The following story sums up my feelings about the pre-teen church camp experience.
This is a fictional account conveying one person’s personal perspective, opinion, and feelings.
Just thought I’d throw that out there in case anyone thinks this is irreverent.
Because it’s not.
There’s a Part II follow up to this that is much more sacrilegious. Or will be just as soon as I write it.
I remember watching the fire burn and wondering where the idea that flames “dance” originated. The flares jiggled and squirmed their way upward to nowhere then monotonously repeated.
Maybe people were thinking of a ballet. A ballet on the brink of being out of control. Beautiful and entrancing, but a mess if not properly conducted.
The fire glowed in the faces of my fellow tweens* surrounding the campfire all equally entranced by the flame’s pliés. I shifted on the cold rock, rested my chin in my hand, and tried not to yawn.
We sat listening and waiting our turn to partake in the ritual of “bearing testimony”. A practice that began at a young age in a church where we were taught to repeat mantras, like any good religion. We were instructed to recite that we followed the church’s teachings, adored each other, and that we “knew the church was true” on a habitually regular basis.
We were basically taught to lie.
This ritual was not made any more pleasant by the setting. If anything, the droning of pubescent voices combined by the hypnotic pyre was making these bearings almost completely unbearable.
I shifted again on the rock and felt myself start to drift. I blinked widely and hid a yawn with the back of my hand. I looked down at the dirt and stepped on bug of unknown species with my Keds before it had the chance to attack first. A reminder of how much I disliked the outdoors.
The girls camp misery continued with one camper after another professing their version of the falsehoods and throwing in tears for good measure.
“…and I am thankful for my parents and for all of you and I know this church is true. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
I looked at my tent mate and new BFF*, Becky, as she retook her rock next to mine. Just a few hours earlier she had told me how much she hated her mother and absolutely could not stand that stuck up girl from the 10th Ward.
Tear-filled, she dabbed her eyes and then her nose on her sleeve. Gross. I reminded myself not to let her borrow another sweat shirt. Then I remembered that she was already wearing my last clean one.
In the silence of my mental note, I realized it had grown silent. I looked around at the expectant faces informing me it was my turn. I hesitated then inhaled. Thankfully, another more brave soul stood up to volunteer in my place.
I exhaled and openly yawned this time not caring to hide my sleepiness or my relief. I moved to the picnic bench to find a more comfortable spot to live out this torture.
I thought of my warm bed at home. I thought of eating from a microwave. I thought of the conversation the week before with my parents when I had argued that modern people didn’t need to camp to know that biblical people camped.
“I know that the Book of Mormon is true…”
The ritual continued. Did the figures of the Book of Mormon even camp? Probably not. They just “walked, and walked, and walked…“ I guess that was kind of like camp.
I looked at the crying mass of young women around the fire and rolled my eyes. Tomorrow wouldn’t bring any relief from the ridiculousness either. It would be another day of singing catchy songs to the point of nausea, walking in circles on nature hikes, punctuated by the bandaging of pretend wounds and all for some flimsy badges.
Maybe I could chance climbing back down the mountain on foot.
“…and I just want to say thanks to all of you for being so nice this week. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” One more fellow Merry Maid camper had just finished up between sniffles.
Oh, for Christ’s sake, I thought blasphemously. I never wanted to be Jewish more.
I looked up at the night sky. Was that a rain drop? I grunted and pulled up at the collar on my jean jacket and laid down on my side. The bench squeaked in agreement with my discontent. Another small splash hit my cheek as the smell of old cedar filled my nostrils.
I pulled my knees up into fetal position and prayed for the first time since I’d arrived—for a flood.
My eyes focused once again on the flames as the next more pious-than-thou-camper took her turn. I rolled my eyes again mostly to try and keep them open. As the next girl droned on I lost the battle and dozed off.
I woke up to the polite applaud of yet another girl returning to her rock, red cheeks glowing in the glory of God—or maybe it was the cold, which was now down right brisk.
The sprinkles had stopped. Convinced that the God I grew up with was obviously not going to be sympathetic, I prayed to Allah, Buddha, and in the name of Jehovah for a monsoon.
I turned my attention back to the fire again as the next petite, soft spoken, “oh my gosh” girl began her woeful journey. The flames continued to twirl gracefully upward.
I awoke to a violent shove from my tent mate, who I assumed was no longer my bestie.* Becky was still dabbing her face from all the empathetic crying, with a tissue, for which I truly was thankful. And I hadn’t even thought to include that in my prayers.
“You’re the only one who didn’t bear your testimony,” she hissed under her breath as if no one else could hear. Or, more likely, so everyone could hear.
I wearily sat up and yawned wide. I stretched my arms behind my head and stood. A gaggle of disapproving frowns greeted me as we disbanded to finally head for the warm-ish comfort of our tents.
