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.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Sharpova Ramblin'

The man fraternity is standing and applauding today. We have a new hero. His name hasn’t been given, but his efforts have hit the evening news and his exploit is cheered by all of us who understand.

An 18-year old Russian male just wanted a date with the girl of his dreams. It just so happens that girl is a world-class tennis player who recently won Wimbledon and is being compared to every other sports and modeling hottie in the world. Now many folks will scoff and chide this young man for his “lack of sense” and “didn’t he know better” try at getting past security at a major tennis event to meet her. But I know, men across the country, heck, even the world are standing up and cheering this young man.

How many of us have Maria Sharapova’s in our lives? That’s a lot of hands in the air. Mine is too. Both of mine.

It was the summer of 1983. After a full-year at the University of Mississippi, the training grounds for future Miss Americas, I spent the summer taking a few classes with a friend of mine at a smaller school. Our first week of being roomies, I thought I would impress him with my Ole Miss yearbook. I started pointing out beauties and saying I had met this one and had a class with that one and had said hi to this one when Bubba (yes, his name is Bubba and he actually does high end computer stuff with EDS) says to me, “How many of these women have you asked out?”

I stammered out a very weak, “none” and tried to show him some more. Bubba politely smiled and took my yearbook and closed it. He looked at me and said, “Just talk to me about the ones you’ve actually asked out.”
Our conversation ended and we went into some other useless drivel that 19-year old boys at summer school talk about, probably when the Pizza Hut buffet started or something like that.

Now this conversation didn’t break my spirit but energized me. I learned that “no” wouldn’t kill me, especially if it came out of the mouth of a drop dead gorgeous co-ed in training for Miss America. I finished that summer dating two or three local girls on the “hot” category and headed back to Ole Miss to conquer my Sharapovas. Needless to say, I heard enough “no’s” to last me a lifetime from these gals. They didn’t deter me, but rather spurred me on, gathering courage to try. I had plenty of Sharapovas from high school and that first year of college, I didn’t need anymore.

The young lad had pure intentions to meet Miss Sharapova, when security stopped him, he had two pieces of paper and a pen. The paper allegedly had his phone number and a friend's who was with him in the stands and the invitation to a Russian restaurant in the area for their date. Supposedly, the young Russian hadn’t heard about the Monica Seles incident, he was probably 7 or 8 at the time it happened and I’m sure growing up in Russia it wasn’t the main topic in the beet patch or bread line that day.

Now I’m not condoning every man to jump a fence at a major sporting event to meet a superstar and ask for a date, but if there’s a woman in your life or work world that you dream of meeting and asking out, just do it. No doesn’t hurt, much, and certainly won’t kill you. It might get you banned for life from major sporting events and arrested if tried twice. So show enthusiasm and pick your spot. Close the yearbook of dream girls and pick up the phone.

As Bubba said, “talk to me after you ask ‘em out.” I’d like to hear your story.