"Where are your shoes!?" (OS Archive - 2010)

We were standing in the cathedral parking lot, waiting for the camp bus to arrive. The heat was rising up from the black asphalt in waves and I felt myself sink into that semi-trance state a muggy August in Georgia seemed to produce in me. It was more miserable than usual that year -- wouldn't cool down at all. Most of the other parents waited in air-conditioned SUVs, while I'd hopped out of our car, choosing to suffer the heat rather than seem unexcited to see our son again. A couple of waiting siblings wandered desultorily around the lavender-lined labyrinth nearby.

 I stared in their general direction, thinking of cool green watery lake depths to plunge into no doubt, when the bus turned in the drive and chugged its way around. Some children were hanging their arms out of the old double-hung windows, waving wildly, while others looked quite miserable to be back in the arms of family. In the back through the dusty windows I noticed a mass of arms and shoulders, two heads lip-locked, while surrounding them were an enthusiastic crowd. I later learned this generation had added stopwatches for this latest attempt at the non-stop kiss all the way home from camp. We'd had this couple too when I'd gone to camp many years before.

No sign of our child. 

We gathered around as grinning, crying, stone-faced, and tired campers began to disembark, the rough transition back to 'real life' evident on their faces as they watched comrades, best friends --- kids bonded beyond all titles --- being embraced by strangers called family.

I remembered that feeling of disorientation well, for I too had gone to this particular camp as a child, experienced it's incredible gift for taking a disparate group of kids from all around, and within a few short days, almost one week, creating a whole.  One.  It wasn't just me either --- every person I've known who has attended any of the one week camps this place offered, has had a similar experience --- those in their sixties now, down to the young faces we saw streaming past us this day. How did this place do this? How did a bunch of middle-school-aged strangers all head off to the North Georgia hills for six days and return, not only happy and united, but as better people? Where kids return home aware of not only their own responsibility, but of their power to make this world a better place?

My eyes searched through the moving torsos visible within the old-fashioned rounded bus, looking for that lean, slight familiar frame. We waited. The stragglers in the back of the bus lingered, gathered bags, cases, books --no technology allowed-- and reluctantly, finally, moved slowly forward while the line in front stepped down into city life. Most of those kids' legs looked like they'd crawled through a red-clay jungle infested with mosquitoes, chiggers, no-see-ums.....and if my memory served me, they probably had. 

During my times at camp, the routine was similar.  We had put on skits, hiked up mountains, sang a lot of songs...yes, Kum Ba Yah too. We had arts and crafts sessions, we swam, we had bonfire night down in the woods with old Cherokee and Creek tales. We went to chapel. Not a dogmatic chapel, but an inquiring chapel, where we were asked the tough questions about Life, and how would we handle them. Not one Saviour conversation that I recall. We had progressive Themes.

I found myself drifting back in time, to other boiling Augusts, to all of those camp themes:  one year we were taught TM -- Transcendental Meditation. Another year, Transactional Analysis:  learning how to communicate effectively using healthy inner states -- 'adult' based versus the less healthy 'parent' or 'child' interactions.  I only remember realizing I was much more likely to get what I wanted if I'd just talk to my mother without whining. We spent the mornings in these seminars and in the afternoon we all went forth with this new knowledge and tried it out on each other while joining in on other camp games, sometimes not so usual camp games....

 One afternoon we were all called to the commons, told bathing suits must be worn. We campers arrived to see all of the counselors standing in a semi-circle, grins on their faces, buckets of tempura paints at their feet in all colors. A small chat about personal space ensued, how when we come with good intentions and love in our hearts, we may not mind a person moving in closer.

"So now we will all be body-painting each other! You may only say positive things with your painting, only paint beauty!"

What!?  This was excruciating for us shy ones at first, until a brush full of cool paint slid across an arm, a belly....then giggles ensued. A whole afternoon disappeared this way-- I can still feel the drying, cracking paint on my skin. I finally had an excuse to walk up to that cute boy named James while holding my dripping yellow paintbrush, and I've never been quite as shy since that day, a blessing indeed.

