“Campers, everyone needs to report to the basketball court to line up for dinner,” said a friendly voice over the P.A. system.
I put down the book I was reading and jumped off the bunk to find my shoes. Reggie came running into the dorm, smiling and laughing until he fell headfirst sliding into the leg of the steel framed bunk bed. “Ahhhhh . . .”
“Are you OK?”
He rolled on his back and looked up at me. “Yes. But help me up, dummy.” He extended his arm to me and I pulled his stocky frame up to his feet. “I meant to do that, you know . . .,” he giggled.
“Well, come on, let’s go eat!”
We walked to the basketball court to find six signs fastened to folding chairs lined up behind one of the baskets. They were obviously going to be used to sort us into groups.
“OK, CAMPERS!” A man who was in his late 40’s, with graying black hair, a goatee, and a Hawaiian shirt was holding a megaphone. “Find the first letter of your last name and line up by it. Single-file, please.”
Mass chaos ensued for forty-five seconds as we scrambled to find our lines. “Now, line up from shortest to tallest!” I sighed and stood in front of my younger sister, Sarah, who was 3 inches taller than me.
“I hope this isn’t permanent,” I said aloud.
“Oh shut up, Mittendorf,” she said. “Don’t ruin camp for those of us who want to be here.”
“ALRIGHT GUYS, I NEED QUIET,” the megaphone blasted. “Thanks! OK, well, I’m your Dean this week. And my name is Pastor Jack Dean. So . . . you can call me Dean Dean.” The campers laughed. “After we eat dinner, we’re going to divide you up in your families for the week. I’ll tell you more about that when we’re done eating. But in just a minute we’re going to enjoy some hamburgers and hot dogs. Say please and thank you to the nice cooks behind the counter.”
There was a buzz from the campers; hot dogs and hamburgers were so much better than what we usually got at camp.
He paused and looked around for a second. “Let’s pray?”
It got very quiet. He put down the megaphone and we all bowed our heads. “Oh Great and Merciful Father, we come to you this evening asking for your blessing on the food from which we are about to partake. We ask you, O Holy God, to protect us this week and to inspire us through your Holy Spirit. All these things we ask humbly in your Holy Son’s name, Amen.”
“We will walk in very slowly, line by line as I call you. Bon Appétit!”
I looked over and saw Reggie standing in line. Four campers behind him was Bobby Parks.
“Reggie Nance. With an N. N-O-P.” He smiled at me. “He’s still back there, right?”
I nodded. Bobby was paying him no mind until that moment. He reached up and flicked Reggie on the head. “Go, nimrod.” Reggie walked quickly into the cafeteria.
“I’ll save you a seat!” he exclaimed.
We were the last row called and by the time we got to the counter all the hamburgers were gone. “Sorry, all we got left is hot dogs.” I lowered my head and took the very green, obviously boiled hot dog. I stopped at the condiment station and squeezed the ketchup bottle on to my pathetic looking wiener. A tiny drizzle of ketchup came out.
I squeezed harder. Nothing. I sighed and found Reggie.
“What’s wrong?” he said.
“I hate hot dogs. And there’s no more ketchup.”
“Hmmmm…” Reggie got up and walked to the serving counter. He spoke to the large woman wearing an apron and a not-so-fashionable beehive haircut. She waved him back and they disappeared around a corner. When he came back, he was carrying a big bottle of Heinz ketchup.
“Here ya go,” he said. “Mom had to dig a little in the pantry there but she found more. She said all you needed to do was ask.”
“Did you say Mom?”
“Yeah, my mom’s the head cook here. Normally I live back there behind the kitchen but this week I finally get to be a camper.”
“Get to?” I was stunned.
“Yep! I usually have to help wash the dishes and only get to watch stuff. But this week, I am going to have so much fun!”
“Reggie Nance . . . you are a weird guy.” I shook my head.
He laughed and hit me in the back. “Scratch that. This week you and I are going to have so much fun!” He pounded his fist on the table, threw his head back, and let out a cackle. “So much fun.”
Across the room was a table full of adults, including Dean Dean. They were talking and laughing and seemed to enjoy their meals. Around the room, other campers were talking and eating and everyone seemed excited to be there. Everyone but me.
Things began to get louder as people finished eating. We all passed our trays to the end of the table and the left over food was scraped into a clear plastic bucket by one of the teenage assistants who had volunteered to work in the kitchen. Watching the plastic spatulas mash and mix all those foods together really grossed me out.
“OK, campers,” said Dean Dean. He had a microphone in one hand and the other was in the air.
