The Craven and The Crag: Chapter One, Part 1
New World Discovered Part I
“You’re going to camp this summer,” Mrs. DeVries, our social worker, told Jacob and me. “You’ll be leaving at the end of July, and staying for 3 weeks. It’s a church camp called Pinecrest, and it’s near Lake Tahoe.”
Jacob’s face lit up with excitement. “That’s great!” he said.
I was too stunned to respond. Me, go camping? Like Jacob did with the Boy Scouts? When he was my age, nine years old, he went with them on his first camping trip to Point Reyes. Over the following three years he had since been on several more, but I’d never slept outdoors in my life. Girls weren’t supposed to go on adventures. In Oakland, CA, in 1970, the role of black girls was poorly defined. They were supposed to be pretty and charming – but how? If they acted like princesses, they’d get ganged up on, because this was seen as weakness. If they became Africanized, they’d be made fun of, because in spite of all the “I’m Black and I’m Proud” slogans worn on buttons, African culture was still sneered at. To survive, a girl had to act tough, but then she would incur the wrath of adults. But if she wasn’t tough, the kids would gang up on her. So she had to be clever enough to hide her toughness from grownups.
I failed miserably at all of the above. It didn’t help that our southern black foster parents were antagonistic towards nearly everything I wanted to do. As a result, I was a nervous, high-strung child restricted to living my desired lifestyle through books smuggled from the school library and read in secret. I loved adventure stories and fairy tails from Europe and Far East Asia.
Now, for the first time, I was actually going to live an adventure, just like my brother Jacob! And not just for a weekend, but 3 whole weeks!
This made the last few days of school much more bearable. During class, I blocked out jeers from mean kids by daydreaming about what camp must be like. I spent recess in the library, and read while I ate lunch in the classroom.
On the last day of school at lunch, a mean girl snatched my book away. “Why you always readin’ all the time?” she demanded.
“You give that back,” I growled, reaching for it.
“What’s this? You readin’ ‘bout an Oriental? What’s the matter with you?” she yelled. The class roared with laughter. I’d been reading a book I’d managed to trick my father into buying for me at a recent book fair, called Daughter of the Mountains. Though it was above my level, I was fascinated enough to struggle through it. It was about a Tibetan girl who longed for a golden Lhasa terrier, and finally got one; this led to her having many adventures. Up until then, I’d never even heard of Tibet, and I wondered if Pinecrest would be anything like it.
The lunch monitor calmly retrieved the book and returned it to me. “She’s just jealous because you’re smart,” she told me. I found that highly irritating; people were always making that excuse for bullies. How did she know I was smart, since she never saw my report card, which by the way was mediocre?
Coming home from school was safe, because I could walk with Jacob. Since this was the last day of school, I wouldn’t have to deal with those mean kids for a glorious 3 months – hallelujah! The only problem now was running into them occasionally at the park, and dealing with my oppressive foster parents during that time – except Mrs. DeVries said I could get a 3 week respite!
I spent the next six weeks impatiently counting down the days, reading and occasionally visiting Lakeshore Park. One week before departure, our foster mother took Jacob and me shopping for clothes. I got several sets of shorts and matching t-shirts; a green one, a pink one, and a yellow one-piece jumper, which I loved, since at that time, it was my favorite color. I finished Daughter of the Mountains the night before our birth father came to take us to Pinecrest at 10:00 next morning.
During the 4 hour trip, the car cruised through the Bay Area cities, which gave way to flat farmland. Passing through Sacramento, we got onto Highway 50, winding our way through forests of tall pine trees and glittering granite boulders. Eventually, we turned off the highway, and went through a thick pine forest past deserted cabins, arriving at a crowd of children and adults. We rode through them until we reached the Headquarters building, which was a log cabin on a slanted hill. We got out of the car, and I laughed.
“Why are you laughing?” Jacob asked, puzzled.
“Look at that drinking fountain,” I answered, pointing at one across from the Headquarters building. “Isn’t it the funniest you ever saw?” The bubbler head sat on top of a tall tube, and there was no basin to catch the water; it fell straight to the ground. I’d never seen a drinking fountain like that before.
Jacob shrugged. “What’s the big deal?”
I took a drink from it. “This water tastes wonderful!” I told him, “like it doesn’t have chlorine in it.”
“The water is piped in from Lake Tahoe,” a woman told me. “They don’t treat it with chlorine.”
I stopped drinking immediately. “Uh - is it safe?”
“Yes, it’s safe. You can even drink from Tamarack Creek, which flows through camp. All the water here is safe.”