Another sort of theme was 'tribbles'  from a Star Trek episode -- our camp turned that particular episode into a commentary on kindness and how the Star Trek crew reacted so positively when the warm, non-threatening tribble creatures arrived on board. In the wisdom of our elders, 'tribbles' became 'warm fuzzies', which became 'hugs', and we all spent that week offering warm fuzzies, i.e. hugs, to each other--- they had to be offered and accepted before you could zoom in. All I remember was permission to give a warm fuzzie to.....James! Out in the open! While kindly adults smiled. Nothing shameful, nothing sordid.

Yes, we were remarkably innocent in those days, but even more, there was an atmosphere consciously created around us of Love:  the Greek 'Agape', the Hebrew 'Ahev', more than desirous 'Eros', which was running rampant enough among us thirteen year olds as it was. In this camp's wisdom, a larger picture of a healthy and loving path through this world was given to us while in our ignorance and glee we absorbed it all like a sponge, not realizing at all how our minds and hearts were being shaped. 

My meandering mind shifted back to the present, wondering while waiting what this week had had in store for this group. Who had become friends with my son? What had he learned? Had he had fun?

Finally, the very last little straggler, so straggly and reluctant I felt eyes on us a little bit, came shuffling off the bus in the form of our Middle Son. Barefoot. Not wearing either of the two new pairs of shoes we'd sent him off to camp with, not the two older pairs either, not the water sandals, not the flip-flops.  Again.

"This child would lose his head if his neck weren't firmly attached," as our old neighbor had said many a time.

Irritation warred with gladness to see our boy again. Those shoes were not cheap -- we had a tight budget, we were lucky to get the darned kid to camp at all. Gladness won out of course, big hugs went all around, cases were tucked in the back with the kids, and we were all settled in front of the blasting A/C as we turned onto the highway headed for the lake, before I ventured a question.

"So, what in the world happened to your shoes? Did you lose ALL of them?"

"No...I don't want you to be mad, I know it's a lot of money....but I ..."

"Do you have any of your shoes left in your suitcase?" I ask as I was mentally wondering which bill would have to wait until another paycheck so we could put something on this boy's feet...it was blistering out there after all.


"Well....," I ventured as I tried to recall each and every healthy method of communication.

It suddenly all came out in a rush, "I gave them away! This boy needed them way more than me, you should've seen all the holes, he only had one pair....and his brother only had flip-flops and those broke on the second day and he was crying in his pillow that night when he thought we were all asleep and they have my size feet, well almost, but the one pair almost fit and the others all fit! I just had to, Mom...."

I gave him my nicest smile. I did my best to make sure Agape/ Ahev/Love was pouring out of my eyes and heart, sending it's warm caress all over that son of mine. Tears came to my eyes as I turned back around. My husband just stared ahead and kept driving, a bit in shock I thought, a lovely grin stealing its way across his face.

This camp had done it again. 


RATE: 47


JULY 9, 2010 3:59PM

What a sweet, delightful story.

Ha, I can't believe I got here first.
Wow. What a great person. wow.
Thanks for reading my long post! This camp has a special gift....
This brought back a lot of my own camp memories. Very descriptive tale. I especially enjoyed the "painting bodies" section.
Thanks Amanda, I enjoyed the painting bodies section too --- is it too obvious this is early seventies?
You made me all teary.
Simply wonderful! Nice work and congrats on the editor's pick!
I can't find the words to tell you how wonderful this story is from beginning to end! :-)
Oh now I'll get all teary...thank you ! 
---and the EP was a bit of a shock, I never end up writing what I think I will...
Coming across you for the first time. What an emotional, heartwarming punch. Terrific.
Now I have tears in my eyes, too.
Thanks Betty Boop and Owl Says Who as well, I try to remember the transformational moments, it's so easy to forget them...
I almost feel like I know that kid. What a fantastic story. What a fantastic attitude.
Ramses! Is that really you? This is shaping up to be a fine Friday...
Thanks for your comments!
This made my day.r.
What a fantastic story. And what a great boy who you've done an excellent job raising. Great all around.
What a sweet boy. Love the story.
Great boy. And a great mom.
I appreciate so much your coming by -- so glad you liked it! 

