Mama grew up Catholic; Daddy, a Baptist. When they married, Mama made it clear she wasn’t stepping foot in a Baptist Church. Daddy was hell-bent and determined he wasn’t converting to Catholicism so between the two, they settled on the Methodist Church – The United Methodist Church. They joined the one named for Main Street, although it fronts East Cambridge. Perhaps it wasn’t always that way since I think I remember stories of the street having several names before it was branded East Cambridge, one of those being Main Street.
On Sunday mornings, Mama would wake me and my sister and hurry us to slip on our department store dresses, always reserved for Sundays. Sunday school was at 10am but we’d arrive a little after 9, early enough to have breakfast in the Fellowship Hall before heading to class. I usually filled my plate with unsalted grits, a sausage patty, and a doughnut. While I ate, I would stare at the shuffle board courts taped to the Fellowship Hall floor, trying to figure out how I could make a game of hopscotch work on them. After breakfast, my sister and I headed to music and then to Sunday school. I always hated my Sunday school class because some kid named David always knew all of the answers. Seriously? How does an 8-year-old kid even know who Job is? Loser!
I was Christened in that church as an infant, confirmed in that church as a middle-schooler, and later baptized in that church as a believer.
As a member of the United Methodist Church, I also received an invitation to Asbury Hills, a summer camp ministry of the South Carolina United Methodist Conference. Mama scrounged up enough money for me to attend the summer before I was to go into fourth grade. I don’t remember being terribly excited for my first week long stay at summer camp, but I must have been because I picked out my favorite outfit to wear for the hour long drive into the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I remember that outfit as if it were still hanging in my closet today. It was a nautical inspired ensemble, probably picked up from Upton’s or Myers Arnold. The top was navy and white striped with a square cut neck line. The short sleeves were cuffed and adorned with small, gold, anchor shaped buttons, one on each sleeve. The shorts were a classic navy with seamless pockets on either side. I’m sure I wore this getup with a pair of white canvas Keds (that’s pretty much a given). I chose this outfit for my first day at camp because it was my favorite and because I looked damn good in it.
When we arrived at camp, I was anxious to see the cabin where I would spend the next week of my young life. It was your typical summer camp cabin, filled with bunks; the front walls made of mesh screening. It reminded me of the cabins in Disney’s The Parent Trap (the 1961 version, not the 1998 remake because that one sucked). I was sharing a cabin with 6 (or so) other girls and a counselor. On the first night, just before bed, I slipped off my navy and white striped shirt and pulled a night gown over my head. I then slipped my shorts and underwear off, in one fell swoop, before sliding on a fresh pair of underwear. I balled up the three garments I’d taken off and stuffed them into my suitcase before hitting the sack for the night.
A week of church camp came and went. I endured the shit for food, the stinky campground bathrooms, the mosquitoes, and the nightly Bible studies where everyone knew more than me. The last day was the day I looked forward to the most. Not because I was going home but because we were having a camp-wide scavenger hunt and scavenger hunts are awesome! Plus, camp-wide meant we would get to interact with the older groups who were also at camp. This meant older boys and well, if you know me, you know I’ve always been into older men (Daddy issues, perhaps?). I was excited for the scavenger hunt and when I say excited, I mean wear my favorite outfit excited. So, on the last day of church camp I dug through my suitcase to find the nautical inspired troupe I’d balled up and stuffed in five days before. I slid on my classic navy shorts and navy and white striped shirt and smoothed the wrinkles with the palms of my hands. I looked as adorable as you would want your 10 year-old daughter to look just before she heads out on a church camp scavenger hunt to check out 12-year-old boys.
After dressing for the final festivities, my cabin mates and I, with our counselor, hiked down to the meal hall where we were to pick up our first clue. When we arrived a slew of other campers were already there waiting. My group found our place in the obnoxiously long line and waited. Other groups assembled in line behind us, most notably, a group of campers who were older boys. I batted my eye lashes a few times, smiled, and did the kind of flirting a 10-year-old would do. But I was only met with laughter. My heart sunk into my stomach. Were they laughing at my attempts to be desired? I turned around and faced the front of the line, too embarrassed to look back anymore. Surely my turning around would make the laughter stop. But it didn’t stop. It only grew louder and more people seemed to be joining in. “What in the hell could they be laughing at,” I thought? I had on my best outfit, even if it was a tad wrinkled. Finally, I mustered up the nerve to turn around once more. I was going to have to look these assholes dead in the eyes in order to stop their laughing. But when I did horror filled my 10-year-old body. As I turned around, I saw the kid who was standing behind me pointing down at my butt. He covered his laugh with his other hand. As he continued to point, and to laugh, I reached down to my ass. Did I have a stain on my classic navy shorts? Could I have sat in something and not realized it? I would have been so lucky. Instead of finding a strange wet spot on my ass or a phantom stain, I found the pair of panties I’d slid off (in one fell swoop) with my classic navy shorts on the first day of camp. They were hanging from the leg of my shorts and I had no idea. And what did this girl do? Well, like any well raised, United Methodist, southern belle, she smiled, pulled the dirty panties from her shorts, balled them up, stuck them into the seamless pockets on her beloved navy shorts, and she went on a fucking scavenger hunt.