Coming from Oakland, this sounded totally foreign to me. Though in many of the stories I read people drank from creeks, I was raised on severe warnings of life-threatening illnesses I’d get if I did that. In fact Lake Merritt, Oakland’s jewel centerpiece, wasn’t even fit for swimming, let alone drinking.
The three of us entered the Headquarters building and got the camp schedule. It read:
8:00am Line Call for Breakfast
9:00am Clean Cabins
9:30am Morning Worship
10:00am Morning Activity / Class
11:00am Morning Rotating Activity
Noon Line Call for Lunch
1:00pm Rest Period
2:00pm Afternoon Rotating Activity
3:00pm Free Time
5:00pm Line Call for Dinner
6:30pm Line Call for Evening Campfire
8:30pm Return to Cabins
9:00pm Taps – Lights Out
After Jacob and I got our cabin assignments (Jacob was in Bluebird, I in Airedale; I was disappointed no cabin was named Lhasa Terrier), our father drove us to the cabins. There were 25 of them, arranged in a 3-sided rectangle surrounding a large patch of wispy lawn and a flag pole. We unloaded our things, he wished us a good summer, and drove off.
I carried my suitcase into Airedale cabin. It was a single room, with 5 bunks in it. Already, it was full of girls; apparently, I was the last arrival. I looked around, and noticed an empty bunk. Immediately, a tall, pretty girl with long black hair threw her suitcase on the bottom one. “You can have the top,” she said to me.
“Now, Wendy, you could have given her a choice,” said a red-headed girl.
“Why? I was here before she was!”
The redhead turned to me. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“Raven,” I answered.
Wendy scoffed, “Raven the Craven?”
I began to feel nervous. I knew this was a Christian camp, but what were these girls like? Maybe they were no nicer than the kids at school.
Right then, a woman with dark brown hair cut in a severe bob entered the cabin. She appeared to be college-age, though she was not much taller than me. “Hi, my name’s Cathy, and I’m the Counselor,” she said, in a quiet, rather stern-sounding voice. “We’re going to dinner, soon. Are you hungry?”
Actually, the interaction had ruined my appetite. Here I was, a city girl making a late entrance in this totally foreign setting, and already the prettiest girl in the cabin was picking on me. To make matters worse, I was going to have to climb up on a top bunk, which I’d never done before. Wendy sneered, “She hasn’t even unpacked yet! And I can’t believe she’s going to campfire wearing that outfit!” I cringed; I was wearing my beloved yellow jumper.
“You’ll have to change into something warmer,” Cathy told me. “It gets very cold at night, here.”
I laid my sleeping bag on the top bunk, and took pants and a long-sleeved shirt to the bathroom to change. I was totally unused to undressing in front of people, and I wasn’t about to do so in front of Wendy.
After changing, I returned to Airedale cabin and stood near the door listening to the girls talk. “I tried getting into Horsemanship last year, but I didn’t make it,” said the redhead. “I’m going to try again this year.”
“Have you ridden before, Susie?” asked a blonde.
“Yeah, lots. What are the classes like, here?”
“It’s supposed to be for beginners, but it’s a good thing I already knew how to ride. I got in last year, and wound up with the only horse that bucked. People were calling me Bucky Becky.” The girls all laughed. I winced; I’d never even seen a horse in real life.
“Are you taking Horsemanship this year, Wendy?” Susie asked.
Wendy shrugged. “I don’t know – maybe. Frankly, I think the class would bore me. I own a horse, so I ride all the time. I’ve even won awards in horse shows.”
“Ooh!” exclaimed the girls, clearly impressed. Becky asked, “What’s your horse’s name?
“Uh – uh…” Wendy answered.
“Two minutes before line call for supper,” announced a man’ voice from the PA system.
“We’d better line up,” Cathy told us. We went outside, and stood along the asphalt path that ran in front of the cabins. Other kids were milling around. A short time later, a man came out of Brutus cabin, which was on the short side of the rectangle, and shouted through a megaphone, “Ten! Nine!”
Other campers joined in; “Eight! Seven! Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! One!” While they were shouting, stray kids scrambled to line up on the asphalt pathway.
“Welcome to camp!” the man announced, when we were all lined up. “My name is Tim Mustard, and I’m the Head Boys’ Counselor and Camp Director.” I giggled at his last name. “Next to me is Christine Jacobs, the Head Girls’ Counselor. Congratulations to all of you for being on time for Line Call. We have them before each meal, and before Evening Campfire. Anybody hungry?”
“Yeah!” we chorused.
