Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hell has a Green Valley

When I was thirteen my parents sent me to Green Valley Bible Camp in Rogers, Arkansas and I still don't think I have recovered from that experience. I was not a gad about as a boy, I stayed home and kept to myself. I didn't have friends whose house I went to or friends whom I spent every waking moment with away from home. Lincoln Kirk, who lived in Pittsburg, and Matt Mortenson were the two friends I had. I spent every waking moment that I wasn't in school with my Mom and Dad at home. I just didn't get out and go and do, socialization was not something that I desired.
Enter Camp. Camp is designed for people who have friends, enjoy socializing and also crave a rustic pioneering atmosphere. I didn't have friends or socializing and certainly didn't want to connect with my pioneer brothers of yester year. I loved the electronic age, refrigeration, microwaves, and my TV friends who were always there at their designated times.
My sister loved going to Green Valley and ticked away the year each day, anxiously awaiting the week of freedom she enjoyed in Arkansas far away from her family. She was a normal teenager with all of the typical teenager "things." I, on the other hand, was a reclusive, shy boy who was only comfortable with my family or those older than me.
I had to pack according to the strict dress code of the camp, and bring all of my other necessary paraphernalia to make it through this week that I was about to endure. That fateful Sunday approached--departure day. Mom, Dad, and I had our last supper, loaded the car and headed to the building for my trip to Arkansas. I can remember the nerves building up indide of me like a massive tumor feeding off the nervous energy being created. We loaded the Gospel Chariot, an old school bus painted green, and headed for Arkansas. It was hot, the bus was not air conditioned and I was alone--totally alone with no one to talk to as I bounced and bumped further and further away from the comfort I was missing. All of the other anxious, chattering campers were busy talking about their memories of Green Valley sharing all of the stories that they were so excited to relive a then begin new memories of this happy respite from summer's doldrums.
I felt as if we would never, ever get to that camp. The camp was nestled in a densely wooded region of Northwest Arkansas. The faint sound of banjo music playing with bose quality sound. All of Arkansas' humidity was generated from Green Valley. There were no sounds of the city, only the buzzing chirping squeaking sounds of the wild, wild west. then there were the sounds of the hundreds of excited chattering children scrambling to get settled in for their week of camp. Gleefully reconecting with the camp friends. I on the other hand, stood frozen on this foreign patch of land. Seems there aren't welcoming patrons waiting to take new campers by the hand and get them settled in for a great week of camp. No, you are on your own, on your own to figure out the drill the schedule the cabin. I had a sleeping bag, suitcase, my pillow which now had a dusting of Arkansas dirt which made the pillowcase feel like sand paper piled around my ankles, and no clue where I was supposed to go. I finally found my way through registration and headed to cabin 4. Clearly hell has a Green Valley and I was there for a week.
The girls cabin's were on on one side of the valley along the steep hill, dirt trails led campers to their hillbilly huts. In the valley was the mess hall, open-air auditorium, pool, command central, and the small sporting venues like BB gun range, darts, horse shoes, ping pong, basketball all scattered along the long valley, on the other side of the valley along another steep hill were the boys cabins. The softball fields were up another hill in the back of the valley, and another softball field in the front of the valley near the entrance to the camp.
The cabins were crudely built shingled huts with screen windows and a rusty metal door that never really shut well. There were large wooden storm shutters propped up, which were closed 9 months out of the year. Inside the cabin, there were six sets of bunk beds with old, musty mattress slapped upon the large wooden frames. The smell of must, dust, and mold shut down your sinuses like Fort Knox, you were not able to breath through your nose only through your mouth which meant you tasted every breath. you could spray water on the wall and wake up to a fresh crop of mushrooms in the morning. Oh it was hot and humid.
As I was making my bed, which was simply unrolling my sleeping bag and getting all of my stuff stowed away I realized something horrible. The flashlight my Dad had packed had nearly dead batteries. Flashlights were imperative to navigate through the pitch black valley and scale the mountain upon which rested our cabin--this required a flashlight--with good batteries. A boy that went to church with me, Tony Flint, was across the room on the top bunk. "Hey Tony, did you remember to bring a flashlight?" "Yeah, you gotta have one--here it is." You know where this is going! "Can I see it?" "Sure." Fresh batteries! Quick swap--good to go. Surely this dastardly deed would be overlooked, after all I was encamped in the green valley of hell for the sake of the Lord! The command central/general store had batteries for sale. At Green Valley you were given a supply of paper strips that acted as cash. You were to write your name on the slip and your cabin number. Everything cost a sum of tickets, they were your currency. Batteries for flashlights: 10 tickets. Buying batteries for a cabin mate whose flashlight mysteriously ran out of battery life thus causing nauseating guilt for another cabin mate who resorted to petty theft: Priceless. I guess I would just dip my drinks out of the mossy green water hose fountains scattered about the camp. Or, just wring my shirt for a 44 oz. gulp of thirst quenching sulphur!
