It seems that most years I have a tendency drift off into memories that were common to my high school years. With August right here in view, I recall the various camps that many of us kids were exposed to, such as church, band, football, and perhaps others. There were also those whose family or work situations prevented opportunities to enjoy those experiences. It is not to brag, but rather to remember the laughter of friends and the experience of growing up just a little that drives this thinking.
The arrival of summer reminds me of those very special times in which we bonded and grew close to each other while at summer camps. With school out, and the days so hot, life soon needed a change of climate that a camp in the mountains brought some relief. Mostly, during my teen years I had various camps I looked forward to. True, attending camp meant a trip out of my comfort zone to whichever place was holding the week-long event. While part of me counted the days for that to occur, I was also a bit anxious about the disruption from my non-routine living. Despite attending several camps over the years, I usually dreaded going even when I knew the people that would be attending with me. After all, the comfort of friends along only goes so far. I mean everyone on the Titanic had family and friends aboard, but what good did that do? I think we all had a level of fear of the unknown at first, but we also had a heartfelt disappointment when it was over.
I have read many articles where other kids growing up in the big cities would escape from summer’s heat on the concrete to the cool country-side of the mountains. They would go through the same trauma that any kid would, missing their family and usual playmates. To take their place were activities that would never have worked back home. For example, there was swimming, canoeing, and other water sports. They had archery, hayrides, horseback riding, volleyball, hiking, and loads of crafts.
A few of the camps I attended had some of these things, but usually had a large swimming pool rather than a lake. We had a tall mountain to climb and a forest ranger tower to climb that would give us a view of the mountains with heavy forests. Those brave enough to go to the top could see for miles. We had games and crafts, but also a few times when we played ‘choose-up’ softball, or some other sport. Most of the camps I attended or knew about, were church camps, band camps, and football camps. We soon enough found out we liked camp. It was an event we’d look forward to each coming year.
The first week-long camp I attended was when I was around ten years old. My church, the big Methodist Church downtown on Madison and Main Cross, joined with other churches to sponsor a Christian church camp for kids. It was held at Cabwaylingo State Park in W.Va. I don’t recall exactly how to get there, but I seem to remember that we drove through Fort Gay, and then took a road that parallels the railroad and the east side of Tug fork of the Big Sandy River. We travelled south for nearly an hour into the high, mountainous countryside.
At the church camp our pastor and a group of other clergies from up and down the Big Sandy, managed to have us kids (boys and girls) attend camp for a week for what amounted to a kind of ‘sleep-over’ Vacation Bible School. The experience exposed us to games, fun, food, bible stories, and regular evening church services. The last night a final altar call was given at the end of the evening service. Many kids prayed the prayer of salvation and encouraged others to join them. I recall a cute older couple from another community that was apparently deeply in love. They may have been at least sixteen years old. The handsome young man was struggling with the decision to accept Christ. The rest of us prayed that he would follow his sweet girlfriend in a confession of faith. Everyone was praying and giving him encouragement. Tears flowed when he finally gave his heart to the Lord. The camp went wild with joy! Prayers were answered that night and the young man was saved.
Not all camps I attended were church camps. Our school system used the venue to prepare band members and football players for the upcoming new school year. Students who played sports or played in the band would learn their formations and bond with each other in the process. Camp Cabwaylingo was the perfect fit.
I remember we had a tough schedule that filled most of our day/evenings. After breakfast we would have marching practice on the big field between the barracks complex and the swimming pool. Later, we met in the mess hall annex for concert band practice. This enabled us to work on serious music while the other helped us practice marching and playing parade music. Hard work was experienced by various groups, such as a wind ensemble, or persons that wanted a little extra instruction in this or that. The marching band played the National Anthem and the old LHS fight song and committed them to memory. We practiced Souza marches, and took what seemed like hours of marching practice. The army had nothing on us. Batons twirled and knees were lifted as we paraded around the large drill field.
