The children began arriving two and three at a time, brought to camp by their aunts and grandmothers and social workers. They arrived in worn out cars with the fan belts squeaking and the sweltering heat pouring in through the rolled down windows.
“Camp Friendship,” staffed by Catholic volunteers from all over the country, would run for the first two weeks of June, and since last year’s camp there’d been a waiting list with the names of kids from throughout Northeast Mississippi.
A restless, windblown group of kids squirmed across the plastic seats of a church bus as it wound its way up the gravel road, crawling deep into the smothering woods of Monroe County.
The children jostled each other, leaning in to press their ears against the buds of a tiny, digital player the color of sour apple candy. They sang along to the lyrics of Jay-Z.
“It’s a hard knock life, for us,” sang one skinny little black girl through a gorgeous, guileless smile. She was much too young to know that the king of Hip Hop had borrowed that hook from a Broadway musical about an orphan.
Few of the kids showed much anxiety about being left for the week. Most of their young lives had been ongoing sagas of abandonment and separation.
One tiny boy with a sunny disposition and the lovely, caramel skin of the island people dragged along a plastic garbage bag as his suitcase. Another boy was teased immediately because his tattered bag had the characters from the Disney film “Beauty and the Beast” on it.
At the first meal the group who’d given themselves the name “The Magical Chocolate Bunnies” sat quietly in one corner of the dining hall, lustily devouring their hot dogs and macaroni and cheese across from the more boisterous “Transformers.”
When the meal was done a small squabble erupted about who was going to bus the table and carry the dishes to the kitchen.
In the evening, the game “capture the flag” escalated into a frenzy of laughing and running amok. A casual observer might have thought it a scene straight from “Lord of the Flies” with children spread out across the two acres of grass falling and screaming like the Battle of Shiloh.
One over zealous counselor painted his face blue like Mel Gibson in the film “Braveheart” and ran along the edge of the fray shouting at the children in a Scottish accent about freedom and pride.
Before 9 p.m. “lights out” the children scurried around chaotically, treading endless paths between the showers and toilets. In the smaller boys’ cabin, called “Spear,” a chorus of mean spirited laughter arose around a heavy boy as he stood at the sink rubbing soap under his arms.
“What are you doing?” one of the boys asked him.
“I’m taking my ‘wash off,’” he said.
Another boy stifled his laughter long enough to explain. “He’s afraid to get in that shower,” said the boy. “He’s afraid of that water.”
The young bather obviously came from a house where there was no shower. He was used to washing in a large, metal tub.
In the week that followed, hilarious episode followed hilarious episode. One bony little boy lost his trunks in the murky waters of the Tenn-Tom, another continually misbehaved because he so loved the punishment of sweeping the dining hall after hours.
Each day began the same way, with prayer and Corn flakes and the endless chorus of, “Noah, he built him, he built him an arky arky, Built-it-out-of hickory barky barky, Children of the Lord.”
Contact religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal