Today I walked around the campground – slowly, and I thought about how different it was now than it was at campmeeting time. Then it was the hot, humid days of mid-summer. Children were playing everywhere. Families were having huge lunches on picnic tables. There was laughter and singing and people sitting in the shade. The smells of food being prepared drifted out from the tents, and the whole place was alive with noise. Much different today. I am the only person I have seen so far. The only people sounds are those made by an occasional passing car; otherwise, it’s quiet today. I hear the breeze, the crunch of dry leaves under my feet, and the sound of my own voice inside my head. It’s little errie and a bit unnerving – like being alone in a hospital waiting room. Even though there’s no one around for you to disturb, you sit very quietly, and if you walk, you walk with soft, careful steps. I suppose it’s out of respect, or what some might call reverence.
In any case, as I walked those familiar spaces around the arbor, it was with slow and studied steps. I noticed things – a gum wrapper, a bluejay feather, the plastic toys left behind in a sandbox – and I remembered . . .
I remembered Katie and her newly discovered cousins running about in the twilight catching lightening bugs, just as I had done with my own cousins almost fifty years before. And when Elizabeth called her in, I already knew what she would say – “Not yet! Please Mommy, not yet! They don’t have to go in yet. Let me stay out ‘till they have to go in. Wait! I see another one – over there – no there - over there. Yeah!” Was it Katie or was it I who answered? Had it really been almost 50 years? Was Rick really dead from a ruptured blood vessel in his esophagus? Did Terry really drop out of school, join the army, and go off to Panama and get married? And had Robert, the youngest of our group, really been disabled for years with mysterious siezures that the doctors still can’t explain? Had I really grown up and forgotten what it was like to run and play with cousins in the magic of a mid-summer twilight? “Let her stay out for a while,” I answered on her behalf. “She’ll be in soon enough.”
I continued to walk. There was her favorite sliding board and the big swing where I pushed and pushed and pushed some more until my tendonitis flared up and I had to stop, and right there was the hand-hewn pew where she stood, in the fullness of her four years, and told the congregation of several hundred about how her beloved Grandma Pauline had gone up to heaven to be with Jesus. And I remembered writing somewhere that of all the places on earth, here on this campground is where I feel the most at home and the closest to heaven, because this is where Grandma Pauline lives in my memory. I stopped near one of the park benches and became aware of the fact that my face was wet with tears. I wiped my eyes with my shirt sleeve and looked around. I was well across the campground from our tent – ‘way over in the Waxhaw corner. We have friends over there, of course. Katie made them for us at Bojangles. And then, just for a moment, I saw Miss Judy waving at Katie. But that moment had taken place several months ago. The only things waving today were the leaves.
On one of our walks around the campground during campmeeting, Katie and I had noted that Tent #18 was in need of some repair, and as I walked I noted with satisfaction that the old tent had since been torn down and that the corners had already been laid out for a new cabin. As I walked on, it occured to me that a place in time like the campground can only exist in one of two states – either it’s growing or it’s dying. Unpainted, rundown, and seldom used cabins are symptomatic of a tendency toward death, while new cabins, new roofs, new porches and picnic tables are signs of health and growth. Underneath a huge, old pen oak, I stopped and said a prayer for those precious signs of life:
“Lord, please bless these and all other efforts to keep this special place alive, because if you don’t, Katie’s will be the last generation to know about it. A-men.”
I turned and headed back across the campground. The arbor filled my vision. There was talk of a new roof for the arbor; money was being set aside. It would be a major undertaking, but it would guarantee the existence of the arbor for another forty or fifty years – until Katie was my age and I was gone.
I slowly circled the ancient structure once again. Tent #65 would be warm and dry and nearly perfect for writing; however, it occurred to me that I had no idea what I’d write about. That thought had only partially dissolved away, when another took it’s place, and I said aloud, though only to myself, “Why not the campground – just walking around the campground?”
October 7, 2006