Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Methodist Church Camping from 1956-1964 in TX & OK

     I invited my next sister, Llewellyn "Llew Cheyenne" Hollingsworth to be my guest blogger and share her memories of going to church camp in Texas and Oklahoma when she was age 13 to 21. Here are her thoughts about what she recalls about going to church camp. Most of her experiences happened over 50 years ago, and she states, "They may lack some pertinent facts, or may be resplendent with facts that may or may not be everyone else's exact recollection, a mix of memories from the childhood I remember".

1. Lakeview Methodist Camp, Now Lakeview Methodist Conference Center, Near Palestine, TX, in east TX
Lakeview Methodist Conference Center, 400 Private Road 6036, Palestine, TX 75801 

     My first church camp was Lakeview Methodist Camp. I always wished that I would land in one of the screened cabins instead of the fully walled ones.  Being rained on in bed sounded very exotic when I was in Junior High.  That was back when I didn't really deal with consequences like wet clothes and wet bedding.   
     Rain was quite a bit warmer in Texas than it is in Washington State.  The screening kept quite a bit of the rain out. I checked it out with campers lucky enough to get into one of the screened cabins.  I never made it to one. 

     The consequences that I learned to deal with at Lakeview, were getting my shoes on safely in the mornings by first checking them out by thumping them vigorously in case any lizards, centipedes, or scorpions had crawled into them for warmth during the night, getting a top bunk because that was always safer than having inexperienced campers climb into beds stepping all over you in the bottom bunks and dropping covers and things on you in the night, and keeping my suitcase closed, for the same reasons as the shoes. 

     I never came in close contact with any of the creeping crawly monsters, but the stories of them kept me on my checking routine.  I often found, kept, and cared for a pet lizard during camp, even took it home afterward.  It seemed to be the rage for a while, with whole fleets of lizards migrating to Houston from central Texas at the close of camp. 

     The lizards were tied to a button on our blouses by thick thread or small twine. It was important to let them down for grass and to find them insects to eat. I wondered what lizards really ate and if we took care of them enough for them to live.  I know that many mothers, mine included, probably returned many pets to the wild.  My favorite ones were the bright yellow green ones instead of the commoner greenish brown ones. Chartreuse is still a favorite color.  Those lizards were definitely more vibrant than their dull counterparts.

A Hawk and Pine Tree at Lakeview
     I loved all the activities and routine of camp, and wonder now at the variety of experiences that we were given there.  It was there that I first learned to braid in several patterns, both leather and plastic, into key rings, long strips, and now a variety of art adornments. I first worked with metal, pounding designs into flat trays and even once learning to pound a small bowl out of thin copper.  I still work in copper.  I thought that going to the craft building was fascinating, and even though I can't clearly remember any of the teachers, they gave me an array of skills and enjoyment that were amazing.  I remember that we took home what we made, key rings, lanyards, small purses, trays, and one bowl.

     One of my stranger clear memories is of breakfast.  At home we often had scrambled eggs, toast, hot oatmeal, and occasionally pancakes and maple syrup. My mother always cooked for us, having food ready at each meal. As I have grown older and talked with other friends about what their homes were like, I have come to wonder at how consistently and well we ate. 

     With little appreciation of the feasts at home, I eagerly looked forward to church camp for those small boxes of cereal that could be opened with two flaps on the side and placed on the table like a small rectangular box bowl.  I loved to pour milk into the cardboard boxes. I felt like both a real pioneer and lucky beyond belief. I thought that explorers or rugged campers took cereal boxes along. All those choices!  There were 20+ kinds of cereal, things I seldom saw, except at the store. Amazing! Even now, at age 68, when I see the small boxes at the grocery, I think of camp.  Breakfast like that was a rare treat.
     The clearest sense that I have of camp is of the music and singing.  I always loved to listen to voices singing in harmony and to people who could sing well.  It seemed that many people who went to camp were amazingly talented.  My older sister, Linda, was one of those, and my daddy was another, who often sang solos at camp, as he did in church at Sunday night service from time to time.  I could always hear their voices and recognize them.  Then I would listen for others, blending into the harmony that hymns give, and the other songs that we sang.  I have always enjoyed singing, and could read music and hit most of the right notes, but my sister and father had really memorable voices.  Sometimes, I would just listen.

Beautiful trees in all seasons at Lakeview
     The nature hikes were led by people who now come to me as if they were Henry David Thoreau or John Muir at the least.  We walked through the woods, especially around the lake, listening to birds, sketching them, watching insects, noting their sounds, gathering leaves, bark, berries, flowers and grasses.  We kept notebooks to see how the next day’s hike compared.  

2. Devil’s Canyon Methodist Church Camp, now Canyon Camp & Conference Center, Near Hinton, OK, West of Oklahoma City, OK
Canyon Camp and Conference Center, 31600 Camp Road, Hinton, OK 73047  
     We moved to Oklahoma when I was in the ninth grade. My church camp was Devil's Canyon.  There, the canteen was a focused treat.  I don't think there was a canteen in Texas.  Buying a pop, candy bar or nuts seemed like the epitome of adulthood at age 14. My sister Linda worked in the canteen one year, part of the magical heart of adult nonchalance and choices, even if it only consisted of candy and Coke.  

