Another summer of hot sun, purple petunias, splashes of ice-cold sweet tea and sweaty front porch settin’ has come to a close. As most people are packing the season away to make room for fall’s cooler temperatures, yellow mums, cinnamon and spice cider and snuggling on the couch, I am not quite ready to let go…just yet. Why? My aching left knee brings to mind a memory that I am not allowed to forget. That would be summer camp, still, and probably for always, my favorite and most cherished of summer memories.
I had my first taste of the camp experience as a very sheltered nine year old. On that crisp, fall day began a journey that lasted all the way through my junior year of high school. That particular day I sat there, well, more likely “fidgeted” there, in my fourth grade class room, third row over, third desk back, highly anticipating the coming adventure. I had no idea what to expect. My momma had always kept us close, very close. Actually, now that I think about it, I have no earthly idea how she was convinced to allow this adventure to begin in the first place.
Nonetheless, my suitcase was packed and sitting by the door, which is probably where my attention stayed most of the morning. It is highly likely that whatever Mrs. Chafin was teaching that day soared waaayyyy over my head. All I could possibly do was watch the clock, and the suitcase, and the door…the clock, the suitcase and the door. The door, the Door the DOOR! I was staring hard, willing that door to open. After a nine year-old’s eternity, the knock came. At last! My uncle stuck his head in the door and spoke to my teacher. He gathered me, my suitcase and we were off!
There were probably five or six nine to eleven year-olds (if I remember correctly) in that Volkswagen van. Back in those days, it was quite a trip to go from Delbarton, West Virginia to Pounding Mill, Virginia. There were at least three mountains, and possibly four. The roads were two lane roads – curvy two lane roads – until we hit somewhere around either Grundy or Richlands, Virginia. There were a number of “horseshoe” curves; (a horseshoe curve being what you imagine — a hairpin curve shaped similar to a horseshoe!) Heck, there was even one spot where the road was so curvy that you passed the same group of trees three times! It was called the Double Horseshoe Curve. It has long since been replaced by the “new road” that took the top of the mountain off and straightened out the curves. Yes, back in the late 1960’s, it was an adventure just getting to camp.
I am sure it was some kind of adventure for my aunt and uncle just transporting us there! You have to remember that this was also a time before seat belts! Between the mountainous curves and the up and down of those rolling hills, we were all over the back of that van, swaying from side to side. We were climbing back and forth and rolling up and down and in and out and under the seats with the rolling of those hills. I might admit that we were doing all of this joyfully while singing and making up stories about landmarks that we passed.
Growing up in the mountains of south-western West Virginia, where mountains were pretty much all you had, the rolling hills of Virginia were a delightful contrast. Where I was used to basically landscape that was mountain on mountain on mountain, the mountains there in western Virginia seemed to flatten out to a slope with green, green grass and clumps of trees, with many outcrops of rock formations that rolled up to the base of those mountains. Oh how I fell in love with those mountains!
We did eventually make it to camp that first time. We parked at the bottom of the hill and had to walk up this long, steep, gravel driveway. With the first step I took outside the van onto the camp ground, I knew something was special. The air was different. The smell was different. Camp had it’s own smell, it’s own feel. I could never describe it even if I try. It was open, and it was fresh, it was new. Only camp kids would understand and they would know exactly what I meant.
I dragged my suit case up that gravel driveway, right past the snack shack, to the girl’s bunk house. That particular bunk house contained three rooms with bunk beds to sleep twelve; eleven campers and one counselor to each room. This was the first of many times that I would make this journey up that gravel driveway, each time becoming more precious to me than the time before.
That fall retreat came and went, and so did the spring retreat the next year. Then came the real deal…camp! Summer camp! Summer camp! A week spent at the favorite place in the world of my young heart. There were always physical activities to participate in: walking (as in everywhere!), swimming, horseback riding, hiking, softball, volleyball, (did I mention walking?), tether ball. Tether ball? I think tether ball only made sense for me at camp. Seriously. Who plays tether ball in the real world? Then, there were also the less physical activities like hay rides and crafting classes and quiet times just experiencing the beauty of the camp. We enjoyed introspective times of chapel and evenings spent around a huge campfire, sharing stories, testimonies, music and marshmallows! Even as I grew older, the highlight of my year was stepping out of that vehicle and onto the grounds of the camp to breathe that air and experience that wonder that was summer camp.
Some of my favorite times were right before lights out, during our evening devotions. The most significant event in my life was, when, as an eleven year old, at the end of the week, on a Friday evening, I gave my life to Christ. Our camp counselor had been reading the book Pilgrim’s Progress to us all week during our devotion time, and explaining the meaning of the story as compared to our lives. I remember kneeling down by my bunk and praying the prayer that would forever change my life and my eternity.
My second most significant event at camp came the second year I was at teen camp (and is the reason that cooler fall weather, or rain, or over use sometimes causes my knee to ache!) There was an especially cute young man that was there as a counselor that year. I was so smitten with that dark hair and those blue eyes and that blue bandanna. Anytime he was anywhere in the vicinity, I was just mush. (Plus, always remember….Matilda….not Grace!) It was, again, a memorable Friday. We were playing basketball during some of our free time. I went up to shoot the ball, noticed the really cute guy out of the corner of my eye, looked that way, and came down on the ground, hard!
Oh, great gracious granny of all that is holy!!! The pain! I think the only thing that kept me from totally humiliating myself and kept me from screaming like a plucked chicken, was that dark hair and those blue eyes that ran quickly to my side. There was no one that would look my way for very long. Most everyone turned away after one look. Apparently it was pretty grotesque looking. As if the unnaturally, awkward angle and position of the bottom half of my leg was not bad enough, add in to the mix that my knee cap was hanging somewhere down and behind where it was supposed to be located.
I don’t think this was something anyone expected on the last day of camp. They didn’t really know how to transport me to keep from causing additional damage. Eventually they decided to load me up in someone’s station wagon, With the offending basketball propping up my leg, we headed to the closest hospital. The initial emergency room doctor would not touch it. He told my aunt that surgery would have to be done. I can imagine how she was freaking out, trying to digest that news. So everyone is standing there (or laying there) wringing their hands to the point that no one really noticed the second doctor that came into the room. He took one look, grabbed a hold of the leg and knee and had it put back together the way it was supposed to be before I could even scream. (Which I’m sure I probably did anyhow.) It wasn’t broken, just dislocated. Just?!?! Major crisis averted!
Yes, summer camp provided many adventures and memories that I will always remember fondly. The majority of them were positive, fun, enlightening and left my body whole! As I was writing this blog, I pulled up their Facebook and Website pages to check out what the camp looks like some forty-plus years later. It looks much the same, but I see that they have added a speed track for go-carts and a huge water slide down the side of the mountain to the pool area. They have managed to stay valid in an age where computers and mini-screens rule the day. They still have the same mission, and tell the same story…the greatest story ever told – the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and kids, camp kids, still walk away with the wonder of the experience.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16-17)