At Green Valley you know the schedule changes each day by the screaming of the adults. All meals were in an unconditioned mess hall which had absolutely no draft at all! All of the heat generated by the kitchen was successfully contained in the cabin, coupled with the body heat of a hundred or so kids and counselors and you have a nauseating heat which quenches any hunger pangs with the putrid pain of misery. I sweat more in that first few hours than in all of the 13 years of my life combined. The sweat was stinging my eyes as it ran like niagra falls down my head. Misery upon miser! Solomon would had nothing on me.
You were not allowed to wear shorts because that would lead you to lust after the legs of the lady campers and cause one to sin and begin the long journey toward the dark world of laciviousness. Instead you were clothed in denim, during the hottest week of an Arkansas summer. You were also required to change each evening inot worship attire, slacks and a shirt--every night! Lust was the farthest thing from one's mind. Pouring your ice cold cola (three tickets) down your pants does not put out the fires of lust, oh no it extinguished and gave brief relief to a near spontaneous combustion!
The heat was distracting, the loneliness was distracting. I had been there not even a full day and felt as if I had been there for a year. I was in for a long, long week. I had not made friends, most likely my fault, and just wandered around longing for the comforts of home, shorts and air conditioning. I sat in worship each night radiating heat, sweating, and wishing that the goddess of wind would just blow one quick breath my way. Oh I was hot!
As the sun fell the battalion of mosquitoes came out. Mosquitoes love my blood. They flock to me as a hummingbird flocks to red bottles of delicious nectar. I looked like a bee keeper only I was covered in mosquitoes. Mosquitoes didn't care that I had a layer of Off on my skin, the risk of their death was worth the delicious taste of my blood, and suck they did! The valley doesn't really cool down at night, it stays hot--it's just dark hot. When you are camping in the Green Valley of hell it's not such a good idea to cuddle up in a sleeping bag designed to keep you warm in 20 below.
As I laid there on my top bunk sweating profusely it dawned on me that I had to go to the bathroom. I was surprised I had any fluid to void. Now, where was the bathroom! Just a trek in the dark through the wilderness about 30 yards away from my cabin. Drill: Take your flashlight, wear your shoes, walk carefully and watch for snakes--G R E A T! Damn my bladder and colon for their frequent, clockwise precision--they clearly didn't get the memo I was at camp, 30 yards away from the bathroom. Blast!
The bathroom was hot, there was a definite theme here, and a hot boys bathroom none the less. Boys away from their mother's warning that aim does count. Clearly all bets were off and aim was a laughable suggestion. I had just walked into a urine sauna! The smell was disgusting. You practically had to chew the air it was so thick. Ok...rush and flush-- a flush, by the way, that took care of the previous 20 boys who heeded the call of nature in that stall. The lights above the sinks of course had attracted a menagarie of photophyllic bugs drunk on their light quest. There were Crickets scrambling to crawl out of the porcelain death they had found themselves to be in. Just a drop of water is all they needed yet they were going to be flushed away--lucky ducks! Oh to be flushed away from the green valley of hell.
A typical day meant getting up at 7:30, hygiene, breakfast, class, class, class, lunch, afternoon sports, nap, dinner, worship, some type of entertainment, snack break, closing devo, bed time. Swimming was really a hoot. We were not allowed to mix gender in the pool. A huge bell was rung which signaled that the girls were marching to the pool. All boys were sent to their cabins for rest. The windows were slammed shut to block us from our temptaiton. All the girls marched down the hill, wrapped in a towel and wearing a dark colored t-shirt. When the girls had made it safely into the pool the bell was rung again and the wooden shutters were raised. We did the same thing again when the girls went back to their cabins. I saw swimming as my bath and left it at that because the thought of standing in a room full of naked men and boys was just not my idea of fun. Thus was the drill everyday.
By Thursday, I had developed a heat rash on both legs on my inner thighs. Just when I thought I couldn't be more miserable i developed a rash! Who needs a t-shirt? A rash would be fabulous, just fabulous!
I could not wait to get home! Finally Saturday morning had come. I had been pardoned from my prision--freedom at last. Sweet freedom. That old, bouncy, noisy bus could not drive fast enough to get me back to Hillcrest and home. Even though I didn't want to ever speak to my parents again because they sentenced me to this horrible week--I was thrilled to see them!
Ahhhh...home! Air conditioning, carpeting, TV, humidity free comfort. Cool sheets, clean toilets, food not handed to you on military lunch trays, drinks at your leisure and not requiring tickets which I lost by Tuesday. And a cream that quenched the fire of that rash. I never wanted to go back to that camp again! Had I known about therapy i would have definitely sought some type of professional help to clear my mind of this horrible week. I did go back to visit once or twice and was reminded just how lucky I was to be able to go home.
Lucy has wonderful memories of this place, went as long as she could go as a camper, and has returned as a counselor for several years. Why I will never know! They can have the Green Valley of hell! I'd rather remove my own gallbladder with an oyster fork!


Tracy said...

it does indeed sound like hell. but hey you did have flush toilets. i was expecting to hear about outhouses. so i guess you were really livin large LOL...
its amazing someone didnt die of the heat - literally.