Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Having a Bath With God

The summer I turned 18 I was a counselor at a summer camp for girls. I know this doesn't really seem like something I would do, but I was totally into it. I had gone to this particular camp every year from the time I was about 8 until I was 14. I loved it. Every summer during those years I felt a sense of homecoming.

Living in the middle of nowhere, you might wonder where exactly I went to camp. Truth be told, this place was farther out than even the place I live. There was literally nothing for miles and miles. I remember, now, that summer I was a counselor, driving there and wondering how the hell I ever had the patience for a bus ride there as a child. it seemed I spent countless hours and miles driving winding backroads and climbing hills in my old Cutlass.

I remeber clearly though the sense of anticipation I felt as the trees grew more dense and the road began to climb. The camp I went to The Hill, was aptly named. Honestly, they could have called it The Bluff because for all intents and purposes that was where it was situated.

When you reached the crest of the hill there was a flat plain, lined with trees, some of which you could tell had been thinned out for the purposes of safety. As I drove past all the places I remembered as a child, I felt a sense of nostalgia. Despite the fact that staff parking was about two miles from anything (indeed, I never remembered seeing a car when I was a camper there) I didn't really mind the walk. Of course, this was a time when I was trying to run more, trying to be more healthy. It was one of those brief periods where I had quit smoking. I remember it was just before I came out, it was as I was trying to find myself. Going back to this place seemed like it would help.

I walked the long path back and saw all of the things I had seen before, only they seemed smaller. The archery fields not so expansive. The horses in their pen seemed smaller than before, though of course horses are always huge. They weren't nearly as frightening. The spring fed pool was not a big either, although still massive. If I recall right it could accomodate almost 100 swimmers comfortably, and that's a big pool. I smiled at the nature and craft classrooms, in old cabin-like buildings.

I probably shouldn't have been smiling. I was carrying a shitload of luggage. Now, before you laugh, I was not just carrying my clothes for the week I was there. I managed to cram all of that in a single duffle bag. I'm a firm believer in packing light when you're going to be out in nature. I had a few pairs of shorts, some t-shirts, a few peasant skirts for cooler evenings. There were a ton of bandanas, because those are useful for a lot of things, my swimsuit, my socks and sneakers, because you wear those everywhere. I think I even managed to cram in a pair of jeans for hiking, although I remember distinctly that I wore shorts, and got ate up by bugs.

No, I had other things. I had little boxes I had made for all of my campers. They had things like name tags, matching bandanas (hey- it helped me keep track of them in the masses of little girls) journals for them to write in, postcards for them to send their family. I also had a bag full of snacks. I know, I know, there was a canteen, but you normally didn't get anything good with your credits, and I never had extra money as a kid. I figured my girls might have the same problem, so I brought them some of my favorites from when I was a camper (Air Head taffy, Pixie Sticks, stuff like that) and let them save their credits for the ice cream. I also had air fresheners and first aid stuff, because the cabins always smell weird and honestly, I'm proficient enough in first aid that I could help with the minor stuff. I remember one year when Iw as a kid there was a girl in my cabin clumsier than me. We spent half of camp in the infirmary getting her fixed up, because we couldn't be away from our counselor. What a drag. No, first aid kits were necessary if anyone was going to have fun.

Plus there was my bedroll. I only brought a sleeping bag and a pillow, like most of the campers. I always hated counselors that needed to bring quilts and crap like that. If the kiddos only get boring bedroll, so do I. Not to mention those cabins got so hot, it was like sleeping in a sauna most nights. Who needs blankets. I was pissed I had to wear pajamas. Who needed blankets?

The cabins, such as they were, weren't really cabins. I mean, there were a few of those, but only the older girls got them. I got to stay inone once. We called it the Taj Mahal because it had its own bathroom and showers. The other cabins, such as they were, was actually more like one huge longhouse divided by a hallway. There were rooms, with curtains over the doorways, to mark off what "cabin' was what. At the center of the longhouse was a set of bathrooms on either side with those huge showers like they had in my high school, where you could shower with a partner, one of you washed while the other wrapped up in a towel and changed, then you dried off while they showered.

so kind of like this rooms: ===== [bathrooms] ======= more rooms

So my cabin for my girls was about halfway down on the right side of the diagram. We were ont he right side of the hall. There were ten bunks crammed into the space. No windows (seriously, who needs blankets?) They were old iron bunks. They were tall. And not just for a kiddo. They were tall to me too. And they had no ladders. Well, they were on the end, but you couldn't reach them because of the way they had crammed all of them together. They made a big "U" shape and the end bunks were the ones you could use the ladders on.

