Southern Life

Neither one is available to explain so I will never know what possessed my parents to send me to summer camp in August of 1960. Our family lived in River Bend, Alabama, during that time, at my dad’s old home place. Situated in an old farm house built in the approximate center of eighty acres, we were in little boy paradise.

(photo © 2009 Steven Depolo/via Wylio)

Any land that wasn’t cultivated was natural. There were creatures galore residing in thick hardwood habitats bordered by a couple of crystal clear creeks and the Cahaba River. Our world offered so many varied and interesting places and things we could have spent decades there and never stirred up the same trouble twice. In truth, there wasn’t much real trouble to get into. The neighbors all knew us and made sure we didn’t do anything real stupid.

In a world without video games, cable TV, or I-phones, we met our friends early in the morning and rarely made it back home before sundown unless someone fell in the creek or we found a skunk. With all of this in close proximity, we were loaded on a bus and sent to Camp Mac, on the other side of Birmingham.

The camp I remember featured barracks segregated by sex with a lake in the middle serving as a natural barrier. We heard there were girls on the other side but couldn’t confirm that. Among the weathered out-buildings was a meeting hall where everyone gathered for meals and one memorable mixer on our last night there. I’ve never heard why Camp Mac wasn’t named after a marginally famous Indian with a long, unpronounceable name. Maybe Mac was his nickname.

No one had to prove they could swim or sign a release form. At least I didn’t see anything like that. We were all considered idiots back then and the adults were responsible for making sure we were safe. Going back to someone’s parents and claiming it was the kids’ fault didn’t fly in 1960.

I remember having a lot of fun with boys I would never see again. We swam, fished, hiked the woods looking for bears and lions, and laughed at stuff little boys do when they are without supervision late at night. Most of those activities were available in River Bend but they seemed more exotic in the foothills of the Appalachians. I also made a real crappy wallet for my dad that he accepted with a smile and near genuine gratitude.

The last night of the three day camp involved roasting hot dogs and marshmallows, listening to scratchy records, and actually seeing the girls we had heard rumors of for three days.

I danced my first dance that night, unaware of what I was doing. Greenfields was playing in the background but all I could hear was the pounding of blood rushing through my eardrums. She was nice in more ways than I could describe. I didn’t even get mad when she left me for an older boy as the evening progressed. It was the highlight of my life for a long time after.

Even now when I hear Greenfields, my ears start to pound. And I can smell Ivory soap and Johnson’s Baby Shampoo.

Mike Cox

Mike Cox

Mike Cox currently writes a weekly column in South Carolina for the Columbia Star called "It's Not a Criticism, It's an Observation." He is trying to grow old as gracefully as possible without condemning the current generation in charge to doom. Each day this task gets harder as the overwhelming evidence mounts. He currently has two published books; Finding Daddy Cox, and October Saturdays. His columns have won three South Carolina Press Association awards since 2003. Mike has three sons and two grandchildren and lives in Irmo, Sc, just outside of Columbia.