Y Camp Superlatives
And just when you think you are stumped…
I was racking my brains for another subject on which to write to you concerning Y Camp memories. And into my musings, out of the blue, came an eMail from Edward Loughlin, asking me reflect on some ‘bests’ and ‘worsts’ at Y Camp; these are the superlatives on which Edward asked me to reflect:
1) Best and Worst Meal.
2) Best and worst class to teach.
3) Best and worst league game to referee.
4) And finally… not best and worst; but the strangest event I remember at camp!
There was an old show on TV, hosted by Art Linkletter, called ‘You Asked For It’. So Edward; you asked for it, here goes.
It’s not easy for me to choose a best or worst meal. First of all, there were numerous wonderful meals at Y Camp. Second, having been raised to eat everything on my plate or else, I could, pretty much, face any food I had to, shut my eyes, and swallow it… almost without tasting. But, having said that, there were a few meals at Y Camp that were hard to swallow, even for me!
Before I describe the worst meals, let me say that, as far as I remember, we all ate well at Y Camp. Not once did I leave the dining hall hungry. No-one has ever gone hungry at Y Camp, unless it was by his own choice. I do remember, on occasion, staring through the screen at a recalcitrant boy, mulling over a lump of cold eggs or grits or squash. Camp was happily going on, but he was not; he was stuck in the dining hall. And yet, all he needed to do was take one bite and be done with it; how stupid can one be, so it seemed to me.
If there was a worst meal at camp, there was also a worst category of meals and that would be our lunches. At Y Camp I remember roast beef, fried chicken, roast pork, ham, turkey, meat loaf; but NOT FOR LUNCH! We boys had a special name to memorialize lunches at Y Camp; we called them ‘Meatless Wonders’. We had plenty of wholesome vegetables, of course; we had macaroni and cheese, we had cornbread; but not much meat. Of all those ‘meatless wonders’, I suppose worst lunch for me was what in the south is affectionately called ‘Hoppin’ John. I came to like it as I grew older, but black eyed-peas, rice, and stewed tomatoes were not calculated to titillate the taste buds of a ten year old. I think the principal perpetrator of the problem were those stewed tomatoes… sticky, red, goey lumps of tiny tomatoes. It didn’t help, either, that the rice was white as snow and also gooey. Soooo there is my worst lunch: ‘Hoppin’ John’.
As for dinner; my unfavorite had to be Robert’s famous Saturday night spaghetti! The best meals we ate were at night: roast beef, potatoes and gravy, roast pork, baked chicken, ham and then there was Robert’s spaghetti. It could have been the best; kids love spaghetti; it looked good, really Italian looking; but one mouthful and it took about a gallon of ‘bug-juice’ to put out the fire! My mom, who ate her share of that potent sauce, used to say that when it came to spaghetti, Robert had a ‘heavy hand’ on the pepper pot. Of course, those of you, who came to camp as older campers, also heard a sinister rumor about Robert’s spaghetti. ‘Salt-peter’; don’t eat the spaghetti. It has salt-peter in it. You see we had a dance with Camp Chattooga on Saturday night and Skipper would never have let us Y Camp wolves into her hen house, unless we were neutralized in advance! Whether it was true, I doubt it; in fact, if there was anything resembling salt of any kind in that spaghetti, I never tasted it; the pepper overwhelmed every other taste. So worst dinner; Robert’s special Saturday night spaghetti.
Worst breakfast, by a landslide, had to be ‘Creamed Beef on Toast’. No camper, of course, ever called it by that name. We used initials; not CBOT; and not SOS, like in the army. We couldn’t use that kind of language; so campers called it simply DVOT: ‘Dog Vomit on Toast! If ever a meal was inedible due to presentation alone, it had to be DVOT; one look and you were a goner. It was a smelly pile of whiteish gravy with small chunks of reddish meat floating on lightly toasted bread; the whole soggy mass looked just like what we called it. Later in life, like with ‘Hoppin John’, I came to enjoy it, but it was a slowly acquired taste. And given the choice of DVOT and plain old eggs and bacon, I still choose the later. At camp, as I said, we all had to all eat one bite of whatever was on the table, and we did, but I cannot remember ever that a KP went back to the serving counter for a second helping of DVOT for his cabin. Sooo worst breakfast by a landslide…. DVOT.
