What’s not to love about my home state in January? Last Monday I stepped off a plane in Orlando and saw palm trees and sunshine, not to mention a host of children sporting mouse ears. It was home-like if not exactly home. Disney was still quietly buying up orange groves when I spent two of my teenage summers in Central Florida. None of us had an inkling Hurricane Mickey was on the way.
For the first time in our marriage my husband and I are trying to decide where to spend the next part of our life without having to consider his job or school for our kids. Florida’s winning big time, so we’re investigating. The closer we drove to Mt. Dora, where we spent three nights, the more familiar the area looked to me.
As a young teen I’d spent two summers not far away at Camp Oklawaha, in Ocklawaha, Florida. Recently I discovered the camp hadn’t existed under that name for years, but a newspaper article, decades old, pinpointed the location for me. A little more effort turned up a new camp, Southwind, on the same lake, and while the photos showed a more modern facility, it was a place to start. That camp is now run by Young Life, a Christian youth organization, and while they had never heard of Camp Oklawaha, they thought quite possibly it was the same place. Good folks that they are, they invited me to visit.
Driving beneath live oak canopies dripping with Spanish moss, I wondered what I would find. Most memories of those two summers are a pleasant blur. My cabin mates and I were the Mohawks, Counselor-in-training. We rode horses and swam, shot rifles and bows and arrows. I learned to canoe and sing silly songs, if not to water ski (I always let go of the rope before I got to my feet.). I sang camp ditties to Michael as we drove. He was suitably impressed, if not with the songs, with the fact that I could still remember them.
I also remembered long, hot evenings listening to our camp director preach. He was a Southern Baptist whose joy and mission was to bring us to Jesus. I was an Episcopalian, long on ritual, short on sermons and patience. But I first heard Amazing Grace at one of his Sunday services. It’s still one of my favorite hymns.
We arrived at Southwind mid-afternoon after first taking a gloriously beautiful dirt road to nowhere. Minutes later I knew I’d walked back into my own history.
Have you had that experience? Have you revisited your past and discovered how distorted your memories were? The Camp Oklawaha of my childhood was huge and sprawling. The reality? Southwind has room for everything, including, apparently, the imagination of a fifteen year old girl, but it’s contained and sensible. My cabin still stands, but did we really fit six girls inside? Of course Mother Nature had done her part, as well. The lake where we swam is now two shallow marshy sections which were visited by an alligator while we watched. The island we canoed to for Indian ceremonials now has a house on it. Horses are no longer part of the program.
I came away from the visit with warm feelings, and two strong impressions. I remember returning home from camp all those years ago and thinking how tiny my childhood home was. This time I returned to camp to discover the same thing.
Life is like that, isn’t it? We blow things out of proportion and sometimes we need to revisit them to set them to rights. Only rarely is anything as immense as we make it.
Second? Mr. and Mrs. Chiselbrook would be so proud of what their camp has become. The kind folks at Southwind are doing exactly what the Chiselbrooks tried to do themselves. I had a strong sense of their presence there, still. Sometimes there really are happy endings, even if we don’t live to see them.
I could almost hear Amazing Grace on the wind.