“Settle down.” The roar slowed to a dim racket before ceasing. “Well, let me officially welcome you to Camp Christian. We’re going to have an awesome week, right, campers?” The cafeteria erupted in cheers. “This week we’re going to spend time having fun and enjoying ourselves. We’re also going to spend time in the Word and learning about God. And I think we can and will do both at the same time.”
“You will all be divided into families. Actually, you already have been and if you’ll look underneath your chairs, you will find a number.” Squeaks filled the room as people pushed back their chairs from the table to look for their assignment. Mine was 6; Reggie held his up and it said 4. My heart sank.
My sister was four seats away and was looking around. Reggie saw her looking and mouthed, “Which one do you need?” This was her second week of camp this year with Dean Dean and had anticipated this process. “Four,” she mouthed back. Reggie quietly slid her his number and smiled as he opened the folded page he received in return. There was a bright red six on the page. “We’re family now, Mitt.”
“OK, in a minute you will go with your families. But first, I want to introduce you to the rest of the staff and faculty for this week of camp. To my right is the Dean of Men, Lonnie Davis.” Reggie clapped and the rest of our table joined in. This was the man who rescued me from Bobby James yesterday in the dorm. “Our Dean of Women is his wife, Lora Davis.” More polite applause.
“Our camp nurse this week is Tiffany Smith,” said Dean Dean and motioned for the pretty blonde woman, in jeans and a flowered shirt, at the end of the staff table to stand. She smiled and waved and sat down quickly.
Reggie looked at me and said, “Hubba hubba.”
“Also on staff this week are several teenagers from my church, Phillip, Amy, Dawn, and Chuck. They will be leading families and assisting with dorm detail.” They stood up and by now the campers knew the drill. “Make sure you say thank you to your kitchen helpers and our staff cook, Mrs. Nance. She is an excellent cook and will keep you fed all week. Also, our lifeguard, Tim Taylor, will be here every afternoon to supervise the pool time.”
“And last but not least is our evangelist for the week, the Reverend Leland Savage.” From almost underneath the table arose a man who must have been near 80 years old, with white hair sticking up all over his head and a wrinkled forehead. He slowly got to his feet and nodded while the camp clapped. Dread hit me as I realized how boring chapel would be with this ancient preacher giving the sermon each night.
“Now, you’ve got 15 minutes of free time and after that you are to report to your family meeting area. Group One, you meet in the back of the chapel. Group two, you meet at t
he front of the chapel. Group three, the campfire shelter house. Group four and five at different ends of the cafeteria. And group six, you get the shelter house by the pond. Now, you will be dismissed table by table. Enjoy your free time and don’t be late to your family meetings.”
As our table left, Reggie said, “What do you want to do?” I said I didn’t care and he said, “Let’s head over to the pond and I’ll show you something.”
We walked behind the boy’s dorm, around the chain link fence that surrounded the pool, and came to the banks of the old pond. The swimming pool had been here for as long as I had been coming to camp but I had seen pictures of members of my church being baptized in the pond many years ago. Reggie picked up a stone and said, “The trick is to find the smoothest one possible,” he said as he threw it down. “Aha, there we go,” and he skidded it across the pond. “Did you see the hang time on that one, Mitt? You try.”
I grabbed the first stone I could find and threw it across the water. It sunk like an anchor.
“Smooth, buddy,” Reggie said as he was hunched over looking at the rock pile. “Like this one.”
Another stone sailed beautiful across the peaceful pond. I tried again and did a little better. We continued until we heard a voice from the shelter house.
“OK guys, come on over,” said the athletic looking teenager. “We can get started because everyone is here and we’ve got a lot to talk about. First of all, I’m Chuck and I’m your family leader. And this year we are going to win the Camp Cup because I’m so sick of losing to Phillip Mustaine. And here’s how we’re going to do it.”
Chuck talked about the point system. “You each can earn points for a variety of things, like memorizing memory verses, winning games during rec time, and doing good deeds for others. All of the faculty and staff will be watching you and we will award points as we notice good behavior. You can also have points taken away for breaking the rules or other bad stuff. But the most important thing – the thing that earns the most points and the thing that is going to win us this competition – is Talent Night. Talent Night is Thursday evening so that doesn’t leave us a whole lot of time to prepare. I don’t care how we do it but we are going to win. Everyone OK with that?”
“YEAH!” the six others in the group exclaimed. I was silent.
“Good, then let’s get started.”
Fear gripped me as I realized what this meant; I might have to stand up in front of everyone and talk. I sank against the picnic table I was leaning on and prayed that Jesus would come back before Friday night.