A couple of other memories about difficult meals: one was that we always ate salmon croquet on Friday, the only time we got meat for lunch, if you construe salmon smashed like potatoes as meat. We ate it on Friday in honor of all the catholic boys at camp. I thought that was a good thing to do, and so I did my part for the universal Christian faith; I was glad that we were ecumenical and ate fish on Friday; even though it didn’t taste like real fish… it was a good try!
The best day of the week for meals was Sunday. For me, Sunday was the ‘trifecta’ of meal days. For breakfast we had cereal, cinnamon toast and boiled eggs. I would always eat my cereal first, being careful to leave a good amount of milk in my bowl. That was where I put the yolk of the egg to hide it from the eagle eyes of my leader. While I loved the white, I detested that dried out, dusty greenish, yellow yolk; that bowl of milk proved to be my salvation, hidding my weekly crime. After that it was on to as many pieces of cinnamon toast as I could cram down. I said we never ran out of any food. Correction, we always ran out of cinnamon toast, but Robert and Willie would make more, and that hot, drippy toast was divine. Of course, all it was, was butter, sugar, a bit of cinnamon, slopped on plain white bread; unhealthy heaven, is a good description. And then for lunch was Robert’s fried chicken; need I say more? There were mashed potatoes, green beans and homemade rolls, too; but I just remember that chicken. If I died tomorrow and went to heaven and all they served there was fried chicken and ice cream then it would truly be… heaven! For dinner the cooks were off, so we had sandwiches, potato sticks (as close as we ever got to potato chips in those days), cokes and candy bars. Back then the 12 ounce coke bottles had the bottler’s town in raised letter on the bottom. The coke bottle from farthest away got some lucky camper another coke; I never won, but the competition was fun.
I mentioned ice cream; but did I mention pies? Every lunch… every lunch we had a cobbler under homemade crusts, loaded with sugar. We had cherry, blueberry, peach, apple, and blackberry pies, a different one each day of the week. We got them in large rectangular pans. The leader would divide them equably and pass the tray around. Of course, a corner piece was best; more crust. You would serve yourself, under the watchful eye of your leader, amid cries of, ‘He’s submarining my piece; don’t take my crust, etc. My most favorite was cherry; least favorite was blackberry because of the seeds; they were all great. As for ice cream, which we got every dinner; we would ‘que up’ at the front of the dining hall, by cabin, no spoons, only cups and we got two scoops of chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, or black walnut (the only ice cream I still don’t like); that was it in those days; oh, occasionally fudge ripple, the best. And the most unique thing about those ice cream scoops; they were square. Y Camp had the only square scoops I ever saw. We have one of those scoops left and I am told they go on eBay for $400-$500 dollars these days.
I am almost finished with meal superlatives, but I would be remiss if I did not mention best blessings. To begin meals we stood by our stools quietly and a leader was called on to say ‘grace’. Every Sunday that he was at camp, Dean William Tate was called on to say ‘grace’ (this, after he had spoken for about three hours at church… by then we all needed grace). As in church, he would ramble and bless food, cooks, good weather, the sun, moon and stars; but then he would come to a rousing crescendo with these final words; ‘And may we all be in heaven thirty minutes before the devil knows we are dead!’ Only Dean Tate could get away with that. However, I did here a good leader blessing on a Cove Hike. It would have gotten Monte Allen tower at camp, but this was it: ‘God is great, God is good, yea God!’ Not a bad blessing, if you think about it!