By the way, if this is just too sweet a story, I promise you we've had all kinds of troubles too... I like the focus on lighter moments of being for now.
What a terrific heart your son has....must take after his parents:)
What a beautiful story. Kids are the best. Just when you think they screwed up again, they amaze you with their kindness. How do they do that? They do it because you taught them. r-
what a great and wonderful story to share with us. thank you. excellent writing and wonderful story. rrrrrr
Thankyou Susan, Bernadine! but it was the camp...really : )
Dave, you noticed how ready I was to believe what had come before...
sweet boy.... must have learned it at home. :)
nice meeting you, Just Thinking. i do remember summer camp, but mine were with the girl scouts, so no co-ed hugs. i love you and your son and your story.
These are the stories that make men. Congratulations on such a wonderful shoeless kid. R
A beautiful story. I was the recipient of shoes once - from a migrant worker - in the summer of '62. I had left with a group of friends from college to work in the pea harvest in Oregon wearing a pair of canvas tennis shoes. My first job was in a cannery. Walking around in a soup of pea brine rotted them in a few weeks. Later, leaving another job on a ranch, a fellow my dad's age reached into the bottom of his duffel bag, pulled out a pair of brogans, and offered them to me. When I offered to pay for them he replied, "You're a college boy. You'll make enough money to give someone who needs them a pair of shoes." I have, but it never seems to be enough.

Shoes seem to be a more intimate gift, in a way, than a shirt. We ought to say, "he'd give you the shoes off of his feet.
What camp was this and where can I send my child?? This was a great tale of agape love in action !
Wonderful story. A joy to read all the way through, but the ending was a surprise twist. Agape.
My son in law is from Ghana and he said in his small little village, where jobs were scarce, all the boys had hand-me-down clothes--except him--he had new shirts and sandals all the time. Many a day, his aunt would yell at him because he would come home without shoes or a shirt, because he gave them away. great story rated.
Reminds me of a certain camp in middle school. Evangalist, to be sure, but the pickin's were slim, and we all loved it.
A week at this camp should be mandatory for every human being. What a better place this world would be. Beautifully rendered.
Awe, this makes me miss my summer camp. Why don't they have those for adults?
loriane -- thanks-- finding a camp like this always helps...
dianaani -- nice to meet you! yeah, girl scout camp was a little different scenario for me too...
Sheila--he's a pretty cool man too, this did take place a decade ago --
Rodney -- nice story you offered as well, thanks for coming by...
Thanks Anne! I'll PM you for details...
Grace --- I appreciate your coming by, I'm glad you liked it.
Christine-- kindness just pops up everywhere, thankfully...we humans do like to be giving don't we really? Thanks!
Nice to meet you Elbereth--
O'Really? -- nice to meet you too, thankyou for your comment! I'm new to this writing stuff...that is actually out there and read : )
librarienne---wouldn't that just be sensible if there were camps like this for adults.....
sophieh---glad you came by, thanks!

