The Legacy of Those Summer Nights

When I was in elementary school, my mother used to send me to Bible camp.  This was not because I liked to go.  This was because I was a loner and a daydreamer, and she thought I needed to get out more.  (Or so she says.  I still wonder about her sometimes.  Like did we really not go on vacation all those summers, or did they just wait until I was gone?)  Anyway, the first two years I was old enough, she sent me to TWO different Bible camps, and while I liked the people at the camps (really, I did!), I didn’t like camp.

For one thing, I experienced serious separation anxiety.  You can call in homesickness, but it wasn’t the house I was missing.

For another, the living conditions were not exactly homelike.  The first year I went to Good News Camp, the director was still Miss Haney.  Miss Haney was the director of Child Evangelism Fellowship for Johnson City and had been for I don’t know how long.  Before that she was a missionary to Ethiopia —  I think back when it was still called Abyssinia (and I’m not kidding).  My first year at camp was her last year before she retired.  I remember liking Miss Haney, but she had rather old fashioned ideas about how things should be done.  And they were strict ideas.  There is nothing like a tour of duty on the mission field in a third-world country to knock the nonsense out of you.

One of Miss Haney’s notions was that we should not leave our cabins after lights out.  This would have been a very reasonable rule, except that the shower house and all the toilets were located in a building separate from the cabins.  This created a certain amount of inconvenience.  Technically, all the cabins had access to indoor plumbing; it was just indoors somewhere else.  So, if you woke up in the middle of the night and had to go to the bathroom, you had to rummage in the suitcase under your bunk bed, find your flashlight, put on your sneakers and walk the little path through the woods to get to the appropriate facilities.  Admittedly, this was less than ideal.

Miss Haney, however, had a solution.  Every year, at the beginning of camp week, there was a general distribution of chamber pots to each and every cabin.  On Monday afternoon, while everyone was choosing bunks and unrolling their sleeping bags, one luckless child would be dispatched to the camp office, only to return with a large, white chamber pot.  (Decorated, I recall, with flowers painted on the side, as if this made it more attractive.) I remembered this last night while I was tossing in bed and couldn’t sleep, and I had an epiphany of sorts.  Where did she get the chamber pots?  Surely, they weren’t still manufacturing those in 1983.  And where did she store them the other 51 weeks out of the year?  The mystery deepens.

Every night, to everyone’s dismay, the chamber pot would be pulled from the corner where it lurked and placed ceremoniously in the middle of the cabin.  Of course, no one ever forgot to make a last minute trip to the bathroom before lights out, but there was something psychologically disturbing about seeing the pot put in place.  It made you feel like you might have to go all over again, and then what would you do?  Not the pot!  Would the senior counselor wake up if you sneaked out the door after all?  Would it be easier to just the wet the bed?  Was it possible to think about something else? Perhaps the purpose of the chamber pot was to insure that no child HAD to go the bathroom after lights out.  If that was the case, I believe it was a wildly successful strategy.

I believe my character was shaped by this experience.  To this day, I dislike sleeping anywhere other than my own house, unless perhaps, it is a hotel that I have personally selected.  I suppose it is not fair to blame that entirely on Miss Haney’s chamber pot.  I’m still the solitary daydreamer, and I don’t get out enough. Still, moments like those live with you.  In my case, it was convulsive laughter at two in the morning when I was trying to get to sleep last night.  Unfortunately, hysterical laughter is not a cure for insomnia.

So what about you?  Did you like summer camp when you were a child?



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