Singing the Church Camp Blues or Look, Ma! No Tan Lines


Thirteen: an awkward age by anyone's definition. But when adolescence is coupled with peer pressure and the elevated expectations of devout Southern Baptist parents, life can become something akin to multiple personality disorder. Getting boys to notice me and avoiding girls who clearly ate razor soup for breakfast were always on my Top Ten List of priorities for daily survival. So imagine my horror when my parents announced at the end of seventh grade that I would be spending a week of summer vacation with some of the Razor Soup Princesses at church camp.
Having a love affair with chocolate, I had spent the Spring semester on a 900 calorie a day diet. If I ever see another dill pickle it will be too soon. I'm just sayin'. I lost fifteen pounds and talked Mother into sewing me my first two-piece bathing suit, which, by the way, went against everything she believed to be good and true. Complaining the entire time because “nice girls simply don't show that much skin” I wanted to say “get over it, Mom”, but in our house attitude only resulted in time spent with a bar of Ivory soap. Our compromise was one of those lovely baby doll suits everyone had back in those days.
The long-awaited day arrived and we drove along with the Princesses to Camp Paron. We got our cabin assignments and a list of rules and regulations, then off to find home for the next six days. Riding through the camp I became excited (as excited as any 13-year-old girl ever gets). It was paradise. I had expected run down old cabins and outhouses. But no! The stereotype about Arkansas was broken. Nice brick cabins with, yes...you guess it...indoor toilets. The camp was nestled in a pristine forest next to the Ouachita Mountains of Southwest Arkansas. If I could just get my parents to leave I'd be set!.
Mother became weepy leaving her little girl with strangers. (Really? This was your idea remember?) Daddy hugged me and said, “Kiddo, have a great time” then drug Mother out the door, down the steps to the car. As they drove away I let out a whoop that echoed all over the forest.
Later our counselor set aside time for introductions and learning the lay of the land. I began to think camp might not be so bad..if I could avoid he sharp-tongued princesses. But never count your chickens before they hatch. Get a load of what happened.
Everyone was anxious for an afternoon at the pool because of a massive heat wave that had made that summer in Arkansas much hotter than usual. My favorite part about swimming was diving. I stepped up on the board and walked out over the water, bouncing slightly to get the feel. Two bounces. Mid-air. Buttons popping off the back of my top. Gusting wind sweeping it through the air sending it to the shallow end. I hit the water panicking, begging God in his infinite mercy to take me now. The princesses with the forked tongues would never let me live this down. I swam in circles, every second feeling more desperate than the last. I knew as much as I knew my name that I could never come up for air. Where was that dang top?
I have no idea how long I was submerged, willing myself not to think of air. I had no doubt the muffled laughter I heard from above was at my expense. Someone grabbed my arm forcing me to the surface. It was my counselor. Humiliated, I began to sob as fresh air shocked my lungs. Handing me the top she helped me to the shallow end, and stood between me and the Razor Soup Royalty as I put the top back on. Borrowing a safety pin from somewhere I was fixed in a jiffy. The counselor turned and said, “Girls, I'd like to introduce to you the bravest girl in the pool.”
It was quiet as a tomb. Then cheers. The Princesses looked at each other knowing any plans for cutting remarks had been squelched. Later, in the chow line some of the girls even gave me thumbs up. Our counselor turned the single most embarrassing moment of my life into a life-changing event. No longer was I the girl who never met anyone's gaze or dreaded passing the mean girls in the halls.

H Wesson-Peterson

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