And then it began to rain. Thanks for nothing, I thought glancing up ruefully.
“And you were SNORING,” Becky called over her shoulder as she ran with the other girls in the drizzle.
I heard one or two–or twelve–utterances of “oh my gosh” and “goodness sakes” between whispers and giggles.
Becky stood at the tent entrance with her arms indignantly folded in the manner that we were taught as young children in primary school. The sleeves of my over-sized, and now mucus-filled, sweatshirt hung loosely on her small frame giving her a much larger and more menacing silhouette in the darkness.
I sighed and slowly trudged my way, cursing the growing number of droplets for their frigid onslaught and obvious tardiness. As I moved the tent flap, it fluttered out of my hand and caught my cheek. I cursed, much to Becky’s dismay.
Becky anxiously stepped forward and encouraged me go inside raising her voice over the noisy wind. After four days she still couldn’t figure out how to turn on the lamp that hung inside. I snickered at her earlier insistence that she wasn’t afraid of the dark.
I took once last look back at the only welcoming part of the outdoor experience. The fire was slowly being doused by Mother Nature. (Oh, THAT is who I should’ve prayed too!) We both stared a moment past the droplets at the dying flames.
Then Becky’s frightened scream pierced the growing storm.
The sputtering flames of the campfire had not yet finished their performance. With one graceful movement, a branch from the smoldering pile reached up and grasped the corner of the picnic table cloth. The thin cloth quickly lit up the darkness. A last turn on the stage.
I looked for our camp leaders. They were at the other end of the camp where they had been attempting to encourage the loudest of the bunch to turn in. I was closer.
Before I could think, I was running, unsure of what I would do next. I slipped and fell face first into the newly forming dirt slush with my jacket taking on most of the damage. The soft ground gave way to my knees as I unbuttoned the mud-soaked jacket with chilled fingers and rose to my feet to try again.
I swung my jacket by the sleeves like a ball-and-chain flail and nearly fell over the picnic table bench as I approached at a half run, sliding again in the muck.
I hurled the heavy mud-soaked cloth again with less bludgeoning flourish this time. As the flames finished their pirouettes, I was able to get closer and repeat the move. I adjusted the technique again for even less fanfare—something more akin to an elderly woman swatting at a mouse with a limp broom.
With a few more swipes the table cloth gave one last pas de basque then succumbed to the growing downpour of rain and my (now) slightly charred jacket.
I stared at the steaming tabletop and dared it to come to life again as the wind threatened to offer an encore. My plaid shirt stuck to my chest and moved up and down with my adrenalized breathing.
The camp counselors had reached the scene with most of the girls in tow. The rain stopped as suddenly as it had begun, as if its work was done. I momentarily considered what deity to thank for not burning down the campground unaware of the bigger miracle that was about to take place.
Cheers accompanied the genuine applause behind me. Becky rushed forward to hug me. The previously disapproving faces were beaming, still annoyingly giddy and all happy like, but at least welcoming. For once I didn’t mind the “oh my” phrases that ensued.
One of the leaders patted me on the back and asked to see my hands to make sure they were okay. I looked down to check for myself not knowing. My jacket dangled triumphantly from my clutched hand. I allowed myself to smile, even laugh with them.
After it was certain that the ballet would not make a curtain call, we headed once again for our tents. I turned on the lamp in ours, much to Becky’s relief.
“Thank you for letting me use your sweat shirt,” she said handing it to me.
“You can keep it. It looks better on you anyway,” I lied.**
From the warmth of my sleeping bag, I tucked my arms contentedly under my head and listened to the sound of my tent mate snoring. Loudly. The smell of smoke and cedar still pleasantly circled in the damp air.
As the stars peeked through the dissipating clouds in the plastic window above me, I thanked the universe as a whole. Just in case.
Then it started. I audibly groaned and threw a pillow over my head in an attempt to drown It out. It started in the next tent over and slowly gained momentum…
The Lord said to Noah, “There’s gonna be a floody, floody.”
Lord said to Noah, “There’s gonna be a floody, floody.”
“Get those children [clap] out of the muddy, muddy!”
Children of the Lord…
The camp leaders were apparently too exhausted to care about a little late night singing. I still had two more days of this to endure. Two more days.
I pulled the pillow tighter and rolled over. I finally managed to drift off to sleep counting sheep…and elephants and giraffes and zebras…
*Technically, the terms, “tween”, “BFF” (Best Friends Forever), and “bestie” didn’t exist back then when this fiction took place. Poetic license.
**It’s been documented that a white lie is NOT the same as a blatant lie or a hypocritical lie. That may even be in scripture somewhere, but don’t quote me.