Time Machine: Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah

Fred, a leader among men (48 inches and shorter)

The first year–1958–I followed in my mother’s footsteps, and like her, made the trip from Birmingham to the vicinity of Moody, Alabama. I was ten years old. If I’m remembering correctly, the bus let us off at the end of the windy paved road; we got into open bed trucks for the final miles of bumpy road into Camp Winnataska, where older boys carried our suitcases or trunks to our assigned cabins: Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Navajo, Iroquois. Each cabin consisted of two  screened wings lined with bunk beds.

My best friend, Bobby, went with me, but I think that was the time he got “home sick” and somebody came to take him home. He came back the next year, and by 1963, he was a Chico Camp leader like I was. Chico was the camp for the younger kids. It was isolated from the main campus, and had a separate director, pictured in the center of this picture, his son at the head of the line.

The next year, I was to be a leader at the main camp. The Chico director was, I think, by then, feeling the effects of the cancer that would take him away a year or two later. He asked me with no small sense of urgency to come back to Chico and be the activities and music leader. I really, really didn’t want to leave my peers for the pee-ers. But I did.

In 1965, I was on paid staff, a Blackfoot: one of ten high-school boys under the loose leadership of a college student, who it turns out, was the chief instigator of most of the mischief we got into. He also, I might add, begged to have me reinstated when I was caught basically holding hands with my departing girl acquaintance, though the very Baptist Reverend director who walked in on our good-byes in the ping-pong room of the Rec Center described us as “not exactly having intercourse!”

The moment was totally innocent and sweet. This overblown response (I was to be sent home) made it ugly and embarrassing, and was perhaps my first experience of being wrongly accused of crimes I did not commit. Our college student leader talked my way back into the fold for the remainder of the summer. The crimes I did commit went unpunished.

We had our own (squalid) cabin up in the woods. We were lifeguards (after passing the Senior Life saving tests), canoe guides, maintenance crew, horse riding supervisors (lead by the tall guy at the head of the line.) It was a cross between Outward Bound and Animal House.

We were there all summer, for boys camps, girls camps and church camps. Imagine: the girls camps were my favorite. There were, as I alluded to earlier, girl leaders: Dale, Nancy, Lucy and Robin. Oh my.

I hadn’t intended to wander this direction this morning, but there was the picture–the crystallized amber of memory in light and shadow–that transports the mind through time and space. Indulge an old duffer, won’t you?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Who’s the neat nonconformist in the khaki shorts, black shoes and shorts? I love it. Was he a leader or baddest of the bad?

  2. I guess you wore those whites for the picture only? “The crimes I did commit went unpunished.” 😉 So, what the rest of the story? What a fun stroll down memory lane.

  3. I think the whites were only for chapel on Sunday. The camp was run by the Birmingham Sunday School Council. There was an open chapel made of native stone and timbers. Parents came to visit on Sundays, so we had to look artificially spiffy. The vespers in the rock amphitheater above Kelly Falls is another memory I may write about some day, as I feel those early evenings under the silent sky with the sound of the wind in the pines and the rushing water below had an impact on my bond to the natural world.

  4. I heard that the guy in Khakis, black sox and Converse shoes became a rogue banker and finished out his questionable but lucrative career as an electricity futures trader with Enron. Say, where was the obesity problem back then?

  5. That photo is pictorial evidence of the increase in childhood obesity since in the intervening decades. Since then, childhood obesity in that age group has increased nearly 350%!

  6. We all appreciate memories of summer camp. Yours are really colorful compared to mine. I went to a Girl Scout camp that was built before the Smoky Mountians were a National Park. The camp was given a 99 year lease. I loved the old 4 girl wood-floored tents, the singing every night, (lots of Spirituals), the dining hall, the Kool Aid every afternoon ladled out of a giant steel can and drunk out of our collapsible steel cups. The swimming pool was a dammed up mountian stream, and soooo cold. The toilets were ancient outhouses, complete with daddy long legs and awful stink. I went to camp for two weeks 5th through 7th grades.

  7. How well I remember your days at camp as well as mine. The picture of Clarence Zealy, Bobby Pogue and Ed Zealy. I’m finding out things about you I never knew. I started going when I was 7 and then went as a leader until the year I married. In fact, your daddy came out on Sunday to see me. Bea fried chicken etc. for us a picnic lunch. I remember the vespers too up at the top of the mountain and also overlooking the falls. Good memories for both of us!

  8. Hope this fits in the comment box. If it doesn’t, I’m irked. Here goes.
    The chapel collapsed by 1964 and the current one has high walk in sides whereas the previous one had a roof that went nearly to the ground.
    Termites also caused weakening of a cabin at the entrance of chico area, and I knocked it down by pushing on it when I was a kid. I probably saved the camp from a lawsuit, as it would have fallen and injured someone and the lawsuit would have closed the camp. Since then, a whole ring of cabins around the four chico split level cabins has apparently disappeared, probably from termites.
    Or maybe hygiene considerations, for the gnats were prolifit and eveywhere and bred in the outbuildings that existed before there were flush toilets. The cabins in chico area all had INDOOR outhouses, nonflush, wooden holes in a board, inclined to overlfow, stink and leak and weren’t maintained or pumped regularly. The same guy who should have been treating for termites was living in a cabin and drinking.
    I raised hell and the camp exists today.
    I’m thinking about rebuilding all the missing cabins, restoring the primitive privies but with flush cability hidden within. I’d like to rebuild the shower huts that existed across the creek from Chico and the cafeteria. I figure it would cost more than they could cover in insurance and maintenance, however. It’s always been a limited operation.
    When I first went there, the gym had a catina window on the cafeteria end near the porch door, and a ten cent coke machine. The cafeteria was NOT the building it is today but may have sat on the same foundation. It was logs, I believe. There was a bit further from the gymn than the craft hut is, a large bathhouse with flush commodes. The craft hut was smaller and the pool didn’t exist, though there was a creekwater pool down by the creek.
    Smell of tarpaper and root tar everywhere, my fondest memory, like napalm in the morning.
    Oh, and I was an amateur masseur and made numerous girl friends in the process. Age 12 was my last year there, 1964. God bless winnataska forever, a little bit of heaven.
    Despite the mafia activity in the area back then, and the children living in the woods using the showers and begging for food.