By WENDY HODGE
When last we met, I was a 10-year-old Cherokee camper at Wiregrass Christian Youth Camp in Coffee County, Alabama, and the heat was a smoldering 98 degrees. At 8:00 AM. In the shade.
A typical day as a camper started with breakfast in the dining hall, followed by chapel. Next, we would divide into groups for Bible class where we rehashed the basic Bible stories of Noah and Abraham and King Solomon. Memorization of Bible verses was strongly reinforced. In fact, one summer I memorized an entire chapter of Romans which I can still quote to this day.
Following Bible class, we made our way to arts and crafts where we would spend a good hour and a half knee-deep in Elmer’s glue and popsicle sticks or clay and acrylic paints in primary colors. My favorite craft project was when the counselors laid out pieces of scrap wood along with a hammer and nails. The object was to make a birdhouse. I’m sorry to report that, no matter how many hours I spent toiling over my double decker bluebird condo, it was a total disaster. The roof didn’t sit quite flush; one wall was shorter than the other; and the whole thing sat cattywampus. But boy did I love the way the whack of the hammer on the nail echoed across the sweltering field behind us! I recall one counselor taking the hammer from my hand and saying, “That’s enough. I need an aspirin.”
A couple of times during the week we were treated to a round of archery lessons. Standing on the edge of the field, with a target positioned what seemed like a mile away, I pulled back the string of the bow and imagined myself a Cherokee princess in battle to protect her entire tribe. On my first attempt, I made a bullseye. The counselors were as stunned as I was. But I knew, in my little girl heart, that it was all thanks to the Native American blood coursing through my veins.
Side note: I was never able to replicate that perfect aim, and so I was written off as a one-hit-wonder. But I know, given the right bow and arrow, maybe a strong pair of prescription bifocals and some Ibuprofen for my joints, I could SO make another bullseye!
Just as the sun peaked in the sky and it felt as if the earth itself was melting around us, we were sent to take a nap. A nap?! What self-respecting 10-year-old takes a nap, for crying out loud! Trying to sleep in a cabin full of 100 degree stagnant air is much like trying to sleep on the closed lid of a propane grill – there is no way to get comfortable, and it sure is hot!
When the last minute of nap time finally ticked away, we girls got changed into our modest one-piece bathing suits and made our way to the pool. But before leaving the privacy of the cabin, we all bundled ourselves tightly into our beach towels, making sure to cover ourselves from head to toe…. because if the ten-year-old boys were to catch a glimpse of our naked skin there was no telling what chaos would ensue.
There was no mixed bathing at Camp Wiregrass. That was for the sinners at the camp two counties over. The pool was nothing special; in fact, it was quite small and there were areas of green slime in the corners that had to be avoided. But, all in all, it was an oasis of cool relief in the middle of a sweltering desert of humidity. The pool was immediately at full capacity, with what seemed like a 100 girls, all vying for a spot of their own in the sparkling water. Laughter rang out in the air, until right before pool time was over. It always got very quiet then, as if by instinct we were soaking up every bit of liquid cool we could. And then, wrapped as tightly as before, we made our way to the showers.
Communal showers have never been my thing, and I trace it directly back to my very first summer at Camp Wiregrass. There were half as many shower stalls as there were girls, so you do the math. Privacy was not in the equation. Still dressed in our swimsuits and flip flops, we paired off to try and achieve a semblance of cleanliness. On the very first afternoon, I was in the shower with a girl named Amy. The water was cold, and we were shivering in opposite corners. I stepped forward to try for more hot water, and I heard a crunch under my foot. I actually felt it more than I heard it. I raised my foot and there it was – a dead frog. I sprang out of the shower stall, possibly leaping clean over Amy, and ran the half mile to my cabin in under a minute. My ancestors would have been proud.
Standing in the silence of the cabin, with the dust motes and mosquitoes heavy in the air, a shiver went through my soul. I had committed murder by flip flop and it was only my first day. There were six more days of this?! What atrocities would the rest of the week bring?
We’ll wrap up our visit to Summer Camp next week in Part III.