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Janet Brice Parker

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Camp Meeting
By Janet Brice Parker
Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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One chance in a million--experience at camp

Girl Scout camp was my life in the summers of the late fifties and early sixties. Toward the end of May I began to morph into my camp persona. I was ready to quit wearing dresses to school, dig out my bathing suit and work on my tomboy gait. It was a whole different world at camp and my anticipation was explosive.

I began as a camper and followed the instructions of my revered counselors. I wanted to be like them, demanding awe and respect. So, I entered the counselor-in-training program and muscled up my shoulders and legs to the point of being somewhat scary to my parents. I also ate like a lumberjack. But I was there, I had made it. Two summers of blissful torture.

I allowed myself to go on a total ego trip when I became a counselor. I was sixteen years old and I had arrived. This was what camp was supposed to be. Hard work, lots of studying about ways of the outdoors. Chopping wood and campfires. Backpacking and getting filthy, drinking from streams and immersing ourselves in swimming holes.

The summer of my nineteenth year I finished my seven weeks of being “counselor extraordinaire” and went home. Going home was always a downer and I moped around for about a week. No one in my hometown thought I was anything special. Younger kids passed me by without so much as a “hi.” I had to work on being “girlie” so I could go off to college and attend sorority rush.

Just as I was at my lowest point, I got a call from the preacher’s wife. Someone was not able to fulfill their counselor duties at the church camp and “would I consider taking her place for a week?” I was ecstatic. “Sure, I can do that,” I said in my casual acceptance voice.

So there I was. Camp Sumatanga was woodsy and smelled good. It had a lake for swimming and rustic cabins. But boy, was I in for a big surprise.

We were awakened early and I was used to that. But I wasn’t accustomed to sitting alone by a tree or rock and meditating for an hour. I was starving. What about breakfast? I couldn’t think to pray because of my growling stomach. I thought praying was what you did before bedtime.

We did get breakfast, but only after our private prayer time. The food was abundant and good. But I felt misplaced. I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t make much of an effort to introduce myself.

After breakfast we broke up into groups and hiked a short way into the woods. We stopped, formed a circle and held hands. Every person was supposed to pray out loud. My heart started pounding like crazy and the blood went out of my head. I felt like I was going to pass out. I had never prayed out loud and I wasn’t going to start at age nineteen at church camp. So there I was, a counselor who was supposed to be a fine spiritual example and I couldn’t open my mouth.

We had crafts for a short time and I didn’t mind that. Then there was lunch which I loved. After lunch we had Bible study. I went to church every Sunday but my mind wandered and I couldn’t tell you a single book of the Bible. I could recite the Lord’s Prayer and other ritual responses. So, I sat and once again could not participate.

At night we had church service in the large chapel with wooden beams across the ceiling. We sang all kinds of songs. Some of them were familiar to me. Some were silly and some were designed to charge our young minds with religious emotion. If I felt it, I wasn’t going to show it. Kids were crying all around me but my Camp Cottaquilla toughness hadn’t worn off yet.

We hiked up a mountain to a huge cross but we took sack lunches. Cooking over a campfire was not a part of church camp. While we sat around the cross, ate and prayed, I noticed a little boy in the distance quietly bawling his eyes out. He was skinny and gaunt looking and it was obvious something was bothering him. I don’t know why I was drawn to that kid but I got up, walked up to him and sat down. “What’s the matter, buddy?” I asked. “Nothing” was his response.

the ten year old boy finally opened up and told me that he wanted to go home. His parents had sent him off to camp while his mother gave birth to her fourth child. The obviously sheltered kid had never been away from home alone. I wasn’t enjoying myself much either and would have preferred hanging out at the local swimming pool with my hometown friends.

The week passed quickly and everyone packed up. I was sure the little skinny boy was happy and glad to see his new brother or sister. I was just glad to go and leave my fears and misplaced feelings behind.

I am sure that church camp was good for me in a lot of ways. I learned that situations aren’t always going to be like I want them to be. I learned things that I wasn’t even aware of. I know that those experiences caused me some emotional growth which I desperately needed. I was not a very mature nineteen year old.

So many years have passed since the summer of 1963. I think nothing of praying aloud in small women’s Bible study groups. All of my shyness is gone and I am over caring about what people think of me.

I finished college, endured a twenty year marriage to Mr. Wrong but had two wonderful sons who are perfect Mr. Rights.

I got married again to a younger man. I couldn’t be happier. Early in my marriage to Eddie, we got on the subject of camp. I droned on and on about how much I loved the woods and woodsmoke and hiking. He learned that my Girl Scout Camping days were some of the best of my youth.

Eddie told me that although he loved tent camping with me, he did not have a good camp experience as a child. I asked him why and he told me.

Eddie was ten years old and his parents sent him off to church camp. He emphatically did not want to go, but his sister, Amy was being born and they wanted him out of the house. Eddie said he cried the entire time.

My mouth dropped open and I was in a state of disbelief. Eddie didn’t remember me, but I remembered him. I felt that he was doomed to a life of ugliness, but he surely turned out handsome.

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Reviewed by Lois Wauson 8/3/2008

This was a great story. What a wonderful ending. I hope you are very happy now. Thanks for sharing this.
Reviewed by Jerry Engler 8/11/2007
What a nice surprise at the end. I enjoyed it...Jerry
Reviewed by Joan McLemore 2/14/2007
Hi Janet,

I loved this story! in a million? but meant to be.

Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 7/13/2006
Excellent story; very well done! :)
Reviewed by Jerry Bolton 7/11/2006
Short stories, eh? Gotta love it, especially when they are written as well as this one. Brings back memories to me also.
Reviewed by Pamela Kimmell 7/11/2006
What a great story! I have camp memories too but as a "participant" and never a counselor. I bet you were great at that......Thanks for bringing back some FUN times for me Janet!
Reviewed by Felix Perry 7/11/2006
Great story and so well done and presented.


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