Friday, September 16, 2005

Tales from Tom: Patrol Camp

I've really enjoyed transcribing these sermons (and the stories within them) over these past few weeks. As I'm getting down to these last couple, I've had occasion to realize that I've lived with these sermons as part of my own story for more of my life than I'd lived prior to hearing them at the age of 15 (I'm 31 now). While I'm not sure if that should make me feel old or not, it definitely says these stories have had "staying power" for me!

If you want to read the entire sermon of which this story is a part, click on the link on the sidebar for sermons by Rev. Tom Are, Jr. This sermon is the Thursday, August 10th sermon, and has a lot of good stuff to say about forgiveness.

(And, as a total aside, "Happy Birthday, sis!")
When I was in the sixth grade, I went to Bear Elementary School in Montgomery, Alabama. I was a patrol… a safety patrol at Bear Elementary School. Now, how many of you were patrols? (waits for show of hands) Good! I bet every one of you wore those little orange sashes with the little aluminum badges on there. (applause indicates he’s correct) At Bear Elementary School, we didn’t wear those things. We wore uniforms, man! We had these grey uniforms with stripes running all the way down the side of your leg. We had real badges, not those aluminum kind! We had real… they made your pockets sag, you know? They gave us whistles that we could sorta loop on this pocket… we were bad! We knew we were bad! You know… we’d strut down the hall! All the kids would look up and say, “Oooh! He’s a patrol!” And we were weren’t just “safety patrol.” We were “Junior Traffic Police.” Had this patch on our shoulder: “Junior Traffic Police.” We had policewomen that would come out to the school, and they would teach us to march, you know… “Left, right, left, right.…” We could do that by the sixth grade. And we would go out to the street, and we would haul the little flags out there that would say, “Stop.” And all the traffic in Montgomery would stop. And little Billy would walk across the street, you know, with his lunchbox. And then we’d let the traffic… we were in control! We were the baddest kids in the school, and we knew it.

Now every summer, they had what they called “patrol camp.” That meant that every school… every school would send a delegation to “patrol camp,” and there, there would be contests. You know, we’d have the canoe race, we’d have the tug-of-war… we would have “hold your breath underwater”…we would have all those kind of… kind of contests, and at the end, the delegation that attained the most points would take home the trophy. The valued “patrol camp” trophy, you’ve probably read about it.

For the past four years or so, Bear Elementary School had brought home the trophy. We sorta felt like it was ours. But last year, our rivals, Bellingrath… they took the trophy!

So, there we were, our delegation. We were ready to go to patrol camp, and our captain huddled us together, you know, and he said, “All right, men!” Here we are, in the sixth grade, you know, “All right, men! We’re sending you on a mission, here! If you want it bad enough…”

We said, “Yeah, we do! We do!”

“If you want it bad enough, you can bring home the trophy to Bear Elementary School, where it belongs…”

And we said, “We will! We will!”

And he said, “We’ll display it right there in the case next to the Honorable Mention of the Spelling Bee…”

And we said, “We’ll put it there!”

And we were all pumped. And we went to patrol camp. And everybody was there… but Bellingrath! And we weren’t sure where their delegation was. Now, we weren’t nervous. We were too cool to be nervous. We were acting a lot like how uncool people act when they’re nervous, but we weren’t nervous! We were just “curious” about who Bellingrath would be sending.

Well, right after supper, we’re out on the porch, and we’re sort of doing this (acting cool), you know? And then, there was this car that came down the dirt road, that had little red and white stripes of crepe paper tied around the antenna, like people do, you know, to let you know they’re special or something. That was the colors for Bellingrath! They pulled up in front of the main building there. And they had the tinted windows on the car, so we couldn’t tell who was living in there. And then, Mom gets out of the front seat, ‘cause Mom’s still driving in the sixth grade. And she goes to the back door, and she opens it like earth, wind, and fire is going to jump of there or something. And she opens the back door…

… and out of the back seat ROLLS the only guy from Bellingrath! He had to have been 350 pounds, man! He was the only guy there! Now, he had the tug-of-war, but the canoe race was in the bag! (laughter) We knew it was coming home, and we were excited! This guy was a nerd! We looked in the dictionary: “nerd.” Right next to it’s his picture! You know? He was the definition… He had on this little… beanie kinda hat. It didn’t have a propeller on it, but that’s only because somebody had knocked it off earlier! He had on this striped shirt with, like, orange, and purple and green, going up and down, and then these sorta striped pants going the other way. I’ve never seen anybody, well Scott Matheny (MYC ’89 co-director), other than that I’ve never seen anybody dress like that (loud cheers and applause)! You know? Nobody wore that kinda stuff in 1971! You know, you could wear anything you want to in the ‘60s but by ’71 we were civilized, you didn’t wear that kinda… you could go to jail if you wore that kinda stuff! … He got out dressed like… then he had on these white socks, and patent leather shoes that were two-tone!

We were looking at this guy, and we said, “We cannot believe it, but this guy is a geek!”

He walks up to us. He says, “Hi, guys! My name is Byron Ralph Gazortny!”

I was feeling pretty good about “Lorraine,” then, you know? Byron Ralph Gazortny? That’s even a geek name!

