older teenagers from Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church on a several-day camping trip, not outdoors, but indoors, as I referenced earlier, to a place called the Sunbeam Lodge. To the best of my memory, it was primarily a place of retreat kept by the Sunbeam Bread Co. for its employees, but sometimes they let church groups use it as well.
There was a nice-size fishing lake in front of the lodge; and some of us caught fish. I tried, but didn’t have any luck with it. Out front, and to the side, there was a well; and one day, to the amazement and excitement of all of us, one of our youth fished out a crayfish from a seemingly long-standing puddle next to the well, but benevolence triumphed, and he let it go.
I seem to remember us being there from Friday to Sunday of that weekend. For most of that time, the rain seemed to literally pour. Some youth would fish a little when the downpour slowed to the consistency of scattered drops, with the sun finally showing through late Saturday evening, enhancing the already existing lake reflections with the colors of sunset.
Due to the weather, we spent a certain amount of our time indoors conversing with Pastor Bost and watching a small black-and-white television set. We watched that television set not because of the usual televised entertainment fare of the late 1960s but because of its coverage of the events leading up to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral. He had been assassinated shortly before we commenced our stay at Sunbeam Lodge. We felt drawn to that coverage, because five years earlier, the four days spent watching the coverage of his late brother’s assassination and funeral were a character-forming event that will always remain an integral part of anyone of more “sentient” age at that time.
Pastor Bost had a culinary invention that he taught us to make one night, lightening our hearts, passing the time and delighting our stomachs. He told us that we were going to make and consume “banana boats.” This had nothing to do with the “Banana Boat” of Harry Belafonte fame (well, in a way it did, because it was an actual banana, but there was no actual boat).
The main element of this “banana boat” was a banana which had crossed the threshold of “ripeness,” but not too far. The first step involved peeling the peeling back on one side of the banana (“peeling the peeling” sounds like a silent onomatopoeia ). A furrow would then be cut down the fruit’s middle, along the full extent of its length. Inside this furrow would be placed the broken pieces of a Hershey bar, along with many mini-marshmallows (after my comments on “peeling the peeling,” all that I will say about “many mini marshmallows” is that it may be alliteration “gang agley”).
The peel would then be put back in place over marshmallows, chocolate bits and banana fruit, with the whole wrapped in aluminum foil and placed in an oven, then baked around 300-400 degrees ( to the best of my memory) until done.
I think that the determination of “doneness” consisted of an examination of the banana’s outer skin to see if it had become black. This was one of the few cases in which cooked food reaching a “blackened” state meant that it was “ready” (usually, it means something else).
Our banana boats were very delicious; and after writing this, it probably won’t be too long until I go to Food Lion and buy bananas (just a little past their prime), chocolate, miniature marshmallows and aluminum foil. Even though I am an old diabetic, bananas are renowned for their amounts of potassium; dark chocolate is also supposed to be beneficial, with the marshmallows being just “fluff,” I guess.
As I said before, the banana boat was most delicious! It reminded me of a banana sundae, but one of a different sort. It was like a banana sundae that had been brought to fruition in a place whose thermal nature was much unsuited to the inclusion of ice cream as one of its ingredients. Such a thing, born in a region of “infernal” heat, figuratively illustrated the path opposite the one in which Pastor Bost was earnestly leading us.