Thursday, July 06, 2006

THE SCENT OF VANILLA - Part Nine (last section)

Thanks again to everyone who has written regarding this little story. I am pleased you liked it enough to visit now and again to read each section, in order. This story has resided in my memory for a long time, so it is nice that it is seeing the light of day for a few more folks.
This part concludes the story, no other parts to be added, nothing much more to say about it. If there is any post script to the story it is the fact that I was not to be blessed with children but hope that other fathers and other sons fulfill my final wish for this special place and time.
The smell of diesel fuel reminds me of the toilet paper torches we would create to light the way to the evening campfires. If you soaked a roll of toilet paper in diesel fuel for a couple of hours and then position this "wick" on the end of a pole, the effect as it burned looked like something out the middle ages. The camp fires were put on for the entertainment of the campers during which we would lead everyone in silly, easy to remember songs, tell tall-tales, relate border line off-color jokes and generally make complete asses out of ourselves. Often we would attempt to light the fire in some unusual fashion. Stick matches placed inside a ball point pen spring would come to life if one simply applied the juice of a 12 volt car battery via buried wires to the spring. On one occasion we utilized a small Napalm stick, smuggled over from the war, with near disastrous results. Though we were warned to treat the material with respect, we had no idea how hot of a flame it could produce, and that even the tiniest amount coming into contact with your skin will stick to you until the fuel is exhausted. I still have the burn on my hand to prove it.

The sound of "Taps" rushes back the sight of stars literally filling the night sky. Because the camp was so large in area, communication was done via the call of a bugle. Bruce, a chubby faced, Pillsbury doughboy of a lad, was our camp bugler and his talent belied his tender years. We were notified of meal times, assemblies, the raising and lowering of the flag, weekly fire drills and the like, to the strains of a brass horn made more beautiful with his expert skill. There is a bugle call for every significant happening at camp and it takes little time to recognize what each melody signified. My favorite call was "Tattoo" which is the traditional call for soldiers and sailors to return to their quarters, played fifteen minutes before the haunting rhythms of taps. It isn't heard very often, except in old Calvary movies. Believe it or not, I miss this comforting and lyricless song.

The feel and taste of ice cold mountain stream water recalls the fact that many of the water sources made available to us came untreated and sweeter than can be imagined. At the time we had little worries of contamination in the high creeks and wells. Once you've experienced the ultimate freshness of untouched, natural water, nothing else dare be labeled "water." Water today tastes of plastic or unspecified chemicals. Bottled Canadian glacier or imported French spring water cannot compare. It was a simple pleasure but one that was appreciated even then.

The sight of fog recalls a late night moonlit hike. My brother and I decided well after sundown that we would join a small group of scouts who had been taken for an overnight hike and campout far into the woods. As we climbed the trail to the distant outpost, we noticed that we did not require our flashlights to see our way over the rough terrain. The full moon reflected off of the light gray granite, and one could easily read a map in its glow. Half way up, the trail rounded a bit allowing us to view the small town of Idyllwild twinkling below us. We took in the entire scene with silent admiration then noticed a low fog bank creeping over the mountain pass just a few miles north of the slumbering hamlet. The blanket of fog soon covered the entire valley and their few streetlights now appeared as glowing halloed pearls. My brother and I turned to each other, smiled and climbed onward towards the moon. Years later I learned that he too had been touched deeply by the tableau that God seemed to have painted for our personal delight.

But most of all I remember that the summer of '69 was a special time in my life. No longer would I fail to understand the deep need for people to strive to make a better world. That the world was full of incredible pain and suffering and amazing joy is now fully grasped. What was most significant is that I realized this at the time.

My last day at camp was full of saying good-bye to my friends, the promise to get together for a hike or whatever and of arranging rides down the hill and once again to home. Some time during the day, I missed the car full of staffers with whom I was to travel and had to call my parents to pick me up. It was an hour and a half trip from my home and after a brief scolding they assured me they would be there soon.

As I waited in the main assembly hall I realized that the only persons left were myself and Mr. D. The forest was incredibly quiet, the noise of young boys laughing and shouting to each other gone for another year. I looked around inside the hall and gazed at the rolled up campaign hat hanging over the fireplace and smiled a small grin. Walking over to it I noticed the filth of dirt and sweat covering it. Turning to the large picture window that looked towards the large granite spires and the Jeffery Pines moving softly in the first chilling wind, and with it the promise of autumn.

I began to cry, for I knew I would never return to this place as a boy. The next time that I imagined that I would enjoy these mountains and this camp may be with my own son. Behind me, Mr. D walked over to me and placed an arm over my shoulder.

"What's the matter, son?" he asked.

"I'm going to miss this place." I answered.

"So will I. But it will always be here."

"I suppose."

"It will. It will always be here and here," he said pointing to my head and chest, "so trust me, you will never forget this place and never forget this time."

He hugged me as I cried a little more. He then began to laugh as he pointed out a small ground squirrel that had stretched out on his stomach just beyond the window, unaware of our presence. The squirrel seemed to be breathing sighs of relief.

"It looks like he's glad were gone," he offered.

We both laughed at the small animal that had survived one more summer of over eager boys bent on disrupting the calm of the woods, yet taking with them a part of the wilderness experience.

Camp Emerson still conducts summer programs for boys of all ages. It still provides memories and stories for those who will listen and take note. The trees still have the scent of vanilla, the lake still offers late night canoe rides and a smelly old campaign hat still hangs over the fireplace.

I will never forget that wonderful place. Even the thief we call time cannot take away the summer of 1969. It slumbers in my heart and in my mind, awakened now and again by a familiar sound or smell.

I will never forget.


Adriane said...

Loved these... thanks for sharing this. :)


T2 said...

Thanks for the nice words...cheers to you, too!

Tracey said...

My Fearless, Ageless, Forever the Smartest Big Brother- I so enjoyed the story and the memories of Camp Emerson. I too, remember the scents, the sounds, the boys- some of which you mentioned some not, but remembered nonetheless. I remember how you and Jimmie smelled each week when mom and I would pick you up in the Datsun Stationwagon (and it was oddly pleasant). I remember secretly wanting to be a member of your tribe - doing what I could to be noticed. Reading each step to the mess hall and wishing I could memorize it and then somehow, I too, could be a boy scout (knowing full well I'd have to settle for what my gender offered and more than just alittle upset about it). I remember missing you both so much, I cried and napped on your bed. When I knew mom wouldn't catch catch me, I delighted in going through your stuff, trying my best to put things back EXACTLY where you had them- my heart racing like a rabbit each time. I would even have imiginary conversations with the both of you when I was particularly bored or lonely during those summers that seemed forever to me. I always looked forward to the trek to the mountains with mom. I knew the way as well as she. Truly the highlight of my week- because I got to have you back for the weekend and to see you, Jimmie, the boys (which were so interesting to me, but I hadn't figured out why just yet) and to hear what exciting things you did. BTW- I am sooo glad I didn't have to read about you losing your virginity with Donna. No matter how grown up we are, your little sister would've been grossed out... but I had to read it anyway. Thank you for sharing it all again for us. Would've loved more! I love you- Tracey

T2 said...

Thanks for filling in some blanks, Tracey...

Love you, too sis.