I have been reading Camp Redemption by Raymond Atkins. I met Raymond years ago at a book event in Canton, Georgia, where we were both panelists. We didn’t get much time to visit but it was clear that Raymond was a legend among his friends.
After reading this romp of a tale, I understand why.
Raymond is a hoot of a storyteller. You know the type. He’s full of smart-a** one-liners, and his story meanders down dirt roads, and sneaks around unexpected corners.
Early and Ivey Willingham, a brother and sister duo, run a Bible camp in the North Georgia mountains. It’s been the destination location for untold number of renegade children, until the summer of 2010 when the once-popular Bible camp gets only a handful of children to sign up. The economy, and technology have taken their toll — kids don’t want to hang around a Bible camp all summer long, or even a week at a time.
All seems lost, until Ivey has one of her many prophetic dreams, this one featuring a Choctaw Indian named Richard Corntassel. It’s the message embedded in this dream that sets the two up for the drama that follows.
It’s the laugh-out-loud kind of drama. Or maybe it isn’t the drama at all, but rather Raymond’s tongue-in-cheek storytelling. Consider:
“Millie Donovan was a local girl who had come up rough and fast under the indifferent care of Patsy and Stu Fields, a lackluster pair who were smart enough to figure out the mechanisms of copulation but clueless as to what to do with the inevitable result of that exercise. They were not mean people, although they were a touch stupid. They held an extremely low standard for themselves, one that they managed to live up to most days. Patsy and Stu liked to arise late, smoke marijuana, copulate, eat food that did not require heat to prepare, and then smoke more marijuana before finishing off the day with more vigorous copulation.”
But then Raymond Atkins turns right around and adds a dose of theology for the pondering:
“Even when it came to Ivey, his own personal live-in prophet, Early could never quite make the complete journey to being a true believer in miracles. A part of him always hung back at a spot where perhaps the light was a little better and examined each occurrence through the harsh lens of reality. Ironically, even as he looked, he realized that it took as much faith not to believe as it did to accept something blindly, that both points of view required belief in something larger, be it God, coincidence, the randomness of the universe, science or mere blind luck.”
Think about that one awhile before you keep reading.
One of the things I love best about Camp Redemption is the loving sibling relationship between Early and Ivey. It’s rare that a writer is able to capture the affection between brother and sister. For Raymond Atkins it seem second-nature; he does it with such ease and grace.
I did not attend church camp as a kid. Ever. Oh, Mama took me and Sister Tater to some sort of camp in the North Georgia mountains once when I was in junior high and Sister Tater was still a whiney 4th-grader.
Mama only took us because she wanted to run off to Florida for a week with some man whose name I don’t know if I ever did, but I surely don’t remember now. I think he sold fire alarms for a living. He may have been married, or in the process of a divorce. I just remember he didn’t tolerate kids very well. He was far more interested in Mama.
So she took us to a camp we’d never heard of and left us there, even though we didn’t know one living soul there except each other. Then she took off for Florida for the week.
I was old enough to have some inkling of why I was being dumped at this “really fun place.” And it might have been, under different circumstances. It was a beautiful setting, on a deep blue lake (that I can’t remember the name of the camp, or even the name of the lake, ought to tell how strange it all was).
Needless to say, I was petulant the entire week and got into trouble with the camp counselor more than once. She really hit the roof one night when I hid outside the cabin right before lights out and scratched on the window, causing them all to think a bear was trying to get inside, when it was just little ol’ me.
My punishment for that was not being allowed to go swimming the next day but instead having to stay indoors and read while Sister Tater — the darling of the camp — got to go swimming and boating.
When, at the end of the week, Mama and her paramour came to get us, I didn’t speak to her the entire drive home.
That was my onlycamp experience until college, where I joined up with the college group from Corvallis First Baptist, and attended Camp Tadmor for the first of many trips. I even spent one summer as a camp counselor at Washington’s Mt Baker.
Now I am trying to talk Sister Tater into bringing baby Landon over in August for cousin camp with Sullivan. It’s an idea I got from my dear friend The Redhead who passed away from breast cancer in 2009. The Redhead invited all the cousins to her home for a week of cousin camp every year. We all thought she was crazy at the time, inviting all those cousins, when she had four of her own kids. But now, of course, I see the value of it, how time away can build bonds and memories that last a kid a lifetime.
Cousin Landon is a little rocker.
What about you? What’s your camp experience?