Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Vespers

When I was 10 & 11 years old I attended a co-ed summer camp in Laurel Hill, North Carolina called Camp Monroe & made two long term pen pal friends, Anna & Beth. Even as I moved around the country from Virginia to Michigan to Texas, those two gals kept in touch, sending updated photos & hand-written letters that I cannot bear to throw into the garbage to this day! Then I went to Camp Massanetta (also co-ed): for one summer , because my friend, Lori, was going there. I don't remember whom I recently told about a gross experience I had at that camp--when the boys' cabin & the girls' cabin took a co-ed late-night sleepover in tents (instead of cabins), roasted marshmallows, told ghost stories & got a demonstration from our male & female counselors on "French Kissing" when she melted chocolate on her tongue & he licked it off!! Ewwwww! Even as a 36 year old woman I am astounded that I was exposed to that by counselors entrusted to my care--but oh! What a 12-year-old sees today is so far beyond my little gross out of 1982!

Both camps had a religious history, and we shared prayers & learned about God. But it was my two years at Camp Fern in Marshall, Texas, that really changed me. I experienced so much pure, unadulterated FUN, laughter and joy. I had FIVE total weeks each summer with girlfriends, crafts, a big beautiful lake, fun counselors, silly songs, and vespers.

Vespers--Camp Fern had a beautiful little carved out chapel outdoors. There was a simple cross that stood high in the front, a small altar, and wooden benches for all of us to share in a semi circle downhill facing whomever was called on to speak that night. We were surrounded by trees on all sides with Lake Margaret visible past the cross. We sang thoughtful, sweet, holy songs, and sometimes even swayed with our arms around each other. Camp was heaven on earth.

Occasionally my mom would send a huge box of contraband--homemade cookies! And I'd share them with my bunkmates as we all sat around on our HUGE trunks at the ends of our beds. We got to paint on the walls & leave our indelible mark with our signatures & the dates of our having been there. I was in Twin Oaks cabin & then Nola cabin (the oldest cabin before a girl could come back as a jr. counselor, then as a counselor). I was an Owaisso in the wargames between the two tribes in camp (my sister was Bena). I was awesome at War Canoe & Slolam water skiing (suh-weet!), and loved horseback lessons & skeet shooting. I even earned a Sharpshooter in rifelry & a Bowman 1st class in archery.

We were athletic, tan, & young! It was a differnt era just twenty years ago. Here are a couple examples of Fernie "peer pressure." If you arrived late to a meal you'd be bombarded with this loud out-of-tune song (often from all of the girls at once--not just your cabin's table):

"You've been primping, you've been primping
Now you're late! Now you're late!
Start a little earlier, start a little earlier,
We won't wait, We won't wait!"

And they DIDN'T! If you missed Grace, then you were lucky there was food on your plate! Also, good table manners were a value, so you might get caught & chided with this little ditty:

"(name), (name) if you're able
Get your elbows off the table
This is not a horse's stable
This is Camp Fern's dining table"

But one of my favorite silly songs (I still find myself singing it for no reason at all except nostalgia) was:
"Girls, girls, girls, that's all I see.
There's not a guy in the vicinity.
And every night at eleven they bar the doors
I don't know what the heck I ever came here for
And when the fifth week finally rolls around
I'm gonna turn my hometown upsidedown
I'm gonna find my guy & neck and neck & neck and neck,
To heck wtih all these girls!!"

Five weeks could be a long time, even though it rushed by. We used to dig in deep on those last two lines & then laugh & laugh!

I benefited so greatly from those summers--relaxed & totally free to be me! Isn't it unfortunate that our adult lives make us feel so heavy & far from the carefree joys of preteen innocence? (At least in the early 80's we were still innocent at 13 & 14). Now I am grieving changes in my son that mean he is no longer a baby. I know he's been past Baby stage for a long time, but now he is really struggling with more mature issues & emotions. Now I'm having to teach him Stranger Danger. Now he's suffered his first loss through death (Great Grandpa), and saying goodbye to his pet. Now he's seen that his mommy & daddy are imperfect, and sometimes get really mad at him.

Tonight, then, I'll fall asleep with an old Fernie vesper in my ear--recently posted on the Fern alumni discussion group (oh, yes, I am a "card-carrying" member of the Fernie alumnus group):

"My Evening Prayer"

If I have wounded any souls to-day,
If I have caused one foot to go astray,
If I have walked in my own willful way--
Good Lord, forgive!

If I have uttered idle words or vain,
If I have turned aside from want or pain,
Lest I myself should suffer through the strain--
Good Lord, forgive!

If I have craved for joys that are not mine,
If I have let my wayward heart repine,
Dwelling on things of earth, not things divine--
Good Lord, forgive!

If I have been perverse, or hard, or cold,
If I have longed for shelter in Thy fold,
When Thou hast given me some part to hold--
Good Lord, forgive!

Forgive the sins I have confessed to Thee,
Forgive the secret sins I do not see,
That which I know not, Father, teach Thou me--
Help me to live.

(or last verse as sung at Fern:
"Forgive the sins I have confessed to thee
Forgive the secret sins I cannot see
Oh guide me, help me & my keeper be,
hmmmmm.--Amen."

Charles H. Gabriel c. 1911
(recorded by Elvis Presley, Mahalia Jackson, Jim Reeves, and other fabulous voices through the years).

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