The Bells of AYC
BELLS OF AYC
Before I remember all the bells at Y Camp and stories about each one, George Kaulbach responded to my question sent to you all: ‘Was there a time when Y Camp was ordered on some other reminder than bells?’ He remembered in the summer of ’46, at least for half that summer, the camp day was ordered by a WW II army surplus siren; I’m talking about the old, hand-crank, Battle of Britain monsters. He said that when the bearings wore out, everyone was relieved. I thought getting up with Coach Mike ringing that bell a hundred times was bad; thank goodness he never got his hands on a siren; we’d all be in need of hearing aids today. As for his persistent morning ringing; I recall leaders at Chattooga begging us to persuade him not to ring it for so long in the morning. They arose a half hour after us, but were awake at the same time as us! I took some comfort in that. If we had to get up, they could jolly well get up, too. Besides, could you even imagine talking Coach Mike into less than a hundred rings in the morning?
These days leaders who sleep through the ‘get up’ bell, or a dinner bell get a special treat: a bucket of ice water on their head, in their bed! But I never remember anyone late for anything when I was a camper or leader; none of us ever imagined it was a possibility. I remember shagging up that hill to the ‘Little Athletic Field’ before my legs were quite awake. Bobby Hooks and Milton Mills shared a story about running up the hill from a late night out as Coach Mike rang the bell. They had been all the way to Macon; it happened to Jack Short and me and we were only in Clayton. We had stayed late at a party and the parents of Jack’s date persuaded us to stay in their guest bedroom and the girl would take us back the next morning. I was not really for it; but was out-voted. Needless to say, when I awoke and looked at my watch it read 6:44. Firemen have never moved that fast; the girl seemed unconcerned until I told her this might be the last time she saw Jack for the summer. We made it to camp from Clayton in twelve minutes… the new road, not old 441. We hit the OD shack as Coach Mike was banging that bell the last few times… the only time I was grateful for the 100 ring regimen!
Of course, I remember the bell packed with towels, the clapper stolen, and little good that did; Coach Mike just ran from cabin to cabin shouting us awake; worse than any bell. And then, we did more than a few extra ‘side straddle hops’ to assuage his pain. Coach Mike ran those morning exercises like a Marine DI, but at least he did not make us go swimming like Beefy Eaves used to do the campers in his day. The funniest thing I remember was nobody’s fault but Coach Mikes. When we had the old bell, it had a clapper attached like a lever to its side. The bell did not move, the clapper was arm/hand manipulated and literally hammered the bell; Coach Mike liked to do biceps exercises with it; he could make it sound like a gigantic alarm clock. One morning he hit it so hard and fast the ball of the clapper fell off: bong, bong, bong… ping, ping, ping. That day we laughed at him and nobody got in trouble!
The next bell of the morning was KP; is suppose an army acronym,
Kitchen Patrol. Whoever, had it that day had to leave inspection clean up, not a bad thing, and set the table, including silverware, cups, plates, napkins, and then set out the food platters. Pre-meal was okay, but clean up afterward was a chore; I loathed it, because it cut into rest hour and free time: take the platters back to the serving counter… forget to take a spoon out and Willie would throw the entire platter back at you (Jesse would be laughing in the background); then the plates, with all the left over food in one plate, ugh… don’t let it touch your fingers; then the cups which took several trips, because you dared not stack those cups (they would stick together like glue), then silverware; and if you got one thing wrong, Wall-street would pounce on you, he was about the grumpiest guy I ever met… grouchy as an old lady. I remember one day somebody warning me: ‘Be careful, Old Black Walnut is on a rampage today!’ Okay, so if you made it through that gauntlet, you still had to wipe down the table, stack the stools, sweep, unstuck the stools…and look for Mrs. Rabenau who wasn’t hard to find, because she hovered over that dining hall like a bird of prey, waiting to swoop on some poor turkey of a camper who got the cleaning progression out of order. When I was little I was terrified of Mrs. Rabenau; as I got older I knew how to toe her line and avoid the most dreaded five words in the annals of AYC: ‘You have KP again tomorrow!’
And so the next bell was breakfast and the six bells for KP and meals were a regular daily occurrence by which you could set your watch: 8:30, 1:00, and 6:00; Greenwich mean time was not as accurate or punctual as AYC meal time. Meals are another story for later; suffice it to say, discipline was not relaxed at meals: napkins in laps, elbows off the table, pass the food to the right until all are served; then, pass the corn-bread, please, have a little of everything and clean your plate; finally, no dessert until everyone finishes. I have many more meal remembrances, like DVOT, boiled eggs and cinnamon toast, fried chicken, cokes and candy bars on Sunday night, and oh yeah, don’t eat the spaghetti on Chattooga dance nights… more on all that in another letter.
After breakfast was inspection and there were two bells: get ready and here he comes. Again, many memories of standing at attention, having my bed torn up when the supervisor found dirt between the sheets, trunks on the beds for sweeping, watering from a tennis ball can to keep down the dust, and a candy bar if your cabin won inspection for the week. One funny story when I was a leader. The last thing we did after breakfast was sweep one more time to get the last dirt. I sent three of my campers from breakfast early and they swiped the brooms from every cabin in camp; you could hear leaders screaming all over the hill. When our supervisor, Brad Bradberry came in to inspect us that day, there was every broom in camp in our front room of Cabin 14!