I threw all my stuff on the floor and threw my roll on the bed. I was so excited. There was one little shelf that lined the wall not covered in bunk beds. I placed all the little boxes on it. I set next to it little rubber ducks with their names on it. Then our table topper, another little rubber duck, sat beside it before they took it with us to pick our first spot in the dining hall.

Then I went to go meet my girls. I had ten girls, all ten years old. Oh. My. God. they were a handfull.

I can honestly say, I had a lot more respect for my former counselors after the first day. How inheaven's name do you keep track of that many headstrong girls and not loose your mind?

Turns out, I'm a big fan of lovingly enforcing rules, and creative forms of punishment.

The first night was an utter disaster. Part of it was because we had last shower. I am, to this day, a quick shower because of this camp. Remember I mentioned those group shower things? Imagine trying to get 500 girls plus showered every single day. The sheer mechanics of it is mind boggling, especially if you take into account you only shower either at morning or at night. This means that in the course of any given morning or evening you have about 250 girls needing to shower. That's not even counting the counselors, who unfortuately, have to use the same showering system. Only earlier. Or later. Those bathrooms only had about 15 showers. They weren't that big. So you had to do the buddy system. And you got 3 minutes. Three. Total. To wash everywhere you needed to. Then someone shut off the water with a switch located in the bathroom.

I've mastered the art. I learned my first year what it was like to have to rinse my waist length hair out in the sink while some girl was brushing her teeth next to me because I took my sweet time soaping up. And forget conditioner. That was out of the question. (also, if you ask me, that fruity smelling stuff only attracts bees)

My girls were the girly type. The really girly type. I mean, I get shy, but I don't think that it was necessary for all ten of them to make a pact to let everyone else go first so they could all have thier own shower stall to themselves. I also had to explain no, that didn't mean they got six minutes either. Three. Like the rest of us. Like me. Because the counselors, like everyone else, got three minutes. I think maybe there was also some water conservation going on there.

Anyway, after I talked tehm back out of the shower stalls, and then talked them into their pajamas without face cream and makeup (before bed???) I convinced them best I could they didn't need straighteners or curling irons, I would let them get up early enough to make themselves presentable. I had to get ready too...

When I finally got them corralled into the bunks it was almost lights out. (ten o'clock. Way too late for them, if you ask me) I swear to you, by everything holy, it was like a game of Donky Kong in that cabin. They were up and down those rickety ladders faster than lightnening, shooting across the the bunks like deranged monkeys, before either turning back or heading down another ladder to make a trip across the bottom bunks, and then up and across again. They finally passed out around 2, which was way too late for my tastes, because I had to make sure they weren't dong anything stupid, so I was awake. I had to get up at five.

Well, I had to get up at 6, because breakfast was at seven. But remember how I said I was taking care of myself? I wanted to go for a run to the spring at the bottom of The Hill and that would take a good half hour or so, plus coming back, plus I was planning on getting in that nice cold 60 degree water. I had already made an agreement with the counselor across the hall Addidas. She was going to be up anyway because she was a groomer, so she promised to look in on my girls until I got back.

The run was amazing, the spring water perfect- although I could have lived without the crawdads. I felt completely refreshed when I returned to my sleepy girls. I had to herd them out of bed, of course, and then get them to move it towards breakfast. I was starving, and didn't really want to be last in line. First morning is always french toast. I LOVE french toast. No go- we were last in line, which means there was absolutely no time for seconds before we headed off for a non-stop day of nature lectures, craft classes, archery lessons, horseback riding and time in the pool.

Now, this might sound like a vacation to most people. And it would be, if I were the one doing it. Except I was busy keeping them out of beehives, poison ivy and from under the feet of the horses. I was watching them while they swam. I was applying sunblock and aloe. I was picking glue out of people's hair and rebraiding and brushing. I was calming frightened girls who didn't know how to ride a horse and were afraid of walking in the woods. I was pulling out ticks and doing all those things that camp counselors do. Let me tell you, its not a vacation.

By the time showers s and bedtime rolled around the second evenign I was tired as hell. When the donky kong began again, I about lost it. I couldn't handle another night of no sleep. I told them, in no uncertain terms, that I was going to get sleep that night, and so were they. I didn't want to have to wrestle them out of their beds in the morining. So, I gave them five minutes to get it out of their systems. After that, I told them, they got one warning, and then they were going to have to get up with me and go running in the morning if they couldn't be quiet.

