Summers in Nebraska were a big deal for me as a boy. I looked forward primarily to two things: baseball and church camp. As an adult, I miss both of those life changing activities. Sometimes, you meet people you never forget in the process of growing up. I penned this on May 31, 2006 and am rerunning it as a tribute to the Valentine's Day concluded less that 24 hours ago.
I've been nostalgic this Spring. Summers have been consistent while living in Houston: basketball camps, ten days with my folks in St. Louis, and my Honduras mission. It's been fifteen years since I set foot in Nebraska- we have no relatives there- so I've revamped my itinerary. Instead of flying, I'll drive to visit my parents and continue on to my hometown. From nowhere, I've developed a compelling need to see cornfields, step on baseball diamonds and basketball courts where I acted out dreams, walk down school hallways, and stand in front of houses we called home.
Summers were special in my low-stress childhood. Besides baseball and trips to grandparents, church camp was the big deal. My dad was a director of Nebraska Youth Camp, a two week get together in Kearney for primarily, but not exclusively, kids from church of Christ families in the Cornhusker State. For two weeks, we lived in cabins without air conditioning bearing names like Apache, Navajo, and Mohawk. For two weeks, we had a vacation from our folks, except mine were in the vicinity. Days were typical. Meals, cabin cleanup, Bible classes, crafts, swimming, capture the flag games, wading in the Platte River, canteen, and a campfire devotional to end the day. There was one other factor; girls. I pretty much stayed away from them in school and my brother's teasing made it mandatory that I keep my distance from girls in our church. Camp was different. You were thrown together with the opposite gender and it was non-threatening to just hang out. Boys and girls coupled off but it was innocent and non-physical, unless you count hand holding. I went through my share of camp flings although I can't remember specifics. There is one girl I recall with perfect clarity. She was at camp for several summers, along with her sister and brothers. They were from Lincoln originally, but had since moved to Denver, I think when their parents divorced. Her name was Verity, the only Verity I have ever known. She was perfect in a sixth grade sort of way. Billy Joel described her flawlessly: "She's got a way about her." I would have been embarrassed to admit I liked her; she had a camp boyfriend. She also seemed to be out of my league, although at twelve I would never have used that terminology. Probably, I acted silly around her; boys do that sort of thing in awkward attempts to convey affection. At camp, you have plenty of time to make impressions, a precursor to life in college. In those two weeks for several years, she left her mark on me. Camp sped by quickly, the fastest fourteen days on the calendar. The Hawleys were always the last to leave, owing to Dad's responsibilities. An empty campground is extremely lonely and going home was a letdown. I returned to the world of direct parental supervision.
I can tell you where I was standing when it came: front yard, 809 East Avenue, (big yellow preacher's house) York, Nebraska, 68467. Out of the blue, it was a letter from her, a week after camp concluded. It was similar to letters I pick up off the floor as a teacher, invariably penned by almost teenage girls. She implied she liked me and ended by saying she would not be at all surprised to go to her mailbox and find a letter from me in the very near future. Guess what I did with it? In my soon-to-be-seventh grade logic, I threw it away. There can be no explanation other than I was a boy. It's doubtful I ever had a bigger crush on a girl and I tossed it into the trash. There were no more letters and I never saw her again. There are few mementos I don't have that I wish I still possessed. I would give anything to own those slips of paper but I'm not sure why it would mean that much. You know what 'verity' means, don't you? Her name means truth. Maybe that's what I'm still looking for, in a not-quite-still-twelve-year-old way. Not the religious truth that Jesus spoke of in John 14:6 but something I can't explain. Maybe I wish sometimes, I was still just a kid in the middle of Nebraska. Maybe that's why I need to go back one more time.
Applicable quote of the day:
"It is one of the paradoxes of American literature that our writers are forever looking back with love and nostalgia at lives they couldn't wait to leave."
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org