I watched the little ones race out the door for the vans and five fun days of camp, after I did my nurse duties of checking heads for lice(there were none!)
My camp experience began even before my first day when I was a kid. We had camp Sunday at our local camp near Elmelton, PA. The singing and sermon were under trees with potluck dinner afterwards and tours of the camp. Such happy days that I could not wait until I was old enough to go to camp.
My parents drove me on a Sunday afternoon, after church and a quick lunch. A forty-five minute drive on the interstate lasted forever. Registration over,into the woods with rocks bigger than my dad jutting out of the ground. Sunlight filtering through the green mass of leaves. Our destination is a small house size three sided cabin with a large canvas flap over the front. I rolled out the sleeping bag, meeting the girls in my cabin. Mom and Dad exit, enjoying a quiet ride home through the foothills of the Alleghenies.
Seldom did I know anyone. They are all from western Pennsylvania. The grouping is a boys' cabin and a girls' cabin with a young man and lady as counselors. We are a family for a week.
Sunday evening dinner served family style, as they all are. We hiked to Chapel Rock for evening vespers. Chapel Rock is twenty or thirty feet high behind the wooden half-logs that serve as pews in this secluded worshiping place. I love the songs, they are different than what we sing at church, although the doxology is included. The many groups, new families, follow the path back to our cabins, and we have a campfire. Prayers are said and we go to bed in some of the darkest dark I've ever experienced, but I'm not afraid, I'm excited!
The first year on Monday morning, I have to take the swimming test. The mountain nights are cold and the water feels colder. I'm expected to swim across the pool and back if I want to be in the deep end. This is a big deal for a kid, to have the privilege of swimming in that end of the pool. I pass. I've been swimming since I was three, so six years later, I should be able to pass, but still jitters invaded my stomach.
Our days are filled with a big breakfast at the dining hall, clean up at the campsite, morning devotionals, don't forget your Bible. We sing and learn. Hikes, crafts, swimming, soft ball games fill up the daylight. FOB- flat on back or flat on bunk after lunch at the campsite, where the time is to rest, but we write postcards, read or talk quietly. We never sleep, but sometimes the counselor does. It seems interminable.
One day we hike all day with a packed lunch to the creek that flows into the Allegheny River. It reminded me of a Lassie TV show- in the beginning as they show the mountains and clear blue sky of California. The creek has a spot deep enough to swim and jump off one of those boulders.
Dinner, family style again at the dining hall, singing with a woman playing a guitar, some great songs again. Then we wind our way to Chapel Rock for vespers, sunlight again streaming through the trees. Except for when we are in the field, it never feels hot and I always went in the hottest part of summer.
Sometimes, a summer storm blows up, but I was never evacuated. We had one night during the week we slept under the stars in my years in various places. Once by the creek,when it did rain. We scrambled under the picnic shelter. Another time on Chimney Rock, a rock with a dark hole to skid down from the top to the bottom. We never slept in Ice Cave, but that was a delight, too.
Friday evening is full of tears. We have bonded. Many have made their first decisions to follow Jesus or to follow Him closer. Before the internet, we depended on letters. The girls were prompt at writing. Only my last year there did I keep up letter writing with two boys, they were brothers, one was my sweetie and the other my boyfriend. I also wrote to their sister. Their father was the minister of the week that week, bringing the whole church with them. I loved them all. We all wrote often. A few of the girls I got to see again at a local football game in the fall. I'm envious when I think what we could do now with all this technology.
The last morning of one year, we had communion at daybreak by the pond in the open field. Bleary eyed, bed hair,sweatshirt clad, we break the loaf and share the grape juice.
Saturday morning, one year, the girl counselor sang Leaving on a Jet Plane, making up words about camp,"All the bags are packed, they're ready to go, Moms and Dads are blowing their horns..."
The first year after my stuff is in the car, I show Mom and Dad as much as I can. I don't want the magic to end. As soon as I'm in the car, it's over. I can sing the songs and tell the stories, but Westminster Highlands is gone until the next year.
Chris Rice sings a song about his childhood summers, his cathedral. Chapel Rock, the creek, the boulders and even the black snakes, but mostly the people, are my cathedral.