I cannot forget one year when some of us guys were playing a fast game of touch football. As it happened, a fellow and I hit heads at top speed. (Can’t tell you who the other guy was, but his initials are Herb Rice) For me, everything suddenly went black. I had been knocked out. Still unconscious, I was carried to my bed where they applied wet wash cloths. Someone used smelling salts from an emergency kit that finally brought me to consciousness. Others, arriving late, brought some ice from the kitchen. There was a crowd of kids looking down at me as I laid there. Maybe they thought I was going to die. As I began to feel a little better some friends showed me my swollen image in a mirror. I was beyond recognition. As the swelling went down and I felt more normal, I became proud of my war wounds. Knowing what I know now, I suspect it likely that I suffered a concussion, but in those days who knew?
I remember another dangerous game a few of us played one time. Those who did not go to the pool for a cold swim, gathered on the parade/practice field. This remnant stayed behind and joined in a fun fight to the finish. Each boy put a girl on his shoulders and stood up lifting the girl high. The boy held her legs to protect her from falling while the girl grasped the boy’s head for security. Then the battle began. The boys galloped around the field as if they were horses while the girls hung on to the boy’s heads for dear life. Then, the girls riding their trusted steeds pushed and pulled the other girls in hope of making them lose balance and fall. We learned this game at the pool but the life guards there wouldn’t allow it on their ‘turf.’ Actually, the water would have made for a softer landing. I remember that once or twice as many as six couples at a time tried to ‘de-horse’ other riders. A small crowd watched, perhaps holding back out of shyness or maybe being smarter than the rest of us. It’s a wonder that no one was hurt.
We played other games like horseshoes, badminton, and softball, too. Chaperones were usually about and sometimes joined in the games. With a little spare time on our hands some went for walks or explored the banks of the little creek that ran nearby. We had to cross over that creek in one spot to go to the pool. It was at the crossover that the WVA Forest Service had put in a water fountain. Yuck! The water had more than its share of sulfur that made my teeth feel nasty. I literally thought they would turn green. No thank you. I would take my drinking water from the camp spigots. Good water was available at the dining hall and in the respective bathrooms in each barrack. While it still had a slight touch of sulfur, it was nothing like the awful elixir from the water-fountain.
Except for the pictures I saw later in the school annual, The Scarlack, I have no idea what went on in the girl’s dorm, night or day. The girls put up heavy curtains, but one or two would teasingly pull one slightly askew if they thought boys might be looking that way. From some of the published snapshots, I know that some (Kay Varney, (later Maynard), Claudia Wilson, and others went around spraying shaving cream on each other, including the band director and chaperones. I could easily deduce that some of the girls had nightly pillow fights. At least once a pillow was broken open and feathers flew about. We could hear the girl’s laughter and screams until finally the band director, Pete Armstrong, went through with a big flashlight to quiet them down. He always shouted, “Man on the floor,” as a warning before he dared enter that open-bay barrack. My classmate, Betty Hager Cooke told me on a recent visit that the director got a big surprise one night when one of the girls was in her pajamas swinging on the open rafters. As fate would have it she didn’t see him and ‘bam’ they collided! If anyone could handle such a delicate situation it was him, so all survived the incident without harm.
The boys had pillow fights, too, and may have tossed a kid or two into a cold shower while they were still dressed. No intent on picking on anyone or bullying, we were quick to hand the victims towels and join us to wet down the next guy. All throughout the week we posed for pictures for those smart enough to bring cameras. I have one favorite snapshot taken there that was given to me a few years ago by Joan Carol. The shot was taken from the doorway of the girl’s barracks of the two of us standing in front of the camp flag pole. You will see how pitifully skinny I was at the time. Joan looks good, but she always did.
The boy’s and girl’s barracks faced each other with the dining hall located at the center, making a ‘U’ shape. The dining hall included a side room where the concert band could set up and practice. At night, movies were played in the main dining hall once the dishes were done and the tables cleaned. Many times, we would see a musical that was full of rich, spirit-encompassing melodies. To our surprise, the next morning we’d find the sheet music for those same songs on our stands. It turned out that the selection of the movie was to introduce the music we’d soon be playing! I remember Brigadoon, South Pacific, and some other great movies of the day. I’m sure fellow band-members will remember more. This approach gave everyone great enthusiasm to learn and play the tunes that were still ringing in their minds from the movie seen the night before.
