Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Friday, August 3, 2012

Church Camp Blues

Earlier this summer I wrote about my, uh, reluctance to attend Vacation Bible School (now advertised here and there as "VBS").  I mentioned how I didn't like the idea of going to school when school was out, how most of the things I had to do (cutting-and-pasting) required skills I simply didn't have.  And so on.

And now it's time to write about church camp--again, a locution that seems oddly oxymoronic.  When we were living in Enid, Oklahoma, I attended the camp held at Boiling Springs State Park, near Woodward, Oklahoma, about eighty-four miles (says MapQuest) due west from our home on Elm Avenue.  It was a public park, but there were also areas with cabins that groups could rent.  Groups like University Place Christian Church, Enid, Oklahoma.

To begin with, the term "boiling springs" was a little alarming--sounds a little Old Testament already, doesn't it?  (And the Lord cast into the boiling springs the obnoxious boy who did not love VBS.)  And I remember my father warning us on our visits to Yellowstone National Park that we had to be careful to avoid the hot springs: We could fall in and before anyone could rescue us, we'd be cooked like hot dogs.  That didn't sound fun.

Turns out: the "boiling" was really just the bubbling of new (cold) water arriving--and their website now says that they don't really boil anymore.  Another reason not to go there.  Here's the site, though: Boiling Springs State Park

Sadly, I don't remember a lot about my church camp experiences there (other than avoiding the hot-dog water).  But when we moved to Ohio in the summer of 1956 ... here came Camp Christian.  And I remember a lot.

Camp Christian, near Delaware, Ohio, is still in business (website: Camp Christian photos), about 155 miles from our house in Hiram--two hours and forty-five minutes.  The summer of 1958, I think, was my first trip there. I have a bunch of pictures I took that summer that I was 13 years old (would not turn 14 till November).

One parent would volunteer to drive a bunch of us down; another would come get us.  One year, my mother picked us up--I'm sure it was the 1958 year, the year of the pictures--and something happened on the way home, something shameful that I will save to the very end of this entry.

One thing the pictures reveal is that I was horny.  I seem to have taken pictures of every attractive girl in the camp--most of whom I did not know at all (other churches sent their kids, too) and none of whom would have paid any attention to me: I was still very boyish, wore a baseball cap the whole time and laughed at insanely stupid things that my equally puerile buddies and I thought were fall-down funny.

The two young women pictured here, for example ...  I didn't know either one of them, but I stopped them outside the dining hall one day and asked if I could take a picture.  They both agreed (good Christian girls), but they must have been wondering what on earth this strange little boy wanted pictures of them for.  I couldn't have told them.  All I remember is this incredible yearning in me ... for what, I wasn't too sure.  That intelligence would arrive later.

One other clear memory, this kid--Jerry.  He was from Ravenna and was refreshingly rude and disrespectful and impious and all the other things you go to church camp for.  (I'm pretty sure the shameful thing at the end was something I learned from him, too.)  Jerry was as bad at crafts as I was--so we bonded immediately.  Our lanyards both looked like droopy shoestrings--brightly colored, of course.  (One reason I love Billy Collins' poem "The Lanyard"--YouTube.)

One of the things we made in Crafts period was a little cardboard cross that we painted with luminous paint (thus my skin cancer later on?) and embedded in a chunk of clay (both Jerry and I fired chunks around the room when the counselor wasn't looking).  On the last evening of camp, all of us then placed these crosses on the beams in the exposed ceiling of our cabin.  Then we headed off to the Vesper Spot out in the woods for the final service, and when we came back, later, we entered a cabin full of glowing crosses.  It as a nice idea.

After supper that night we all had to take a Vow of Silence.  We were not supposed to talk at all until the Consecration Service out at the Vesper Spot.  Jerry was right behind me as we moved silently through the woods.  And the moment the Vesper Spot became visible, he mumbled with faux reverence, "And from somewhere out of the green ..."

And I cracked up.  I mean, Jerry was funny!  Every head in the group, meanwhile, whirled my way.  Counselors were having babies.  I heard a thousand shushes (more violations, by the way, of the Vow of Silence).  And my face became another glowing object in the night.

Later, I got a lecture from my counselor, a guy named Bill, who was disappointed and sad that I had desecrated that lovely spot with my childish behavior.  I wept.

A few years later, I was telling a Hiram friend, Paul Misch, about Jerry, and Paul had a real "Niagara Falls" moment when he heard that name.  (Unfamiliar with such moments?  It's from an old Abbott and Costello sketch, now, of course, on YouTube: "Niagara Falls".)

"Where's that kid from?" Paul asked.


And then Paul launched into a story how he had shared a room once with Jerry in Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna.  Paul was immobilized (had he had his appendix out? broken arm? can't remember), but when Jerry realized this was so, he repeatedly snapped Paul with a long string whose end bore a large knot that left bright marks on Paul's arm and back.  He said he cried out all sorts of dire, homicidal, and ineffectual warnings to Jerry, who blithely snapped away ...  That's my Jerry.

Okay, now here' s the part you might not want to read.  Those of you who still have a sliver or two of respect for me should definitely stop reading right here ...

Jerry told me a joke.  And on the way home, in the car with my mother and some other veterans of the Consecration Service, I repeated it,certain I'd get the same response that Jerry had gotten when he'd told it to me.

JERRY'S JOKE:  A traveling salesmen [yes, really] stopped at a farmhouse and asked if he could spend the night.  The farmer agreed but said that that his wife had been using the guest room, so he, the salesman, would have to sleep with her ... was that all right?

"Sure," said the happy salesman.

"But," warned the farmer, "you have to promise not to kiss her."  [Oh, what a more innocent time, eh?]

"How could you even think of such a thing?" snorted the salesman, and off he went to bed.


"Did you sleep all right?" asked the farmer.

"Very well, thank you."

"And you didn't kiss my wife, did you?"

"Sir, I cannot tell a lie," replied the salesman.  [Who had obviously attended Camp Christian]  "I did kiss her once, but she did not kiss me back.  In fact, she spit rice at me!"

"Oh, that warn't rice," said the farmer.  "Them's maggots.  She's been dead a year now."

I was the only one laughing at the end.  Stupid kids had no sense of humor.  And Mom?  Well, she was probably just concentrating on the driving.

Later, at home, we had a little sit-down about that joke.  I was suitably contrite--but also in profound confusion about why no one had recognized the outstanding humor of that all-star joke?!?!!?

Please remember: This was 1958.  I'm much more mature now.

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