When Iowa's days stretch to their limits and humidity virtually drips from the air it's time for boys and girls to head for church camp, a tradition which always adds a bit to my summer discomfort. Don't misunderstand; I think church camp is a great idea. It's just that the subject brings back an embarrassing memory.
Church camp - or Bible camp, as we called it back then was a big deal in our church. Being a victim of homesickness, however, I showed no interest.
The summer I was 11 years old a cousin encouraged me to go to camp. Swimming every day, she said, and crafts and games. Her enthusiasm was contagious and I decided that, by golly, I would sign up.
The Sunday prior to camp the kids in church were all excited! Monday morning was warm and sunny when one of volunteer drivers picked me up at my home for the two-hour trip.
We boys joked and teased and before we knew it, we were in closing in and began watching for the campgrounds. Suddenly, the driver turned into a private drive and we drove onto a small college campus.
A college campus? This wasn't a campground! Where were the woods and trees and rippling streams?
We were directed to a dormitory. Dormitory? Where were the log cabins?
From the dorm we walked to a building where we would be served lunch.
What? A college cafeteria? There were no campfires and hot dogs and s'mores here!
My stomach began churning. This wasn't at all what I had expected.
After lunch a lump began to develop in my throat as I thought about a whole week at this place, away from Mom and Dad. I thought about my little brothers and how they really were pretty good guys after all. And I thought about my two-month old baby sister - a little princess.
I decided I had made a serious mistake but wasn't sure what to do about it. Good fortune smiled on me, however, when I overheard Olaf Watne announce that he was about to leave for home. Mr. Watne was a kindly Norwegian farmer from who had driven a carload of kids to what I had been led to believe was a camp. I announced to our minister that I wanted to ride home with him.
Pastor Olson, also a kindly Norwegian man, gently assured me that we were in store for a week of great fun and that I surely wouldn't want to miss it. I assured him that I surely didn't care if I missed it.
We talked for some time. Seeing no progress I activated my secret weapon - I started crying. Let's face it, there are few sights more pathetic than a chubby, homesick 11-year-old bawling for his mommy.
The adults huddled and in a few minutes I was told I could ride home with Mr. Watne. I quickly retrieved my bag and soon I was homebound.
As we approached Story City - not far from home - I asked Mr. Watne to stop at Slim's Melons, a popular roadside fruit stand, where I bought a watermelon to bring home for the family. I wasn't sure how Mom would react to my quick return and was too young to realize that flowers might have been a better choice for a peace offering.
Mom's reaction was typical for a mother of five (at the time) children who thought she had finally gotten rid of one for a week. "What are you doing here?" she asked as I walked in the front door.
I explained the situation and presented my peace offering. By suppertime Mom didn't seem disappointed anymore. As the family devoured the melon that night, I was happier than ever to be at home.
I realize now I could have saved my money. Always a good mother, Mom would have welcomed me home with or without a peace offering.
Many camping seasons have come and gone since my brief encounter with church camp. Still, when I heard some kids in church last Sunday talking about leaving for church camp in the morning, I felt a twinge of embarrassment.
Maybe if there really had been trees and streams and camp fires and hot dogs and s'mores... naw!