Camp Tonawonka – Summer of Fun
I awoke the next morning to the incessant beeping of my wrist watch. It was 5:00 AM and there was a faint light filtering in through the cabin windows. Around me, ten boys plus one junior counselor slept peacefully. I arose from my bunk and noticed that Brutus had moved from his spot on the floor next to me. I stopped by Josh's bunk and Brutus wasn't there. I kissed Josh's forehead softly and then moved on. When I walked over to Sean's bunk, I discovered where he had gone.
Evidently Brutus had climbed up on Sean's bunk with him sometime during the night. Brutus' tail thumped the bed softly as I approached. "Ready to go for a run Brutus?" I asked at which point his tail began to wag faster.
I reached out and gently shook Sean's shoulder. "Sean, time to get up and go for a run, buddy." I said.
Sean awoke surprisingly easily and rolled over to look at me. He smiled brightly when he saw that Brutus was with him.
"Looks like you made a new friend," I said with a smile.
"Yeah," Sean said as he reached down to pet Brutus before climbing out of his bunk in search of suitable clothing for a morning run.
I awoke Jake next and within a few minutes the two boys and I along with Brutus were waiting outside Cabin 5. A moment later Mark and Charles joined us along with Daisy. Mark and Charles bumped knuckles with Sean and Jake and Mark gave me a warm hug.
"Morning," he said.
"You guys ready for this? I know Mark and I run about 5 km or so on some mornings you guys ok with that distance?" I asked Sean, Jake and Charles.
"Oh yeah, we ran the Terry Fox Run," Jake said.
"Yeah, 5k is ok for us," Sean agreed.
"Ok, lets' go. Just watch your step and try not to trip over anything on the ground. We'll follow the hiking trail and it should be pretty clear. Brutus and Daisy will probably run ahead of us and we may get to see some wildlife. If you have an iPod or anything, I'd leave it here."
"How come?" Jake asked.
"Because on this run, you're going to get to enjoy nature. You'll hear all kinds of birds and other animals and after a while, you'll learn to identify them."
"Cool!" Sean and Mark agreed.
We made a quick stop at the bathrooms in order to relieve ourselves and then we hit the trail. We ran at an easy pace and the cool morning air felt wonderfully invigorating in our faces. The early morning light filtered down through the green canopy above us and it created the perfect atmosphere for running. I glanced at my four charges as we ran and I was impressed to see that Sean, Jake, and Charles ran with excellent form. All of the boys were quite athletic.
Every so often as we ran, I'd spot a particular plant or hear a particular animal and we'd stop briefly while I pointed them out. About one kilometer into the run, we stumbled across a crop of wild strawberries growing next to the trail.
"Check this out guys, wild strawberries," I said as I picked a handful and offered them to the boys.
"How do you know they aren't poisonous?" Sean asked.
"That's why I offered them to you guys first," I replied and then laughed since I was unable to keep a straight face. "Seriously… there are actually no poisonous berries that look like strawberries. If you're ever lost in the woods and you find strawberries, you can eat them without worry, but keep your eyes open for bears or bear crap. That could spell trouble if you both reach for the same berry at the same time."
"BEARS!" Sean exclaimed.
"Well of course Sean," Mark deadpanned as he winked at me. "We're in the woods and bears have to shit somewhere."
Ye... Yeah, but...." Sean stammered. "Mark! Bears'll maul you to death!"
"No they won't," Mark said seriously, "I think I had a Teddy Bear once and it never mauled me.... never shit in the woods either now that I think of it."
Sean looked a bit stunned before he finally spoke. "A Teddy Bear? A TEDDY BEAR?! Here I am talking about a bear twelve feet tall that can squish you to death in a bear hug, and you're talking about a friggin' Teddy Bear!"
I couldn't suppress my laughter any longer.
"What? You're not buying that story?" Mark asked with a big grin.
Sean started laughing too. "Nice try Mark, but save it for the fairy tale book."
"Alright fellas," I began when I'd composed myself. While we continued to pick some more berries, I explained, "Sean, you usually don't have too much to fear from bears. Most of the bears around here are black bears. When you do see some bear poop, look at it. If it's all dried up, that means that the bear hasn't been around for some time and probably isn't around at the moment, but it does mean that the bear frequents the trail once in a while. If the dump is a wet fresh one, stop, don't move, and look around. Look all around for a bush that's moving, but shouldn't be, especially if there's no wind. There's no way of telling if the bear is male or female. If it's a female, you do have to be cautious because her cub may be nearby and a mother is very protective of her cubs. However at this time of the year, the cubs have probably left the care of its mother and are foraging on their own. As far as being twelve feet tall standing up.... that would be true of a grizzly that you would find in the Rockies, but for the black bears around here, a mature bear would only reach eight feet tall max. Females would be somewhere around six feet. The big thing we have in our favour is the dogs. They'd catch the scent real quick and I'm pretty sure they would put the run on the bear or at least bark loud enough that the bear would run away as fast as they could. Bears won't come near humans unless there's food around. That's why it's very important to keep your food in sealed containers when you're camping or hunting in the wilderness areas."