They settled in. And then they started chattering. And I warned them. And then one of my girls, just one, said "You can't make me"

That's about hte last thing you ever want to say to me. Especially if I am in a postion of authority over you.

I told her to plan on getting up with me in the morning. She whined, and another girl said "She won't really make you."

I told her she could join us.

Idon't think they believed me until 6am rolled around and I actually made them get out of bed and put on their shoes. They definately slowed me down. They were tired. Hell, so was I. I didn't really feel like running. But, a promise is a promise.

They were delighted, though, when we got to the spring and I told them they could get in with me if they wanted, if they promised to be careful. They really seemed to enjoy themselves. One of them actually commented how I looked more peaceful after the swim. I tried to explain to them that I felt more in touch with god, with the earth, when I was swimming all alone in the creek.

Two days later all of my girls and several from other cabins were coming with me in the morning. The other cabin girls were being punished for staying up late. I loved it that night when Addidas crept up to my shower stall while I was drying off and went "Psst- Alecya....I told my girls if they didn't go to sleep tonight I was making them go running with you tomorrow. Is that okay? Oh- and sing that good morning song. Its cute- and it annoys the hell out of the kids." I laughed so hard I almost slipped in the shower. Turns out I had become the big threat in camp. Don't sleep? You have to go run with Alecya. I had some seriously unhappy teenagers with me a couple of times. My girls seemed to think it was a priveledge. After the first morning I also never sang the good morning song by myself. My girls sang it so loudly, so raucously, that you would have thought we were in a bar. I never had another sleepless night, I'll tell you that.

Although, I will admit, I had a hard time explaining to the other counselors when my girls tried to tell them that in the morning we got up to go take a bath with god. That was the easiest way for them to explain it. I wanted to die of embarassment Addidas asked me to explain how the hell you had a bath with Jesus every morning. To me, it sounded weird as hell. Apparently, I wasn't the only one. But the girls got the idea, and I liked that some of them used time at the spring as a sort of reflection time. (although I did get slightly peeved when we had to run back double time to retrieve a left behind journal)

It wasn't all rosy. There was one day I woke up itching and had to turn the girls over to Addidas while I went to the infirmary. I'm not allergic to poison ivy (of all ironies) so I knew somthing was wrong. Turns out, I had been bitten by a poisonous spider. A baby one, thank god, or I would have had to leave for the hospital, but a poisonous one nonetheless. When I finsihed getting treated I went back to the cabin. There was an entire nest under my bunk. I don't know if I've mentioned it to you, but I really, really don't like spiders. The fact that I had to puto n a brave face and help them get all their stuff out of the cabin while hey fumigated it tells you how tough I was trying to be.

Tell you a secret? I went back to the infirmary, under the auspices of gettng more tylenol, and shut myself in a room and cried for about half an hour. I am such a spinless baby when it comes to spiders. But man, I toughed it out for those girls. They will never know how brave I was for them. They thought I was superwoman.

I actually got really attched to those girls. It was fun to watch them blossom once they got used to eachother. None of them had met before they got into our cabin, but they all cried when it was time to go home.

You should have seen them together when they went on their float. A few of them were terrified. Don't you know it, th ebraver ones took them into their canoes, promised not to tip. They actually landed me in a canoe with Addidas, because her girls were so close too. None of them wanted us. They wanted each other. When Addidas and I made snide remarks about the alligators we saw on the float (that's old bits of tires to you folk who don't canoe) the girls nodded sagely and shook their heads. "We have to love the earth," one said. "How can people be so dumb?" This sparked a debate amongst the girls as to who might have put tire strips in the water. I almost fell out of the canoe trying not to laugh.

Tell you the truth, by the time it was all over, I really didn't want them to go. I didn't want to go.

Sometimes, I will wake up on a summer morning and want to go running. Soemtimes, when I am at a spring, I can hear the sound of them laughing, an dI think about how much fun I had. Sometimes I think of how I might have gone back, had things been different. Alas, they never are.

The smell of the dew, the smell of fresh earth in the morning, it always brings that summer back to me. I can hear myself calling, "Girls..." and them answering me back "we know, we know- book it, we're late for class"

I was cleaning out my storage unit about a year ago, and you know...I found one of those little ruber ducks. It almost made me sad.

Now that summer has arrived agin, I think about it.

I hoe my recollections amused you.

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