I love to camp. I camped since, well, maybe since before I was born. Mom camped as a little girl. Grandpa camped. Now my grandchildren camp with me.
When I say camping, I mean in a tent, on the ground, cooking on a campfire or a propane stove, swimming, biking, walking, and eating ice cream.
I love the sound of the night that comes through tent walls. I love when the sound of silence wakes me at 2 AM because even the crickets went to sleep. I love the sound of the wind rustling the branches, and flashes of lightning waking me to a dark thunderstorm.
I don’t like kids howling in the night from another tent, or climbing into my sleeping bag or sand tracked all over. I don’t like branches falling on tents or tornadoes whisking us away. Sooo…
When the camp ranger came around and warned us that high winds, thunderstorms and possible tornadoes were coming our way, I loaded up the family and headed into town to find shelter.
“Sorry,” the Holiday Inn told me. “The Inn is full.”
“Sorry,” Jack, the young guy behind the desk at the Hampton Inn proclaimed. “We have one room. You can’t put all those kids in there.”
“How about a conference room?” I explained our situation and the kids and the storm. “We can bring our sleeping bags in and camp in a conference room.
“I’ll have to call my manager,” said Terrance Gainey. He looked doubtful.
He explained the situation to his manager.
“What does she look like?” he said into the phone. “Well, sorta like my grandmother.” (This, honestly, is my favorite part of the story.)
They talked some more.
“How much do you want to pay.”
I named my price. More low-talking into the phone.
“You got it.” Terrance said.
Terrance helped us set up. He changed the TV channel to something the kids liked. He made us cookies and hot chocolate. He let us use the swimming pool.
In the morning, we met a maintenance man, Jack Lawson He brought juice and donuts and coffee to the conference room as we “broke camp.”
Before long, Shall Pandya, the owner, stopped by and invited us to a full breakfast: waffles, eggs, bacon, biscuits, yogurt, fruit.
“You know at first, I was a softie, at this job,” explained Jack. “I had to rein myself in. Then I got too tough. I got robotic, and didn’t consider the circumstances. The owners sent me to a course in compassion.”
“Sometimes the best policy is to treat people, like, well, like people,” said Ruth Lambert, Terrance’s colleague.
That was three months ago, Jack, and I’m still thanking you. The storms blew through, our campsites needed a little clean-up, but no big damage. Maybe we could have toughed it out. Maybe that would have been an exciting experience. But then….
I’m so glad we met Terrance and Jack, and Shall and Ruth. Four people who went above and beyond. They gave us an experience that we will talk about for years to come.