"Thanks Tom," Sean said, "That makes me feel better than the Teddy Bear story. I was just wondering, do you think that it was Mark that sh…I mean crapped his bed and blamed it on his Teddy Bear?"
"Darn bear!" Mark exclaimed. "He said he'd never tell." Mark laughed. "You're one up on me with that one Sean"
The berries were perfectly ripe and extremely tasty. After each of us had eaten a small handful we pushed on with our run.
Over the next half hour, we encountered a number of small critters including squirrels, chipmunks and a variety of birds including blue jays and a red tailed hawk. As we encountered each species, I stopped to point them out to the boys. With the birds, I pointed out each one's unique sound.
At the half-way point in the run, we crossed a small stream using a wooden foot bridge. Brutus and Daisy who had run ahead were waiting for us on the far side and both were standing at full alert with their ears up.
As we approached, I looked where they were looking and saw the massive moose. I motioned for the boys to be silent and to sit down. The four of them went wide-eyed when I pointed out the fully-grown Bull Moose that was standing about 50 meters away from us with his head down drinking from the stream. The moose was enormous and probably weighed in excess of 1,200 pounds.
"That thing's huge!" Jake whispered.
"No kidding," Mark agreed.
"Do you think he sees us?" Sean whispered to me.
"I doubt it. He probably would have taken off like a shot if he spotted us or the dogs," I replied.
We stayed put and watched the majestic creature as he finally finished drinking and then turned and walked slowly off into the bush.
"I wish I had my cell phone with me. It has a camera in it," Sean said.
"Bring it along tomorrow morning if you like," I offered. "We might see another moose. We might see deer or even bears too."
"Oh man.... not those stupid bears again." Sean said.
At about the two-thirds mark in our run, Brutus and Daisy provided us with some comedy. A large butterfly fluttered into their range and the two large dogs began to bark at it and snapped at it trying to capture the tiny creature in their jaws. Every time one of them launched and snapped his/her teeth, the butterfly simply fluttered out of reach. The boys and I were convinced that the butterfly was intentionally teasing the dogs.
We arrived back at camp just after 7AM and the five of us grabbed our towels and hit the showers. The shower room in the bathroom nearest to our cabins had a total of ten shower heads, so the four of us had the room to ourselves since most of the rest of the camp was still sound asleep. Some kids who came to camp for the first time found the communal shower arrangement to be a bit daunting, but the five of us were into athletics and we were all used to showering with other people so it didn't bother us at all.
"You guys did good today," I said as I rinsed the shampoo out of my hair. "I always knew that Mark was a good runner, but you guys impressed me," I said as I turned to glance at Jake, Charles, and Sean. All three boys smiled at the praise.
"It was a lot of fun," Jake said. "A lot better than running in a gym."
"For sure," Mark agreed. "We ran in all sorts of neat places when we were in Europe."
"Tom," Sean said. "Is what Josh said about your Great Uncle true? He said he was a war hero? Josh said that his grandfather was saved by your Great Uncle."
"It is true Sean. None of us had any idea about that until we went to Holten Cemetery where he's buried."
"How come he didn't get a medal for it?" Jake asked.
"That's what Josh wants to know," Mark replied.
Sean laughed. "Knowing Josh he'll find out too!"
By the time we made it back to the cabin, the rest of the boys were beginning to wake up. As soon as someone began to stir in their bunk, Brutus would run over and "torment" them until they woke up. Brutus was having the time of his life with so many boys to play with.
"Morning Josh," I said as Josh rolled over and opened his eyes. I was sitting on my bunk facing him.
"Morning Dad," he smiled. "How was the run?"
"Not bad, we saw a moose," I replied.
"Really?" Josh asked.
"Yeah, he was huge," Sean said enthusiastically.
"You can eat moose can't you?" Jake asked.
"You sure can," I replied with a smile. "They're very tasty. Josh and I are going to go deer hunting this fall."
"That's cool," Howie added from his bunk.
After breakfast, we took the boys on a nature hike with Bryan's cabin and we had a few others join in as well including Rachel and Melissa from the girl's side of the camp. Howie and I made sure to keep an eye on Sean and Melissa and Jake and Rachel just to ensure that they didn't wander off into the woods on their own. I trusted the boys, but we operated on the old Russian principle of "Trust….but verify."