Nature, being what it is, led to many individuals pairing off in couples during these camps. They sometimes agreed to meet up and sit together to watch the evening movie. Sitting in the dark, we were watched closely by roving chaperones that assured our behavior was suitable, though I know that some couples found ways to avoid detection of minor breaches of conduct. I know more than one kiss was stolen on those special warm evenings, especially when the boy would walk the girl to her dorm. We didn’t get away with much, or at least not that I knew about. Later, after growing older and having kids of my own, I found out how hard being a chaperone can be. Teens have lots of energy and lots of good imaginations, like a good challenge, and have tons of hormones. That’s a recipe for disaster. It was tough for the chaperones, but it was every bit as tough for those trying to circumvent camp rules.
Cabwaylingo was also the venue for the LHS Football camp. It was there that the coaches taught the plays that would be used in the upcoming season. The team would learn or relearn the basics of the game such as tackling and blocking. While I wasn’t on the team (I always wanted to be) I helped Superintendent Bill Cheek transport and unload groceries from his red jeep, to the mess hall. The groceries were soon consumed by the hungry team, the coaches and staff. I remember eating the wonderful cobblers the cooks put together in those large, deep stainless steel pans. Man! That was good! A couple of band members also played football, so they were in band camp for a week then spent the next week at camp for football. It was a major deal to get to do both, and it didn’t happen without personal risk and sacrifice. With the warring factions between band directors and coaches, it wasn’t worth the fight for me, but a couple of my friends survived to do both.
During my senior year I was lucky enough to be selected to attend a state band camp at Morehead State College. The boys slept on beds assembled in the hallways of the (then) new gym. We practiced on the lawn in front of the music building in chairs, and stands, set out in concert style. With the top musicians from all around the state we had an outstanding band. We played some terrific music that we otherwise would not likely have ever experienced. I recall one number we learned was from Jacques Offenbach’s Ballet. One movement from that piece is known by most people as the ‘Cancan’ that was used in Paris or New York by naughty, high-kicking dancing girls in ruffled dresses. By playing this vigorously and enthusiastically, I met my temporary ruin. I blew out a filling on a front tooth so I had to quickly find a dentist in Morehead. This was before anyone had dental insurance, so finding a dentist that took credit was only accomplished after considerable worry. Finally, that was taken care of and I rejoined the band.
While at Morehead, I got to see my first college football game. The crowd was much larger than the ones I was used to at LHS. Also, the game was held during daylight hours, which was a new thing to me, also. I have no clue whether Morehead won, or lost, or even who they were playing. Memory has a habit of hiding details stored for so many years. I do remember that the girl cheerleaders were cute. I was told later by a girl that the boy cheerleaders looked good, too. Boys? Well, apparently, she saw something I didn’t even notice.
During our stay at the Morehead band camp some of us boys had a brilliant idea of a trick we’d play on one of our favorite counselors. It involved disassembling our beds that had been set up in the outer-hallways of the new basketball gym. We then moved the counselor’s little sports car into the building. (I can’t be sure if it was a Renault, or a MG, or maybe an Austin Healy) We were able to roll it except for the front steps. We had to gather enough lifting power to make it work. It took maybe 8-10 good sized boys. After we got the little car in our sleeping area, which was well down the hall, we put the beds back together so the car couldn’t be easily gotten out. The counselor was upset that someone had stolen his car, but once he finally found it inside the building he saw the humor in it. It may have been relief that it wasn’t stolen. Some kids took lots of pictures of the weird sight, but I guess those were lost over time. We helped him get the car out. It was the least we could do.
I’m certain that many readers, whether at one of the camps mentioned, or others, will recall getting away from home and experiencing dormitory life with friends. Water-fights, whipped cream anointments, water balloons, sharing different kinds of foods (often tasty, sometimes not), falling in love, and other precious memories come to our minds through the fog of time.
As I mentioned earlier, I never went to a camp that I didn’t have anxiety in the beginning and a heavy, sad feeling when it was over. Saying goodbye to friends, or just having to go back to life’s routines had to be faced. The fun would be missed, but that’s life. Ups and downs are the very substance that make up the richness of life. For kids, camps are often both a blessing and a curse, but they can play an important role in our growing up. Besides, they make great memories!