In the spring of 1975, having recently graduated from the University of Georgia, hallowed be thy name, I was hired by Scouting legend Uncle Jack Bowden to work at Bert Adams Scout Reservation, near Covington. I was excited about the fact that for the first time in six years I would not spend my summer working 48 hours a week in the Bibb cotton mills. Little did I know that being a Bert Adams staffer would become much more than a summer job. For the next six years being a Camp Jamison staffer would encompass my entire being and help mold me into the person I would become.
More than three decades have passed since we put out that last Jamison campfire and said our goodbyes. Uncle Jack is gone and my fellow staff members have scattered and I rarely, if ever, hear from any of the guys with whom I lived in such close quarters for so many long summers - eating, sleeping, playing, working, laughing and crying - always doing whatever we did as hard as it could be done. We promised to always stay in touch. Always is a fleeting measurement of time when real life begins.
I say real life because working on camp staff was, for the most part, pure fantasy. We all had jobs to do, to be sure, and almost all of us took great pride in doing those jobs to the best of our extremely varied abilities. But we were also, as the aforementioned Jack Bowden often reminded us, performers. We were putting on a show for the hundreds of Scouts who showed up in bathing trunks every Sunday, towels in hand, to begin their magical week of summer Scout camp with a swim check. And although during an eight-week summer season the activities could become very routine to us, we were constantly reminded that each week was the only week for the Scouts in our charge. We were challenged to make each week special and unique, and we did our best to do just that.
At camp we could be as wild and crazy as we wanted to be, as long as we got the job done and provided the Scouts with a safe and meaningful experience and lived up to the tenets of the Scout oath and law.
I wouldn't want my lovely wife, Lisa, to know that I said this, but in many ways, the six years I spent as Jamison aquatics director at Bert Adams Scout Reservation were the happiest times of my life; maybe the only time in my life that I lived so uninhibitedly. I had found my niche as self-proclaimed "King of the Jamison Waterfront" and could be the free spirit that I had always longed to be. I was outside all day, surrounded by kids who were learning and having a good time. My work was play, and I lived with a group of like-minded individuals who developed, over the weeks and months that we lived together a unique chemistry and camaraderie that I had never experienced before - and have never experienced since.
Every year, when summer rolls around, I pause to remember those carefree days at Scout Camp and find myself reminiscing about the adventures we had there. I tell myself that I will drive down to Bert Adams and take a look around to see how they are doing things now. Maybe, I convince myself, I will gather together some of the current staffers and regale them with stories about the old days; tell them how we used to do things, way back when.
I never do that, of course. I am not sure if I am afraid that I'll find that things are better at camp or that I'll find that things are worse or that I'll find that nobody cares how we did it in the 1970s. Probably it is a little of all three. But I never go back.
Ironically, I was sitting on my front porch Thursday morning, enjoying my coffee and my time away from school, and thinking about those idyllic days at Camp Jamison, wondering how to get in touch with some of my old buddies. I walked back into the kitchen to pour that second cup of coffee and heard the words "Scout camp" in conjunction with a breaking news story.
Horrified, I listened to the story. A tornado had touched down at a Scout ranch in Iowa, killing four people - three Scouts and one staffer. My heart broke as I sat down at the kitchen table and watched the story unfold.
Those guys were doing just what I and my guys had done for so many summers. They were having the times of their lives. I know they were. And then suddenly, tragedy struck. It could have happened to any group at any place, but this time it happened at a summer Boy Scout encampment and, for me, that makes it a little personal.
I will be in prayer for those Scouts who lost their lives and their friends and families and all the others who are affected by this sad event.
I hope you will be, too.
Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.