One of the neat things around camp was the fact that much of the wildlife was very used to seeing people. If you were quiet enough and still enough, you could actually get chipmunks to come right up and take peanuts right out of your hands. I brought along a handful for that very purpose.
As we approached a brush pile deep in the woods, I had everyone stop. "Ok everyone, let's be really quiet and I'll show you something really neat," I said.
We all sat down and I tossed a couple of the peanuts (still in their shell) near the brush pile. A minute later a pair of little tan coloured chipmunks appeared. After glancing at us, they snatched the peanuts and crammed them into their mouths before running back to the brush pile. I repeated the same action a few times, each time luring the small creature closer and closer to us. Finally, I held out my hand with a peanut held between my fingers and the kids watched in amazement as one of the chipmunks slowly approached and then quickly reached out to snatch the peanut from my hand before running back to his burrow.
"That's cool," Sean said.
"Can I try it?" Melissa asked.
"Sure," I replied and handed her a peanut. "Just be very still and quiet," I advised.
Barely a minute later, she was grinning from ear to ear after a chipmunk had come and taken her peanut right out of her hands.
"Watch this," Josh said. He took a peanut from me, sat down and stretched out his legs and placed the peanut on his knee. After a slight hesitation, a chipmunk climbed up on his leg and ran to his knee to grab the peanut. "His claws tickle," Josh giggled.
"That reminds me of a joke," Jake said as we packed up and started to head back to camp. "You were in the army right?"
"I sure was," I replied.
"Well there was this soldier and he was ordered to hide in some trees and not give away his position no matter what. The Sergeant told him that he'd be in big trouble if he gave away his position," Jake continued. "A moment later the Sergeant sees the soldier jump up and run screaming out of his position. He chased him down and caught him and yelled at him. 'What do you think you're doing soldier? I told you not to give away your position. Explain yourself!' The soldier looked at the Sergeant and replied 'Well you see sir, I was doing what I was told. I was still and quiet and not giving away my position when this squirrel came out of the woods and crawled right up inside my pant leg. I was pretty nervous, but I stayed in my position. A minute later, another squirrel came out of the woods and crawled right up my other pant leg. I was really nervous at that point, but I still did was I was told.... but when I heard one squirrel say to the other 'should we eat them now or save them for later, I lost it and ran like hell!'"
Everyone except the two girls who looked a bit puzzled laughed out loud. When Sean leaned over and whispered something in Melissa's ear she turned beet red.
"Very funny Jake," I replied.
"Why did you leave the army if you don't mind me asking?" Howie asked a few minutes later.
"I don't mind," I replied. I took a few minutes to tell the kids about my brief military career and about the accident that put an end to it.
"Damn that really sucks," Gary said.
"It does and it doesn't. I wouldn't trade my life now for anything,"
As we walked back to the camp, I noticed that Josh, Mark, Sean and Melissa appeared to be conspiring on something. I couldn't imagine what, but I knew that I could trust them.
After a hearty lunch, we played our first baseball game against Bryan's cabin. The standings up until that point were pretty close. Cabin 6 had won 3 games and lost 2, Cabin 5 (Bryan's) had won 2 and lost 3 and Cabin 4 (Paul's) had won 4 and lost 1, the other middle school aged cabin; cabin 8 had won 1 game and lost 4.
The cabins in each age group played each other several times per week and at the end of the summer, there was a trophy for the winning cabin.
"Are you and your boys ready to lose the baseball game?" Bryan teased as I arrived at the baseball diamond with my boys.
"You might have Mark, but I've got the Bulldog," I replied as I pointed to Sean who grinned back at me.
Bryan and I tossed a coin to see who would bat first and his team won. I headed for the pitcher's mound as my team took their places in the field behind me. I had Howie playing first base, Josh playing second, Sean playing short stop, Gary playing third base, Ricky playing catcher, Jake was in center field, Kevin was in right field and Peter was in left field. Marcus and James were on the bench for the first inning. My intention was to rotate the boys through the various positions in order to give everyone a shot at playing.
The small stands had filled up with a bunch of kids including Melissa and Rachel from the girl's side.
The first batter that I faced was Michael. To be fair to all the kids, the rule was the opposing counselor would throw pitches that they could hit. Michael swung and missed on my first two throws, but managed to hammer the third one right at Jake in center field. He caught it handily and then tossed it to Josh who passed it on to me.
Charles batted second and made excellent contact on my first pitch. The ball went just over Sean's head and landed in left field. Peter and Sean ran both ran for it with Sean getting there first. He quickly fired the ball to Josh who just missed tagging Charles out at second base.
The next hitter was a Japanese boy named Makoto. Makoto hammered my second pitch in a line drive right at Josh. Josh managed to catch it almost out of self-defense.