“Then let’s go!”
We followed the asphalt path away from the cabins, along Tamarack Creek. We crossed a bridge, then walked along the road past Headquarters to the Main Lodge. The dining room was on the second floor, the walls of varnished knotty pine, and the ceiling A-frame rafters. Once there, we sat with our cabin mates at wooden picnic tables. Tim Mustard said Grace, then we were dismissed by table to get into line for our food. We were served vegetarian hamburgers on metal compartment trays. Pitchers of fruit punch sat on each table, for us to help ourselves.
“The food’s terrible, isn’t it?” Wendy commented. The other girls joined in agreement. I had to admit Wendy was right; I could only eat half my vege-burger. I noticed no one else seemed to be finishing their meal, either.
“No complaining,” Cathy reprimanded. “Remember, a third of the world goes to bed hungry every night.”
After eating, we washed our own dishes outside the Lodge. Several tables were set up, each holding four tubs; one with soapy water, two with plain water for rinsing, and one with old-fashioned bluing (disinfectant). After scraping the excess food into huge garbage cans, we washed our trays and silverware in the soapy water with cute miniature mops, rinsed them in the two tubs of plain water (which had to be changed often), then soaked them for a few minutes in the dark blue disinfectant. Then we went back into the Lodge and put the dishes at our sitting place. Normally, I hated washing dishes, but here I found this was actually fun!
Afterwards, I wandered back to the cabins. I went to Bluebird to see Jacob, but he wasn’t there, and I got shooed away by the counselors, saying girls weren’t allowed on that side. At 6:30pm, we had another Line Call, and I walked with my cabin mates to the Campfire Bowl. A huge, roaring fire had been built in front of a semi-circle of risers made of split logs. Girls sat on one side of the bowl, boys on the other, so I couldn’t sit with Jacob. Behind the campfire was a huge wooden board which contained a painting of a Western town, with a poster that read:
For His ability to heal all illnesses and save the world from sin.
REWARD: Eternal life.
“Where did they get the painting?” I asked.
“Marsha, one of the girls’ counselors, painted it,” Cathy told me.
“All by herself?”
“Yes, isn’t her talent amazing?”
I was very impressed. I wondered how anyone could create such a painting, since I couldn’t even do that well with paint-by-number sets. I wanted to be an artist when I grew up.
A few staff members stood in front. “Welcome to Pinecrest Camp!” announced Tim Mustard. We all cheered. “How many of you are happy to be here?’ We cheered even louder. “How many of you earned the money to come here?” Several hands went up. I was startled. I knew camp cost $35 a week, and I wondered how kids could earn so much money when the most I’d ever made in my life was maybe $5 from doing extra housework and washing cars.
“All right, let’s get started here!” Strumming on an autoharp, he began singing, and the kids joined in, singing to the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic”:
“I love you, California in the summer when it’s HOT!!!
I love you, California in the winter when it’s NOT!!!
I love you, California in the springtime and the fall,
And the folks who come to see you never want to leave at all.
That’s the way in California,
That’s the way in California,
That’s the way in California,
Never want to leave at all!”
We sang a bunch more camp and Christian songs, some of which I knew, some of which I didn’t. Then the staff members announced the different classes they were offering this week, and we came down and signed up for them. The Horsemanship class instantly got the biggest crowd. Instead of signing on a list, the kids were to write their names on a slip of paper and drop it in a box; names would be drawn at random later.
I signed up for Art. Though I didn’t expect to be able to produce that western painting in one week, hopefully I could improve. I was fairly decent at landscapes, but had a hard time drawing much else, especially trees and people. Maybe Marsha taught the class. If so, hopefully she could teach me her secrets!
After class signups were over, we sat back on the benches and sang the Good Night song. It was my first time hearing it, and it was a beautiful melody:
“Good night to you all, and sweet be your sleep.
May angels surround you, their silent watch keep.
Good night, good night, good night, good night.”
First we sang it together, then in a 3-part round. Then we returned to our cabins. I went to the bathroom to change into my pajamas. Wendy gave me a scornful look as I nervously climbed into the top bunk. To my pleasant surprise, I discovered I really liked the sensation of being up high. I smiled down on Wendy, whose expression changed to puzzlement. The lights went out, and a recording of “Taps” was played.
I laid up there, wide awake, reflecting. I was too excited to sleep. What a day this had been! Camp seemed like it was going to be a lot of fun – if only Wendy didn’t ruin it.
Did Wendy ruin Raven's vacation? To find out, please visit this link:
© 2012 Yoleen Lucas