We’re continuing our summer camp features. Seth and Terry, two of the campers in this story, are now grown men.
Seth is getting ready to hike and bike across Europe.
Terry is moving to Boston.
I surmise they’ll handle their homesickness.
Seth’s Big Camp Day
Monday, July 5
There is no camp like R.A. Camp . . . For those of you without a proper Baptist education, let me explain what R.A.’s are- it stands for “Royal Ambassadors,” our Southern Baptist mission education organization for boys. My dad, who led R.A. Camps for years, always said it stood for “Rowdy Apes.”
R.A. Camp has a flavor of its own. When you mix all boys with men as counselors and leaders, the fun begins. As young boys, my three sons refused to go to Preteen camps where “there would be girls.” But they couldn’t wait to get packed for R.A. Camp.
Speaking of packing, many an R.A. boy has returned home with their luggage untouched. Only their Monday clothing and swimsuit were used. When I served as an R.A. camp director, I could always call many of the boys by name because they wore their summer league baseball shirts, with their name emblazoned across the back, all week long.
Do you know what an “R.A. shower” is? It’s what boys tell their moms when asked the question, “Did you take a shower every day?”
“No, mom, I didn’t need to; I went swimming every day.”
If we had women counselors, there would be more showers, more dirty clothes, and probably a lot less fun.
These things, and many more, make R.A. Camp so unique and one of my favorite weeks of the summer. But there is one trait that sets R.A. Camp apart that is no fun at all. It’s a deadly disease called homesickness.
Homesickness strikes both genders and all preteen ages. However, it seems to occur worst at R.A. Camp. I’m sure psychologists would like to study the reasons why. Here are a few of my theories. First of all, when girls come to camp, they bring a huge number of moms as counselors. These wonderful ladies are better at comforting the afflicted. Men aren’t the most gifted at helping a sobbing youngster, whose only wish in life is to see his momma.
A second theory has to do with teddy bears. A few years ago we purchased a bunch of stuffed bears. We keep them in the First Aid station. I’ve seen many a homesick girl instantly placated by a pink, stuffed bear. Go figure it.
But a homesick boy doesn’t want a bear, he doesn’t want another snow cone from the snack shack (I’ve tried such bribery many times.), and he wouldn’t think of crawling up in a bunk with another camper. He only wants one thing: His momma.
So let me tell you about Seth. Seven-year-old Seth arrived on Monday this summer so excited about camp. His mother, Molly, told us he might be a little homesick later in the week. But she was wrong—he was homesick by Monday lunch. I spent the afternoon visiting with him. I soon realized that here was a man going home no matter what. I’ve won many times in the battle of homesickness (“Let’s just wait until tomorrow morning and see how you feel.”), but it was clear waiting was useless; Seth was going home . . . and soon.
Molly didn’t seem too surprised when she got my telephone call. Because they only lived thirty minutes away, she soon arrived to get Seth. He was a happy camper as he hugged his mother, and quickly loaded up his gear in the truck before anyone could change their mind. As they drove off, I thought, “Well, Seth, I’ll probably see you next year.”
As I watched the vehicle drive up with Seth looking out the window, I thought back to my first camp experience at Dry Creek. I grew up four miles from the camp. When I was nine, I first went to R.A. Camp. We stayed in cabin I-1, which is now the Paint Building.
I had a great time until Tuesday afternoon. While wrestling with my counselor, I was slung off and hit my head against a bunk. That blow didn’t create amnesia. It created the opposite—remembrance—remembrance of how badly I needed to see my momma. Nothing could convince me otherwise.
The next summer was better—I made it until Wednesday. It is with great pride that I share that by my eleven-year-old summer, I made it the entire week. It is worth noting that my success had less to do with my maturity than with the fact my dad was now the camp director.
I laugh as I recall my debut at camp. Then I think about my youngest son, Terry. Terry holds two Dry Creek records that may never be broken. Both records were set the same year when he was seven. His first record is “Shortest distance from home for homesickness.” Terry broke the longtime record held by my childhood friend, David Cole. Terry’s new record is one mile.
Terry’s second record is even more impressive. It reads, “Shortest time at camp before leaving for home homesick.” That year he went home during Monday lunch. I saw him in the cafeteria line, clutching his stomach, with the worst pained expression. I wondered if maybe he already had spent his five dollars at the snack shack and had a stomachache. But I quickly recognized what it was. Only those who’ve suffered homesickness can know how it is truly a physical illness.
I thought for a while this year, Seth might break Terry’s shortest duration record. But being the competitive father I am, I held Seth off until the afternoon to keep the old record intact.
As the sun begins to set behind the trees on Monday evening, I imagine Seth is happily at home watching “Home Improvements” on television. I look around warily as campers stream toward the evening service. Approaching darkness always triggers homesickness.
I walk across the sandy ground toward the Tabernacle. Hundreds of tennis shoe tracks are imprinted in the sand. As I get to the double doors, I look up and to my surprise I see something I never expected to see—there is Seth smiling as he enters the Tabernacle. His parents have brought him back for the evening service. We visit and laugh.
Then Molly hits me with a bombshell, “Seth brought his clothes to stay.” I start to protest. The visions of a midnight phone call, complete with Seth crying in the background, whirls in my mind. But Seth is determined to try it. He’s switching cabins to where there is a counselor from his hometown. He grins and runs off to join the rest of the boys.
Some stories have happy endings and this is one of them. Every time I see Seth the rest of the week, he is playing and laughing. I’m happily amazed as he happily has a great week. A week that he will always remember and a week of R.A. Camp I can never forget.