The Story Of My Horace Mann Duffel Bag That Helped Me Survive Church Camp
I'm going to tell you another one of my awkward, somewhat embarrassing stories from childhood. This time, we're going back to the late eighties. When I was young, my Grandmother took us to church three times a week. We went Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. I had several friends in the group of Sunday School, and some of them I'm still friends with to this day. As outgoing as I may have been there, I was not then, nor really am I now, comfortable immediately in a new setting.
Strangers. Scary stuff.
So, anyway, my sister is a few years older than me, and she had gone with the older kids to a bible camp in Arkansas for a week. She said it was the best time evah, everyone was so graaaaate, there was a laaaht of stuff to do, omigod, and on and on. I was so jealous. I begged to get to go myself. My parents caved, and sent us both to the bible camp the next year.
One whole week, sleeping away from home in another state, away from the comforts of home. It sounded like fun. I was with a whole group of kids from my church, so I'd be comfortable, because I knew people. Then I could meet new friends, have the great experiences she had, everything!
Our preacher loaded us up in a huge van and drove us down. Everyone was just bubbling with excitement, wondering if so and so would be back or if the softball team would be good, you know, kid stuff. I had myself all packed up. I had my clothes, my green Horace Mann duffel bag full of my toiletries, and my favorite blanket. It was a brownish red and had a checked pattern to it. It was the softest blanket ever, you guys. It was the best. In fact, my Mom had warned me not to take it, because she thought I might lose it. But pre-teen me could not fathom a whole week without My Blanket. I promised her I'd be careful with it.
We got there, and as soon as we got out of the van, my sister turned to the other kids in our group and said, "This week, she is not my sister. You don't know her. Let's go."
Oh. Oh, no.
Admittedly, I was an awkward, weird kid. I know that. I was pudgy and liked the Ninja Turtles way too much and had glasses and very frizzy hair. I get why my sister didn't want her coolness to be downgraded by association with me.
And here, my friend, my troubles began. *
I immediately shut down into shy mode. I spoke only when spoken to, and then in a very quiet voice with as few words as possible. I trailed behind the other kids and got in line to check in. We had put our blankets and pillows and bags in a pile to be picked up by a guy with a truck to drive them up the hill to the cabins so we wouldn't have to carry them (it was a steep hill. Really.) I put my blanket and pillow in the pile, but for some reason I held on to my clothes (if I remember rightly, they were in one of those plastic bags they used to give you at Maurice's with the draw string) and duffel bag. He was going to go in trips, to take different stuff to the different cabins, which were normally assigned by gender and age. So, he saw this pile, and must have thought, okay, here we go. Last trip, teenage cabin.
The truck drove away. With my blanket and pillow.
I quietly panicked. I was too shy to call out, and tell him not to take my stuff. That my stuff was supposed to be going in a different truck. I stood there and watched him drive away. And then, I checked in, and I made the lonely walk up the hill. I was too shy to tell anyone what had happened. I was too shy to even ask for a pillow and blanket to use. They surely would have provided me one, but I didn't say anything. So, I used my Horace Mann duffel bag full of shampoo and toothpaste and whatnots as a pillow for a week. The nights in Arkansas got pretty cold with just a sheet. I kept quiet, because now there was ABSOLUTELY no turning back. It was too embarrassing! That kicked off a week of pre teen misery. Please imagine the 11 or 12 year old melodrama here. I was terrible at softball, my crafts got broken, my archery was waaaaaaaaaay off, and it was just humid and bugs were everywhere and it was icky. Most of it was in my head. There were a few mean kids (they would sniff and say, "Do you smell turtles?" When I was nearby). But most of the kids and the counselors were great. They couldn't really get more than a couple of words out of me, but they tried. I managed to ask someone where the truck guys went after they dropped off our stuff, and someone adult told me they were in Kansas now.
I would never see my blanket again.
Then came the middle of the week. My Mom called to check in on us and see how we were liking camp. My sister got to the phone first, and regaled her with story after story of how great camp was. Then she handed me the phone and left. Mom asked me how I was doing, and I tried to put on a brave face, I really did. I told her swimming was fun and there were a lot of kids and the food is nice and MAHM *sob* IT'S AWFUL *sob* THE KIDS FROM CHURCH DON'T TALK TO ME *sob* AND SOME KIDS THINK I SMELL *sob* AND THEY TOOK MY BLANKET *sob* AND MY PILLOW *sob* AND I'M USING MY DUFFEL BAG *sob* I DON'T LIKE SOFTBALL *sob* I JUST WANNA COME HOOOOOOOOOOOOME.
Well, miraculously I made it through the week of bible camp. The van came, took us back, and it was a very quiet ride back to Sedalia. Most of the kids slept. I just stared out the window, wondering how bad I was going to have it now that I had done the very thing my Mom had warned me I might do. She was right, yet again, and here I was, the stupid kid without the best blanket ever.
But, I got home, my Mom and Dad gave me a big hug, and took my stuff from me. I went to my room, and found a brand new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles blanket on my bed! It was so cool! I thanked my folks and settled back in. Things got back to normal, and I went to a different church camp the next two years that was closer to home.
That blanket was a little scratchy, though. Nowhere near as good as Ol Red.
*Reference to Maus. Recommended reading, but very dark.