Isaiah Goes to Camp

June 5th, 2006

I am jealous.

We dropped Isaiah off at camp today and I have to admit I am jealous of him. He’s going to what they call pre-camp at the same place I used to go- Camp Neotez. We dropped him off this afternoon and we’ll pick him up Tuesday evening. He has stayed overnight at Ruth’s folks’ house few times and at her aunt’s house a few times, too but other than that he has not been away from us overnight before. This will be quite and experience for him.

Not only is it his first time away from home, but it will be his first time in a new place. He’ll be totally surrounded by people he has never met before in an environment that is brand new to him. I think he’ll have a great time.

For the past year or so he’s been wearing the shirt I got when I went there. It has shrunk a good bit over the years (it’s a 10-12 and he is seven), but otherwise it is pristine. It caused quite a stir among the staff registering the kids when he showed up wearing a shirt from more than twenty-five years ago.

“Hey- come get a look at this shirt!”

“I don’t think I remember that one…”

“You wore this? How did it last so long?

“That is so cool- take care of it Isaiah so your kid can wear it!”

I had been looking forward to seeing the place I have fondly remembered since nineteen seventy-seven, eight, or nine. I’m not sure which two summers I went there, but I remember another kid and I playing lightsabers with our flashlights in the dusk, so it must have been seventy-seven or after. The most amazing thing to me was how little the place had changed.

Of course, like my shirt, it had shrunk. It wasn’t nearly as large as my smaller-then eyes remember it, but it is almost completely unchanged. The only glaring difference I noted was that the surface of the basketball/tennis court was a fresh, stark black with bright white lines instead of the faded gray with indications of some sort of marking I recall when I was there before. He’s staying in cabin four which is the one I was in the second summer I was at camp.

Isaiah has been excited for the past week. We were at church last Sunday night when Ruth mentioned that she hadn’t heard anything about camp yet this year and wondered when it would be. I found a flyer for it in the office and discovered to my horror that the session for Isaiah’s age group was seven days away! As soon as we got home I emailed the person listed on the flyer and heard back from him the next day, Monday, that there were indeed still slots available. We excitedly called Isaiah downstairs and asked him if he was interested in going. He said he was- and that was that.

He has a brand new sleeping bag of his very own, a new yellow flashlight (batteries included) and a nylon duffle bag to carry all the stuff that didn’t fit in his suitcase. Ruth told me that when they were at the store getting his gear, he could not keep quite about camp. He even told the woman ringing them up that he was going to camp.

The camp is about an hour and forty minutes from our house so after church this morning we got Rally’s on the way home and ate lunch quickly, changed clothes, loaded up his gear and headed south. The drive is very scenic- especially the Missouri part. It’s not quite the geographical region generally considered the Ozarks, but the landscape is the same- very hilly with numerous hollows, ravines, and streams both large and small all lushly green with trees and grass. We saw some cows on the way down, but this is really more horse country.

Isaiah asked me once, about two-thirds of the way there, if we would arrive soon. “No,” I told him “it will be pitch dark by the time we get there. There will only be time to eat a quick supper and crawl straight into your sleeping bag.” I know I’m rotten but sometimes I get a kick out of giving him ridiculous made-up answers of the kind Calvin’s dad gives. Ruth admonished me, but I grinned and told her he’d figure out what was really going on when we got there.

And sure enough when we came to the turnoff, I asked him to read the sign. “It says ‘Camp Neotez’! Hey- it’s not dark yet, Dad!” After that turn, it was a few more miles till we saw the turn into the camp. As we traveled down the long, narrow gravel road memories flooded back to me- and a great sense of excitement and happiness. I remembered having so much fun at this place and I hadn’t been back in over twenty years- now my son was going to be having just as much fun for the next few days.

The camp is pretty small and as we were coming in one van coming out had to back up about fifty feet to a wider spot in the drive so we could get by. There really isn’t a parking area. Vehicles were just parked wherever. We parked by the upper dam of Crystal Falls. It’s a pond created by a cement dam about seven or eight feet tall across a medium to small size creek. At the point by where we parked the pond is about thirty feet wide by fifty feet long. On the other side of the upper dam there is another pond about the same size which is actually Crystal Falls since it’s designed to give nice waterfall effect.

As soon as we got out Gideon started chattering about the waterfalls. He is fascinated by water features these days. I can understand that, I always have been (and still am) too. We walked by the water up to the registration area. Where Isaiah’s shirt was a big hit as I mentioned above. We got him all signed in and got his own new shirt then got his gear and hauled it to his cabin. He ended up only having to carry his pillow since his suitcase was a bit heavy and he is a bit short to carry his sleeping bag or his duffle.

At the cabin we met two of his three cabin counselors. They both were old hands and seemed like decent fellows. Isaiah picked a top bunk with a window and we rolled his sleeping bag out on it. Isaiah climbed up to try out the bunk, and Gideon had to climb up too. Isaiah wanted to go and look around some more so we stowed his gear and went back out to walk around some. We walked back up to Crystal Falls and both the boys stood looking at the water. I took a great picture of Isaiah in front of the falls, and one of Isaiah and Gideon together sitting on a bench.

By then it was time for the kids who had already registered to meet for activities down by the tennis courts. Isaiah started walking in that direction and I called to him.

“Hey, Man how about a hug?”

“Oh, yeah!” he gave me a big hug, “Bye, Dad” and started walking again.

“Hold on- how about hugs for your brother and mom?”

“OH, yeah!”

He hugged them and me again- waved bye and headed off for activities. Earlier in the week Ruth had wondered how he would do being on his own. We are both now certain he will do just fine.

As we started walking back to the van Gideon proclaimed the he wanted to stay, too. He took the denial of that request with precocious aplomb, but insisted on a more thorough investigation of the waterways. I held his hand as we walked right to the edge of the stream that feeds Crystal Falls farther upstream than we had been before. He put his hand in and announced that it was cold. I told Ruth to watch him while I took a couple of pictures. When I finished snapping and turned around he was delighting himself by throwing rocks in the stream. Ruth showed me the one he’d picked as a souvenir.

We had to have a couple of “this is the very last one” throws in before he was satisfied and ready to go. He was happy walking back to the van and getting strapped in. He even did OK while I carefully turned the van around in the tight location, as soon as we started up the gravel road out of camp he started bawling. It was understandable, of course. Isaiah wasn’t with us (though Gideon understood we would come get him in a couple of days) which he Gideon is not used to, he needed a nap, and we were leaving the kind of place that no kid would want to leave. Ruth handed a drink back to him and that made him happy and he was fast asleep before we were back to the highway.

I know Isaiah is going to have a massive blast at camp. I am jealous of him- I wish I could be a kid and go to Camp Neotez again.

I may have to be a counselor or staff member next year- but not on Isaiah’s week. I’ll let him build his own memories.