Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Ramblin about my Scout Camp

Ah, Camp Tallaha.

Chiggers and ticks, the coldest dang spring-fed pool where I had to spend hours a day in lifeguard training, the only hot shower located by that spring fed wonder and by the time you got back to your campsite, you had sweated away your cleanliness.

Campfires songs, hundreds of skits (many recycled), kids from around the entire Mississippi Delta area — the Delta Area Council and Koi Hatachie Lodge 345 — yeah, I know Tallaha, I spent many summers attending and working at Camp Tallaha in the late 70s and early 80s.

Lashing bridges and lookout towers in our Commissioner sites, training young minds in the nuances of first aid and camping and cooking. Re-telling stories on our “Wilderness Survival” campouts once a week of people somewhere burning poison ivy and dying from breathing the smoke. Taking our nights off and heading to the Sonic in Charleston. Getting to know campers early in the week to scout out any “hot” big sisters who might come to the Friday night family campfire.

Traversing up suicide hill to get to the (the old) lake or rowing and canoing, finding those blue racer snakes, even found and killed and cooked a rattlesnake one summer, hitting the “canteen” after campfires for a coke and snack or to purchase a moccasin kit or basket weaving kit for your merit badge class. Watching kids become men, watching men swell with pride as their interest and hours molded these campers into the hope of tomorrow.

I haven’t been to Tallaha since the early 80s, when I moved away, but kept in touch through friends and family who kept the Tallaha torch lit with their contribution to delta area scouting. Always wanted to make it back and experience the newest faces seeing the traditions of my youth. Though I didn’t hear about the 75th anniversary, I would of killed to of been there and now my heart is saddened by the passing of this grand old campground. It’s not fancy, it’s not supposed to be.

Phrases like “don’t forget your buddy tag” and “who’s getting tapped out?” and “you dancing old style this week” all echo through my head as I remember my time in Tallahatchie county. Wet spring weekends and late summer memories of both opening and closing the camp each year, folding tents, clearing some land, cleaning and stacking and making the quartermaster hut glisten and shine.

Names and faces I haven’t seen in years flood my mind, as I remember nights as a staff person thinking of new ways to entertain the campers.

Skits like the pencil seller, the bee and the honey, the enlarging machine and many more are sketched in my mind and old notebooks I’ve carried for years as well as songs like Way Down Yonder in the Paw Paw Patch, The Titanic, German Orchestra, Sipping Cider and many more bring a smile as the memory floods each corner of my brain.

Waking up at 2 AM in the midst of a torrential downpour to go check campsites for trouble and have one of your buddies ask you if just saw the latest Halloween movie that eerily resembles your trek through the woods at the moment. Staff versus Scoutmaster volleyball games, box hockey and hours of tetherball (got to get the right angle headed upwards) are all tightly woven into my Tallaha grain.

The weekly pool events, the diving competition, swim meets and the ever hilarious ‘greased watermelon’ make me grin as I remember faded photographs of a skinny little boy slowly becoming a man through the sweat and determination of scores of men and women to keep this little hamlet in the hills alive.

Places like Tallaha aren’t supposed to die. And it shouldn’t be preserved just to be preserved, it’s a Scout camp, it’s my scout camp and my brothers and my friends and a few so-called enemies. But its ours. It belongs to everyone who ever tied a square not or hiked its backroads to meet the requirements of Orienteering, or any kid who came in as a boy and left closer to being a man. Its Camp Tallaha, a Boy Scout camp that helps make men.

That’s my Camp Tallaha. It may leave, but it will never die, hundreds of boys who became men will keep it alive, from Mississippi to California to Tennessee to Michigan, that’s how far I’ve taken that I learned in those hills of Tallahatchie county. Square knots and cooking skills, skits and songs — I’ve collected them all and shared them around the nation.

So, I guess its time to say thank you, Camp Tallaha and the hundreds or thousands of people who made it everything that it is. You helped make me what I am today. Today, I smile and cry, Tallaha is my friend, home away from home, a long lost but not forgotten special place. The torch may be extinguished in Tallahatchie county, but thousands more are being lit around the nation as the spirit of Tallaha will never fade.

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