So for meals and things; as for refereeing and league games in general… best and worst. Most of you remember that Leaders got to have a team to coach and that was the best staff role for league games; the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and a different game every day. Assistant leaders, being lower on the totem pole, were relegated the chore of referring; the same game; day after day for eternity, it seemed. My year of drudgery, I chose basketball, thinking that because I like playing basketball, it would be fun to referee. What I learned was that playing a sport and referring it are two different things. Have you ever refereed a game of basketball played by six year olds; might as well call fouls and traveling on worms in a can! I hated that four week stint. Without doubt, the best game to referee (or watch for that matter) was, of course, Appleknocker. Six year olds, ten year olds, sixteen year olds; didn’t matter. Appleknocker was a blood sport and as such, the epitome of Y Camp sports. It is like not a real sport, the Olympics doesn’t have it and ESPN doesn’t cover it; and yet it is the heart and soul of all sports ever played. There is mayhem and blood, there is strategy, there are numerous ‘gut checks’. Coaching matters in Appleknocker, because you can inspire boys to face fears and conquer them. We still play Appleknocker with the same intensity as ever. How we manage to play it in a world where you cannot play dodgeball for risking kids’ self esteem; is beyond me; but we do. It tells you a great deal about kids; they still love rough and tough things. When adults will let them get away with it, they will actually still beat the crap out of each other and like it! Oh yeah, we still play Capture the Flag and Indian War games with that blood sport finale on the field at the end; but please don’t tell anybody.
Classes in general were the worst thing about camp for me; and the the worst class I ever had to teach was Riflery; same principle as refereeing. I loved to shoot rifles myself; but I became bored out of my skull, lying there watching campers shoot. The best class to teach at Y Camp was Swimming, because Coach Poss made you work. It wasn’t always fun. I remember June mornings in the rain, in my sweats, hoping coach wouldn’t call on me to demonstrate. That water was like ice. But we never stopped teaching for even a minute and the time flew by. Working the waterfront under Coach Poss taught me that your day will fly by if you get busy and stay busy, a valuable life lesson. Also, teaching kids to swim gave you a real sense of purpose and accomplishment. I think things like working hard with a purpose is what life is supposed to be about; thanks Coach Poss, for that lesson.
I hope you aren’t tired of reading; I’m not tired of writing; I could write all day about camp. But we are at the end, for now; the strangest thing that happened at camp. There were plenty, but the one I choose was ‘Lost Buddy Call’. Occasionally, we had practice ‘LBCs’ like fire drills at school. Coach Mike would ring the bell like an alarm clock for ever. When we heard it, we were to go to the dining hall and sit at our table and be counted; thus, our leaders could locate the missing boy. One day that bell began to ring and we all headed to the dining hall, but I could tell from the leaders’ faces that, this time, it wasn’t practice. Someone was missing; here is where my nine year old mind went; it went under the Lodge, around the back, where hung the grappling hooks. They looked like giant fishhooks, coupled in threes on a drag line. I knew that they were supposed to hook through the skin of the boy and drag him to the surface. I would cringe as I thought of those hooks going in my skin, even though I knew I’d be dead by then; it still made me cringe. We sat and sat and finally they found him in the dining hall. It was either a boy named ‘Fred the Hustler’ or it was Louis Funkenstein… one of the two, I don’t remember which. Anyway, he had gone to take a dump and didn’t tell anyone and then forgot to come back to General Swim. When the whistle blew and he was not there, the general melee began. They ran him to death for about a week and he didn’t win the Emblem that summer, for sure! People just don’t die at Y Camp; I don’t think Y Campers die at camp or ever; even though I know they do.
I was having my teeth cleaned today by Dr Charles Burch; at camp we knew him as Barney. We were laughing about all the reckless things we did at Y Camp from Appleknocker to hitchhiking the lonely mountain roads. Barney and I both agreed that we were either very lucky or very blessed, but we all know the truth. It is where God and a good time are friends and God has surely looked after us all these years.
God bless us everyone.