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The Swamp

The Swamp

It’s Wednesday morning as we all sit or stand in the Swamp‑ all twenty‑five of us.  Now the Swamp is a classic building at Dry Creek.  It is the summer home of our boy staffers.  I recall with fondness the summer twenty years ago I spent in it as staff director.  To all of us guys who’ve worked at camp, there is a special brotherhood from sharing a summer here together.

But today it’s not just guys in the Swamp.  Our whole staff is gathered here.  This loud group, whom you normally can’t shut up, are all silent.   As I sit against the wall, I stare at a dime on the floor.   I’m the fearless leader of this group and I don’t have a clue what to say.

You see it’s the last week of camp and we’ve all left our responsibilities‑ trash runs, floor sweeping, washing dishes, and all the other behind-the-scene jobs we do daily‑ to gather at the Swamp to load up Brad’s stuff.

It’s been five weeks since Brad died.  We’ve left his bed and gear as it was on the day he left to go home that fateful weekend.  His parents told us to keep it there until the end of the summer. . . And now that time has come.   We’ve all come‑ summer staffers, counselors, and those of us who work here year round‑ to say another good‑bye and close another chapter.

All week long I’ve become emotional just thinking about this moment.  To me personally it has such an air of finality to it.  The last visible links we have to Brad Robinson will be loaded up in a few minutes to make their final journey home.

I continue to stare at the dime on the floor right by Brad’s bed.  I wonder how long it has been there and what story it could tell.  We all sit in quietness except for the air conditioner and many sniffles.  After what seem like hours, but in reality are only minutes, I finally say, “Guys, you’re going to have to do it.”

Then our staff boys slowly, but resolutely, begin what must be done.  They unplug Brad’s stereo and pick up the C.D. collection he loved so much.  They open his closet and bring out his clothes.  His hats‑ his faithful Yankees cap and camouflage basket hat.‑ come next.  One by one with the love and care I’ve seen soldiers fold the American flag, they fold and box up Brad’s stuff.

As I sit against the wall in the corner, the tears just seem to pour out of me as a torrent broken forth in a flash flood.  I don’t know where it is all coming from.  It’s not coming from just my eyes but from my soul.  All of the pent up emotions I’ve carried in my heart just burst through.  I put my head in my hands and just lose control.   The pain of loss, the broken dreams of Brad’s future, the sorrow of closing this chapter and saying good‑bye one more time, seeing Brad’s friends weeping are just too much for all of us.  The room is filled with sobbing as we all grieve together.

When I finally look up through my tears, the boys are folding Brad’s quilt and picking up the extra mattress he depended on for a good night’s sleep.  Finally everything is loaded in the big blue storage box.

Just as we all sit there, no one wanting to take the first step to the door, five camp radios blast out.  The voice of Doris Hennington loudly calls, “Diaaaannnnne.”   It is Doris’s famous panic call.   At once all of us in the Swamp burst out in uncontrollable laughter.  Just when we needed it, the Lord sent just what we needed.   As we all laugh heartily with the tears‑ all mixed with humor and sorrow‑ I know we’re going to be all right.

The boys load Brad’s stuff in the back of my truck.   Mixed with his gear is potting soil and mulch to plant a tree at Brad’s house when they get there.  I walk by the truck and touch for one final time Brad’s storage box.   Once again I’m walking by his coffin seeing his face for the last time this side of Heaven.   Once again I softly say,

“It’s not good‑bye, Brad but see you later. . .”

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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