     Also at Devil's Canyon, we learned to folk dance, with various styles from around the world.  I always waited and hoped for the ones from Israel, which seemed full of dissonance and energy all at once.  When I have seen actual dances from Israel, in film or TV, I saw that we did very easy and basic steps, but they carried the flavor.

     I loved to play shuffleboard at camp. The cue that launched the disk was impossibly long and could be lined up so exactly with the goals that missing was nearly impossible.  I was fairly good at shuffleboard.  I think over the years that I discovered that being blind in one eye has some benefits, one of them taking deadly aim at a target that is straight off in the distance. Those shuffleboard disks slid right to their aim.  It was a game where I felt powerful and skilled.  That in itself was a rarity. I loved playing with people and saw how other people set up their shots. I got to know how other people felt about the game.  Friends and shuffle board went together, almost like a giant spread out living board game.

Canyon Camp Cabins

     I remember that the men always played horseshoes and were equally good at it.  I can remember the clang of points made and the muffled sound of the metal that hit the sand when the shot fell short or arced across the goal too far.   It was possible to tell the score while watching the players without even looking at the results by listening to those sounds.

     And then, there was swimming.  Since I can't swim now, I must assume that I couldn't swim then, either.  However, going to the lake was another hike that I enjoyed.  We would get into our suits and take a towel and march single file by the cabins and down the trail to the lake, very orderly with a hum of excitement under the marching.  After the swim, probably a bobbing in the water for me, or wading, we would drip march with towels trying to keep us dry and warm through the trees back to the cabins, again in single file.  Finally, all those wet things were hanging about the cabin.  Wet things dried quickly in Texas in the summer, including us.

Canyon Camp Swimming Pool

     When I was a Senior at Devil’s Canyon, I went on a longer hike to the end of one of the lesser used canyons.  At the end was a cabin rumored to be a place where Jesse James or Billy the Kid or some such questionable hero stayed.  I felt as if I was stepping into history, and hiking as well, a double pleasure.
     Early in the mornings, extra hikes were taken up to the rims of the canyons.  These were very quiet and thoughtful times, with the walks and climbs a time of silent meditation, broken only after returning to the open tabernacle for some singing.  It was a time of calm and color and noticing all the shades of morning come up from the canyon floor and down from the tree tops to a point where they would meet and transform all the rocks and forest around us. Light can do so much in slant and texture out in a sparse Oklahoma forest on a canyon wall.

Hiking at Canyon Camp

     While we became young and budding naturalists, we sometimes found snake skins on those nature hikes, a prize beyond belief, to be carefully taped into our notebooks.  It was a rare occasion, but I found a snake skin, a nearly dry perfect one that was like parchment in its delicate thinness, and not from a big snake. It was a treasure.  Once, the counselor found a snake skin that was large and patterned. He gave each of us a section of it about 2 inches long.  That also was a prize. I wonder what became of those notebooks. They probably went the way of all the comic books I used to have that would have made me a bazillionaire had I hung on to them with their pristine condition.

3. Lake Texhoma Methodist Church Camp, now Cross Point Camp, near Kingston, OK in South Central OK
7310 Rock Creek Road. KingstonOK 73439 
     Church camp is probably where I learned my love of camping. When I was in college at Oklahoma City University, one summer I worked at Lake Texhoma Church Camp. At least that was the intention.  Originally, a group of us OCU college students were to help with recreation and with food service.  When we arrived, the camp was still under construction, so we helped with clearing bush, beating brush to drive rattle snakes toward the men who caught them to clear the area, put in plumbing, spread concrete slabs, and a whole list of helping that I never experienced. 

     We lived in covered wagons, two to a wagon.  They looked just like the wagons on "Bonanza" or in the pictures of the Westward Expansion on the Oregon Trail. We loved them until it rained.  We discovered that we had to rush outside to lower the canvas or get really wet.  The covered wagons only had the outer look of pioneering. Inside they were equipped with four beds, dressers, mirrors and most of what would make them livable.  They had no electricity or water, unless the rain was counted.  They were a pale green. We lived in them almost all summer.  The camp was finally built by the end of summer in time for regular camping and working in the dining hall. 

Cross Point Camp's location at a geographical point 
on the north shore of Lake Texoma in Oklahoma.

     There was a Japanese cook who taught me how to debone a chicken and to pull the bone out of pork so that you couldn't even tell that it had ever been there. Those were good skills.  Every Friday, as we brought in the milk and ice cream, each of us chose a quart flavor from the delivery truck to go feast on at the lake. 

     One of the stories that the fellow workers probably remember best is when we lived in a nearby motel for a time, between the covered wagon time and the finished cabin time. I was asked to make coffee for the group.  At home, my parents had a percolator, so I assumed that when coffee was ready, it would stop perking.  I boiled the coffee until it turned to a thick syrup as I waited for the perking to stop.  Only one worker had a sip. I was off the coffee production line for the rest of the summer.

Cross Point Dining Hall
     Church camp was a regular and important part of my growing up. There were the regular age similar camping experiences. There were special music camps with talented directors, family camps where our complete family attended, and leadership camps when I was in college where we would take part in social action work.  I have fond memories of the Methodist camps.

Llewellyn "Llew Cheyenne" Hollingsworth
March 6, 2012
Bellingham, Washington

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