How does one express gratitude without all the mushy stuff? I am so touched by all of your responses, I'm encouraged to keep writing by you all----and if that's a terrible idea, PM me instead : )
Congrats on your EP!!!!
Thanks Kit! ...and how do you like the re-titled 'shoeless son'? ...not that I'm not grateful... thrilled actually.
Titles are tough, I didn't know what to call this one...
An absolutely heartwarming story well-told. Thank you.
mypsyche -- thank you, love your nice comment...
Your son has 'diamonds in his souls and no shoes'. I love this story so much. What a lovely boy . The apple does not fall far from the tree
I've been waiting for you ! 
I have noticed a strange mix of style -- I prefer 'colloquialisms' as a term for the southern folksy terms that keep popping out. (Like 'popping out'?) 
When I read your comment on another post about parallelisms, I had to look up what it meant and it later became topic of conversation during a canoe ride, and yes, I can be lazy, but I've not heard so in writing before! I've not written before -- outside of personal notes and journals, certain biology and botany essays, business letters and I have edited each post several times after publishing, feeling as if I might be throwing commas all around, noticing tenses colliding...you could probably take over from here. 
I want to learn all of the finer points of writing, your comments are appreciated. 
ps --- you've been called the Professor over here as well as Simon Cowell, depending on who's reading over my shoulder...
Mark -- and glad you bothered...
How precious! I think it was Emerson who said, 'children are so fresh from God'. Yet, I always feel the parents have something to do with
offering a bit of the divine and guiding the child toward kindness!
Mr. Trost your comments came as something of a surprise. I missed the part where this heart-warming story became a solicitation for writing excellence. Indeed, your thoughts that maybe you would be perceived as something of an ass for making those unsolicited comments here were right on the mark. Nevertheless, the author of the story deserves immense praise and admiration for handling them so well. In a manner - I might add - that speaks volumes for the quality of her southern upbringing.
Ramses, what a good guard dog you are---

I must say I did solicit advice over there in my bio....the part about 'feel free to critique...gently'...

Thanks for watching my back though, it's so rare in this world, and I often do need that : )
...and Bigvoice! Thanks for stopping by, glad to have you here.
Thanks for the parenting compliment, always appreciated...and needed!
Thanks for coming by Maya, you are too kind --
Woof! Apologies Mr. Trost. It seems your comments were indeed solicited. My bad.
@Ramses --- still glad you're here...and I want to hear your tales..er...tails...er...oh this could go all wrong.
This is a story that I really enjoyed - all about a boy coming of age. What a good good young man. Thanks for sharing this
jerusalem-mike: glad you came by and thanks!
One more thought for Mr. Trost: dude your puncuation is abysmal. You need to insert a space after every comma and every period. We learned this basic formatting principle when we first learned to create sentences... 1st grade, was it? Words are indeed the windows to our souls~
Nice story and great writing. It makes me wish I had gone to camp when I was little.
Thanks Joan : ) I bet you'd have liked this one anyway, I've heard some not so fun camp stories too!

These days there are also high ropes confidence courses, zip lines, an alternative wilderness camp...tubing down the river, all mixed with similar Life Skills. During one of our son's times there they started weighing the leftovers at dinner, making a fun competition between houses as to who wasted the least food that week...
Oh my. This post not only gave me "real goosebumps" and a lump in my throat, but it has inspired me to write about my mom. I told an anecdote about her during her eulogy five years ago. This post reminds of this story. I will write it, and give credit to you for inspiring me.

This post is magnificent.
I went a great summer camp but how I wish we'd been taught the things you were taught. Those are skills everyone should learn as kids. Regarding your son, what a big, kind heart he has!
It's a wonderful story and well told. You have pacing down pat!
Brie -- look forward to your story and thank you so much !
caffeinatrix -- it does seem like a good required education for all of us: Healthy Human 101?
nolalibrarian -- I'm honored, thank you : )
A camp that teaches empathy - thanks for this heartwarming post.
There's a big lump in my throat right now. Thanks for sharing this. Rated.
The heart quickens indeed.
Whoa. THAT...is the kinda moment that makes you proud to be the parent of a child who is teaching YOU how to behave, right? What a cool kid! And what a beautiful tribute to him--thank you!
Thank you Susan, Skanktimonious, Scarlett -- glad you came by!

Keka -- You are right, he's a great person! but actually having an atmosphere where it's allowed, encouraged, and cool to be good people is such a rare environment. I believe these gestures are in so many of our kids who have to wear a tough skin and can't show this side of themselves...
Just looked down at my own shoes and blessed your son...now I'm going for a Kleenex.

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