We get up the next morning…. Breakfast at patrol camp is an experience. It is a test of your commitment. Let’s see… patrol camp is in July. They start frying the bacon, like, in February. All right? When you get it, it’s about that big (gestures to indicate a tiny piece), you know, and when you pick up a corner of it, that’s all you get, it just sort of shatters right there in front of you. But the eggs, they didn’t start in February! The eggs still had some of that clear stuff on it that did like this (jiggles) when they give it to you!

They give you bacon, and those eggs, and then grits that had these lumps in it. You could suffocate on those lumps, man! They get stuck right in there, you’d be a goner, that was all there was to it! You couldn’t eat the food at patrol camp! But Byron Ralph? He’s sitting at the end of the table, and said, “If you guys would just lift the table down there and slide all that stuff to me,” and he’s sitting there eating it all up! He even took the camp peanut butter. That’s the kind that comes in the can, that you have the key and you sorta twist it. You ever seen that stuff? They’re three layers to it. It’s got like this Georgia red clay on the bottom. And then there’s probably some 10-W-30 or something in there. And then about six peanuts floating in the oil. Byron Ralph dumped all that stuff on there, he didn’t even mix it up, he just dumped it on there, eating it up, “yeah, man, this is good…” We knew this guy was a geek!

Well, we decided that… he needed to be… “included.” We decided he needed to be “officially welcomed.” Byron Ralph… this was ’71… Byron Ralph probably washed his hair in ’66, we figured. So, that first night, we took a little Prell concentrate… doesn’t need much… just a little on the pillow... all he needed was a touch of sweat, and turn his head every now and then… he woke up in the morning and there’s white cloud everywhere. Bubbles coming out of his tent, you know? We were loving it! We looked at him and said, “Oh, Byron Ralph, what happened?” You know? We didn’t have a clue.

The next night, Byron Ralph got a little carried away. Literally. About ten of us got around his bunk. We walked him down to the lake. (laughter) This is not a suggestion…. walked him down to the lake. We put him in the rowboat. We pushed him out into the lake. And then we rang the wake-up bell! Byron Ralph gets up, he stretches, he steps out of his cot, and bloosh! (laughter and applause) It was wonderful! It was wonderful! Water flying out of there, you know? He asked us about it, we didn’t have a clue! Don’t know. I guess it was just “sleep rowing,” you know, that happens….

All week long… all week long, we gave that guy more than he could take. And we could tell it was eating at him, but he never said anything. But we could tell it was just chewing him up, you know? I could also tell that he knew that I was behind it all.

The last night, we were going to camp away from camp. Now, I never did quite figure that out. We were gonna go camp on the mountain. All right? In Alabama, they don’t have mountains, man! They got bumps, but they didn’t have any mountains! So they had, like, this trail to this bump, and we were gonna go camp on the bump. So, everybody gets his backpack on, and we’re hiking through the woods. The last night, we’re hiking through the woods, and I’m there with all of my buddies. We had won the trophy. Everything was good. We were gonna stay up all night and sing songs and have a great time. And we’re hiking down the trail… there was this tree that fell down right next to the trail. So all the guys jumped up on it, and they’re running down the tree. So I’d jump up on it, and I’m running down the tree. And all of a sudden… I think a Mary Lou Retton or something. I don’t know. I go up in the air, and I come back down on the tree… almost.

Sort of on the side of it. And this was a round tree. So I went all the way down to the ground, and my ankle was sideways. And it sorta… popped.

And I said, (as flatly as possible) “Oowwowch!” (laughter)

And all the guys looked back at me and they said, (very concerned) “Are you okay?”

I’m a patrol, man! I said, (very unconvincingly as he hobbles around) “Sure! No problem! Having a great time!”

I couldn’t walk. My ankle’s sitting here, inflating! I said, “You guys go on, I’m gonna sit here and wait for Byron Ralph and do some more stuff to him!”

And they said, “Yeah! Yeah! That’s great!” So they go on. I’m sitting here on this log watching my ankle just… explode.

Byron Ralph starts coming up the trail. I know that I’m a dead boy. You know, I’m sort of playing the video of my life in front of me. Because, when you’re in the sixth grade, you don’t have one that’s long enough even for commercials, you know? It’s just sort of... it’s over.

Byron Ralph is coming up… I know he’s gonna kill me. I’m sitting there on the log, I can’t go anywhere, and he comes up the trail….

(Sound effect akin to an elephant stomp, then another) Have you ever seen those forest fire commercials? You know, where all the birds and stuff go (sound of rustling out trees in large numbers), like? That’s what it was like, man! He’s coming up the trail, and everything’s going (rustle-rustle-rustle).

He comes around the curve, and he sees me on the log. And he just smiles….

That made me really nervous.

He walks up to me, and I’m thinking, “one punch.” You know? One punch and I’m out!

He said, “Stand up!”

I thought, “I can accommodate.” I stand up.

He said, “Give me your pack!”

I said, “Going for distance?” (laughter)

He takes my pack… puts it on his shoulder. He hands me the stick that he’s been using to come up the trail… and he walks off.

By the time I hobbled into camp, he had set up my tent. He had gathered some wood for a fire, and he was over there scrounging through his stuff to begin to set it up.

I crawled in my tent, and I cried.

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