Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Almost Heaven, West Virginia

With summer rapidly approaching and my boys getting older, I am reminded of my own childhood and the summers I had. I remember running barefoot through the Florida woods, fishing in the Halifax River, and catching all kinds of living things to keep as pets. I loved having pets and had everything from snakes to squirrels. My mother swore I would get bit and I would have to get painful rabies shots. My fondest memories however were of the trips to Camp JOY in West Virginia.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was raised Seventh Day Baptist. During the summer, our Church members would pitch in money and supplies so that we could go to camp. We would all load up in a big station wagon with the preacher driving and head to West Virginia. I know that there were a lot of us packed in the car but I can’t remember exactly how many. I am sure it was more than the law now allows. We would head out of Daytona early in the morning and stop for the night somewhere in North Carolina.

This Church was, and still is a tight family community and we stayed for free in someone’s home. I can’t remember the name of the person that let us stay with them but I remember a big white house on a hill with a pond beside it. The pond water was red from the clay in the area. I was able to see a few fish in it when I tossed in worms that I dug up from under the hay in the barn. I can still remember the smell of the farm in the morning when I got up early to explore. After a breakfast of cereal and fresh milk (right from their cow), we hit the road again.
As soon as we crossed the West Virginia state line, our preacher would start singing;

"Oh, the hills, beautiful hills, How I love those West Virginia hills!
If o'er sea o'er land I roam, Still I'll think of happy home,
And my friends among the West Virginia hills."

The first few years we went to camp JOY, it was held at a 4H camp somewhere in West Virginia. It was in a little valley with mountains on all sides and it had a stream running all around the camp site. We stayed in cabins. Each cabin had a preacher/chaperone and the boys and girls cabins faced each other across a large field. We had Bible study, sporting activities, quiet time and we swam in the stream that surrounded the camp. I would turn blue from the cold water because this “Florida boy” wasn’t used to it. At meal time, we all ate together in a big cafeteria. The residents of each cabin would sit together and we sang challenges to the other tables;

“Stand up table one stand up,
stand up table one stand up.
We won’t shut up till you stand up,
stand up table one stand up.”

There were other songs but for some reason that one is etched in my brain. (Perhaps because I heard it thousands of times during the week.)

Each morning, we met at the flag pole and said the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer. One of the girls at the camp had a little stuffed bear that she kept with her. One day she left it on one of the picnic tables and one of the boys took it. The next morning as we met at the flag pole there was the little bear at the top of the pole. The girl started crying and one of the counselors had to climb up and get the bear down. Camp was a lot of fun.

A few years later, they changed the location of the camp. The new camp site was in Berea West Virginia. We stayed in an old school house and slept in sleeping bags. The boys slept upstairs and the girls slept downstairs. There was a girl there that year that had a crush on me. She sent me a “love” note and told me that she liked me a lot and didn’t have a “steady”. She kept following me the entire week. She caught me alone once and told me that if I wanted to kiss her it would be ok and she wouldn’t tell anyone. I told her I had a cold and it wouldn’t be a good idea. I was really shy back then.

There was a huge strawberry patch right beside the church and one day I ate so many I broke out in hives. I didn’t eat strawberries for a long time after that. The drinking water there was terrible so I only drank milk. One day several of us went for a hike and happened onto a house that had an open well. The man that lived there went and got some cups and dipped us some water. It was the best tasting water I ever had. We had a lot of fun at those camps. Sadly, that was the last year I went to camp in West Virginia.

They held the camp in Florida one year but it wasn’t as special as those trips to West Virginia. I will never forget summer camp and I keep singing that song over and over in my head, even after over 35 years; "Still I'll think of happy home, And my friends among the West Virginia hills."

Have a Blessed day,
Greg

17 comments:

Angie said...

Makes me sing the John Denver song~Take me home country road to the place I belong, West Virginia...

I love to hear your stories, Greg.

Lori said...

I agree with Angie, your post makes me think of the John Denver song too. You have such vivid memories of your childhood. I wish I could remember the details of my childhood like you can with yours. Your camp must have been great fun!

Kati said...

Sounds like some great experiences, Greg. I'll tell ya, the one time I went to summer camp wasn't nearly as fun as you make your experiences sound.

And yeah, I'm humming the John Denver song now as well. Thanks. *wry smile*

Kati said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kati said...

Hey Greg! I certainly don't mean to suggest (re: your comment today on my blog) that we should all run out to the stores & go broke buying up a lot of survivalist-type stuff. But, having a stockpile of things that y'all eat & use regularly.... Not a bad idea. Don't get sucked into the pit of spending big $$ on MRE's & lots of high-tech camping gear like folks did before Y2K (or, loads & loads of beans & rice like my dad did, though he never eats beans & rice). But, definitely put some thought into what y'all might want to have extra of as the prices go up & things cost more.

Also, check out this blog http://sharonastyk.com/ She's got some great ideas, without coming across as "apocolyptic freak", or anything.

Janice Thomson said...

What wonderful memories Greg! I so enjoyed this post.

Annie said...

I remember a camp in the wilds of southern Oklahoma, one rather like what you describe. When I was older I went back for old times sake. The magic was almost gone. I guess one really can't go home again. But the magic is still in my memory, just as your magic is still in yours.

Lori said...

Such detail! I remember bits and peaces of my childhood. Nothing like this!

Blessings to you and your family,

Lori

Shannon @ Gabi's World said...

What sweet memories Greg!

Jotter Jan said...

Greg...I too have a fondness for the mountains...even though I live in the sandhills of North Carolina.
I think it's because the majestic mountains remind me of God's majesty!

You also had me humming along with John Denver's song as I read about your memories of West Virginia.

Katherine Aucoin said...

Greg, this is my first visit to your blog and what a wonderful blog you have. Your posts are very uplifting and make for a joyful way to start the day. I am on my way to visit your other blogs. Thanks for stopping by mine. I hope you come back for a visit! I'll make this blog one of my daily stops.

Greg C said...

Oh noooooooo, my last post wasn't uplifting at all. Sorry.

jalynn01 said...

Greg,
Thanks for stopping by my blog...which brings me to yours. I just had to read about West VA. I grew up very near to WV and spent sometime riding around on those beautiful country roads. Loved your story about the camp.

Susan Kelly Skitt said...

Wonderful memories. I remember those camp days :)

Susan Kelly Skitt said...

Oh, I meant my camp days, not yours, but yours sounded quite delightful (smile). Good memories for sure. Thanks for sharing with us.

Mary Starr said...

Greg - You probably stayed at Camp Caesar, near Cowen, W.Va. The landscape sounds familiar. I stayed at the American Baptist Camp, Camp Cowen, which had its entrance directly across the road from Caesar.

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