The next bell was run to the lodge for Morning Assembly, and I mean run, because you had to beat Coach Mike. When he came in, you’d better be seated and quiet, no hats on, no chewing gun, never without a shirt. Cabin check: 16-Check, 1-Check, 2-One in the infirmary, 3-Missing one… let me see him in the morning (extra exercise) and so on to 18. Then we would sing choruses as many as Coach Mike was in the mood for and we had about thirty; sometimes we’d sing them all and loudly. I had never been anywhere but in the lodge for morning assembly until one day I was a supervisor on some errand during Morning Assembly. I remember being stopped dead in my tracks by this ‘god-awful’ caterwauling coming from near the lake, like a million cats being dragged behind a car at the same time. It hit me that it was us, singing! No, we couldn’t carry a tune, but we sang with gusto… from our boomaphragms as Coach Mike liked to say. Next was the morning talk, given by some stuttering leader. One morning I was perched on the roost in the back where the senior campers sat. I was daydreaming when my reverie was shattered by these chilling words: ‘This morning Mike Castronis has the talk.’ Oops I had totally forgotten; soooo… I made it up as I went down the aisle; either to death or glory. You could tell if you had a good talk, because leaders would use it for the next few years… we laugh at copyright infringement at AYC; and that talk was used for several summers… Coach Mike never knew and I never told him.
Next after Morning Assembly was league games: four teams, competing round robin daily for four weeks…winner take all: candy bars and bragging rights for the summer. Volleyball, basketball, softball, football, soccer, and last but far from least Appleknocker and that is a whole ‘nother story! League games was far and away my favorite time of the Y Camp day. I was a pretty good player in all the sports, but far from the best; we had some truly fine athletes at camp who went on the play many sports in college. I just loved the competition and managed to be on more winning than losing teams during my camper days. One interesting sidelight to this; in my day, not all that many sports were played outside the basics: football, basketball, baseball, track. I learned to swim, play volleyball, soccer, tennis… right here. And I learned to play Appleknocker, which my knowledge is played nowhere else on God’s green earth! The competition was ended with a bell, followed by fifteen ‘rahs’ for the opposing team.
The next bell occurred in morning and after noon free time and was for general swim which was not doable without a buddy. Coach Poss was about the only waterfront director I ever knew and he was a great one. He had plenty of Lake Detail help, but I have no doubt Sonny could have done it alone. He could almost reach from one side of the lake to the other and he swam like a torpedo. When he blew that whistle, you had a three count to get your buddy’s hand or you were off the lake for a day. Leaders who were late (as if) or forgot Lake Detail had a day on tower and Coach made no exceptions. Swimming lasted until Coach Poss decided to end it and if he detected the least bit of boredom or itchiness to go on the part of life guards, he would prolong it until almost KP. I never heard anyone utter a whisper of complaint. Coach was an awesome basketball player, best ever up here. Coach Mike’s basketball record in staff games was about 97% victories and it went to 99% when Coach Poss arrived in 1959!
There were three bells in the afternoon and I didn’t like any of them: they were for classes; probably the best thing for us at camp… but just like green leafy vegetables, they were the least appreciated. Swimming… which I took because my dad made me (nobody else had a dad here… very unfair) I learned all nine Red Cross strokes, including the Double Trudgeon… if you can’t pronounce it, you ought to try doing it! Tennis… also a Coach Mike required course and that I can play today is because of that class. Riflery and archery… and here is where I learned to shoot a gun (and bow for that matter). Model Shop and Wood Shop under the lodge… and I would have spent all my money on cheap models had not my mom intervened… mothers and fathers, be glad yours were home while you were here. Nature study; I have caught Copperheads and Rattlesnakes in my time and I learned all about it here; except Lance said never pick one of those up; I was not a good listener! Canoeing and the best of that was we got to swamp canoes on the last day. That was about it when I was a camper; we added more but those were the ones I took. The best I ever taught was swimming. Except in early June when we taught in sweats and prayed Coach Poss did not call on us to demonstrate. The reason those were good classes to teach was that Coach made us teach the entire hour and I learned how quickly classes go by when you are involved and active. Classes were, as I said, my least favorite part of the day… but probably they were the best thing for me.
When the Vespers bell rang near the end of the day it was back to the lodge for singing, cabin presentations and an evening program. In my day we had talent shows, Sunday songfests, boxing, wrestling, campfires, and movie night. The movies were the old 16mm films that scratched and squeaked through the antiquated projector and inevitably broke in the climatic moment. There were three boxing or wrestling matches and we cheered and hooted and mostly were glad it was not us in the ring. Talent shows featured some really good and really bad acts: piano and trumpet solos, washboard bands, magic acts, etc. My favorite campfire story was the Red Light, though most preferred the Vandiver Man. My favorite story teller was Bobby Hooks and I especially liked when he told about the trip he and Coburn Kelly made up the Amazon River; later Lance Lazonby became the teller of tales and he was pretty good, too.
After we sand ‘Into my Heart’, we went back to the cabins and prepared for bed as we heard the last three bells of the day. The last bell of the day, the antiphonal to the first was never more than three strokes; I was usually asleep before the third one finished reverberating over the hills across the lake. Sometimes I lasted long enough for the first few chords of the Bullfrog Concerto… but it was a long day and would be a short night until Coach Mike jarred us to with his incessant clanging of that infernal, lovable bell!
Post Script: Besides being just about all male at Y Camp, besides having religion on top of religion shoved into us, besides being almost totally isolated from the world; there was one other thing we shared with the monastic life: an extremely regulated day. When I came back to camp from the frenzy of the ‘real’ world; and believe me, the occupational hazards of the ministry are as dangerous as any other field… I found camp to be the most soothing place on this earth. There is a regularity set by the bells that is like breathing in and breathing out. Life here is as it was meant to be, as WT Forbes knew it would be. Surely you must remember what it was like; I am blessed to able to live in it… I recommend it. Those bells at those regularly occurring intervals, sitting down to those traditional meals, cleaning, learning, worshiping, praying… it doesn’t get much better than that.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,
Coach Mike Castronis, (Jr, of course!)