Backpacks ready to be worn to go camping. Stock image purchased by Mike Walton
(This was originally included in "Patches and Pins," but several editors recommended that I remove it from the book because it was more truth than fiction, and I reluctantly was "selling" the book as a fiction novel based upon my life. "Make up your mind," they would write.
I kept this story, however, and some of you who followed me in my earlier days on the Scouts-L youth programs discussion list have run across this in a slightly different (and shorter) format. I posted it when the group was talking about Scouts being homesick during the first week away from parents and friends at Scout summer camp.
The original letter was penned in 1974, a time of racial strife in Louisville and Jefferson County as the school systems were being consolidated and desegregated. I attended Camp Covered Bridge, now a pleasant memory, located alongside the Jefferson-Oldham county line. )
Mom! Dad! Shelton! Pooh Bear! Hi!!
Our Camp Director asked each camper to write a letter home to their family -- they even included the envelope and stamp, so all we had to do is to write, put the letter in the envelope, seal it up and give it to our Scoutmaster. Mr. Lovett. He would give them to someone to mail.
On Thursday, Camp Covered Bridge will be open for you, Dad, Shell, and Mitch to come visit. Please DO NOT come! It is not because I don't want to see you, or you will see my dirty Scout clothes. Here is why.
I first want to thank you and Dad for paying for me to be here for two weeks of camp. I love being here, and I think that I will apply to work on staff here next year as something called a C.I.T. - counselor in training. I think that I would be able to save enough money for the Jamboree and stuff. But don't come to camp to see me this year.
The biggest reason why not is because even with the dirt, the heat, and the bugs and things -- I love it here and I don't want you to try to talk me out of leaving to go home early. I have met several new friends from Hikes Point, the West End, and Shively this week. We talked about things between Black people and White people, about foods we liked and didn't like and for the first time I tried okra. I don't like it by itself, and now I know why... but a Troop from Shelbyville did a gumbo soup last night, they shared it, and they had slices of okra in it, and it was good.
So I am learning that while people may have different opinions, we have more in common with each other.
I have learned how to face my fears -- of the true outdoors, of being laughed at because I did not know as many things that other people did, and for being a short kid in a tall kid's world. We played cards together one night until like 4 in the morning -- we had to move to the Nature shelter because we were keeping others awake. It reminded me a lot of those days whereby Dad's friends would come by the house, and they would sit and talk trash about each other while playing cards and drinking beer. No, they don't allow beer at camp -- but we had lots of Pepsi and pretzels.
I learned that I would be a good leader. Mr. Lovett put me in charge of rotating the chores, and I broke them down so that everyone in my Patrol had something to do every meal. Even setting the table and washing the silverware was shared. Mr. Lovett said that it was a good use of my "resources" -- never thought about people as being a "resource" until then.
I also learned more about the things I missed because we lived in Germany. It scared me a little that I did not know about Malcolm X and how such a man could use the Bible against his own people. But as Wayne (a friend I met while playing cards, his dad was a preacher) explained, different people have been using the Bible against their own people since the start of time. He knew the complete Bible front and back, but he said, "people say that the book is gospel and they forget that it is a collection of stories and recounts told by people inspired by God who saw things their way. Only God through Jesus can tell us exactly what it meant". I don't know if I agree with everything Wayne said, but I can see how powerful the Bible really is.
I had a chance to meet a real Rabbi -- Rabbi French. He came to do a Jewish service during camp, and I asked if I could watch, and he said "yes, sure" and explained some things to me, so I knew what was going on. The only time I saw Rabbies was on TV and this was a lot better. He even spoke the Hebrew language and taught me a new word: Shalom, or peace.
Yes, you sent me to a Boy Scout camp, not a church camp. I don't want you or Dad to worry about me -- I am eating good, drinking good, and everything else. I hope that when Mitch gets old enough to join Scouts, he can come out to camp too. I know that Shell won't be interested in Scouts because he loves sports as much as I love Scouts. I tried for the Mile Swim (remember, last year, I could not even swim!), but I was not strong enough to make the entire mile. I will try again next summer. A kid we called "Nixon" because he talked like President Nixon and held his hands up with the two peace signs like him, also taught me how to do the butterfly in the water. He said that once my arms would get stronger that I should try out for my high school swim team if they had one -- he did, and he said it made him really popular at school in a good way. He said it also helped him concentrate on school stuff, especially math, because he could do math problems in his head while he was swimming.
Well, it is almost time for retreat, but I wanted to tell you about that too before I fold this up and send it to you. Do you know how at on post everything stopped at 5 for the lowering of the flag while they play the anthem? They do the same thing here, except we also sing the national anthem. On Tuesday, someone changed the song on the tape, and we were singing that song we would sometimes sing when we go to church at Morning Star (Missionary Baptist Church). There we were, Black kids and White kids, adults and kids, standing, all singing the song "Lift Every Voice and Sing" as the U.S. flag was lowered and folded.
I had to cry. You can call me a crybaby when I get home.
Nobody complained then -- although it was the only time this week they did it. Those that did not know the song just stood there with their hand over their heart or saluted the flag. After that, several White kids came up to me and asked me if I could find the words to the song. Others asked me if that was a Black person's song. I pointed to some White kids from the St. Mathews Troop and said: "They knew the words and was singing it, so I guess not." I asked one of the staff members to go into town and find a book or something with the words and make copies for me to share. It was something to behold and something to remember this week at camp.
That is why I don't want you guys to come. I don't want you to take me away from any of this. Yeah, there were some bad parts, but for the most part, it was great to be away from the backyard and my brothers and Doug Smith and Dallas Neff and do something great and positive for myself. Someday I am going to be a Scoutmaster like Mr. Lovett. I hope to encourage my Scouts to go camping -- not for earning a badge or stuff, but just to spend the week playing cards, swimming in the pool, fixing and eating food, and most of all just meeting and talking with other kids who like some of the same things I do...and some who do not.
Thank you again for sending me to the Boy Scout summer camp. Especially this year.
Your oldest son, Mike