Finally, with two out and one on base, I had to face the batter that I was dreading. Peter, Jake, and Kevin all backed right up to the home run fence as Mark came to the plate. In Babe Ruth style, he pointed to the right field fence and smiled brightly. Sure enough, I tossed in my first pitch and heard the distinct crack of solid contact. All any of us could do was watch in amazement as the ball sailed clear over the right field fence. Mark and Charles high fived each other as they both crossed home plate.
I managed to get out of the inning after striking Stéphane out in 5 pitches.
I sent Josh out to bat lead-off for Cabin 6 and he managed to get a good piece of Bryan's first toss and managed a standup triple. With Josh on first, Jake went to bat and he hammered Bryan's third pitch into the right field gap reaching second base and sending Josh home for our first run. Gary went to bat third and struck out and then Sean was up. He looked pretty frustrated as he fanned the first two pitches, but then he stepped back for a second and I knew that bulldog had arrived. Bryan tossed his next pitch and Sean hammered it straight up the middle for a very long home run shot scoring both him and Jake and giving us a one run lead.
"Good job bud," I said as I patted Sean on the back as he arrived smiling in the dugout. The rest of the game went pretty much the same way. The amazing thing was watching a friendly rivalry develop between Mark and Sean. Both of them managed to slug home runs at every at bat. I spoke to Howie and we started keeping track of the tally. The one thing that truly impressed me about both boys was that neither took it too seriously and they actually congratulated each other on every home run. It had to be the friendliest rivalry in the history of sports, but knowing Sean and knowing Mark and knowing how close they were becoming, it wasn't surprising.
In the end, my boys managed to squeak by. Josh and Jake were both on base when Sean hammered them both home on his fifth home run of the afternoon giving us the game by one run.
Howie and I went to speak to Bryan and his JC Doug, as the boys yucked it up on the field after the game.
"Looks like Bulldog managed to come through for you this time," Bryan laughed.
"I'll say. He and Mark are quite the pair," I laughed.
"I'm glad that they're being such good sports," Howie remarked.
"For sure," Doug agreed. Doug was a nice kid. Like Howie, he was 16, but nowhere near as big. Doug was also Bryan's assistant with the computer camp group.
As I was gathering my boys to head to the lake for an afternoon swim, I noticed that Josh, Sean, and Melissa were having what looked like a pretty serious conversation with Bryan. I wasn't sure what it was about, but I assumed that it was probably related to the conspiring that I'd seen earlier between Josh, Sean, and Melissa. I had no idea what they were up to, but I assumed that I'd find out sooner or later.
When I got back to the cabin, Josh and Sean ran up behind me and arrived at pretty much the same time. The other boys were already inside. I was about to open the door when I heard a giggle from inside the cabin.
"After you," I said to Josh and Sean who pulled the door open and entered the cabin receiving a dousing of water from a pair of water balloons in the process. The balloons had been strategically placed over the doorway so that they'd fall on whoever entered.
"Hey!" Josh squawked.
"You guys!" Sean hollered.
"Sorry! It was meant for Tom!" Jake replied as I entered the cabin grinning from ear-to-ear.
"I told you that you can't get him," George laughed.
"He's like the terminator or something," Jake said with mock dejection in his voice.
"Well it was a good try," I chuckled.
"Did you know that was going to happen?" Sean asked.
"He always knows," Josh laughed.
"Remember guys, I used to do all these tricks on my counselors when I was in camp," I replied. "I've been there and done it all."
We were going to the lake anyway so Sean and Josh simply undressed and hung up their wet clothes to dry while we went swimming. After we were all changed into swimsuits, the group of us headed to the beach with Brutus in tow. Along the way, Bryan and his boys along with Daisy joined us.
As you would expect with a group of rambunctious teenage boys, the beach was virtual mayhem with splashing and dunking and general goofing off at every turn. When they finally settled down, there were three line ups of boys waiting for me, Bryan or Howie to toss them up into the air. I distinctly remembered that doing that was much easier at my first year in camp when I had to toss 11 year olds rather than 13 and 14 year olds!
The boys were all excited that evening after we left the dining hall and headed to our cabin to get ready for the night. Jake and Sean were a bit disappointed that they wouldn't get to see Melissa and Rachel that night, but they too were looking forward to a night under the stars on Mount Tonawonka.
"Listen up boys," I said. "Bring long pants and jackets; bring your flashlights, binoculars if you have them and sleeping bags. Also bring bug spray if you've got it. Don't worry about a change of sox or underwear – we'll come back down here to shower in the morning and get changed. Just pack light."
The sun was just beginning to set below the western horizon as we began our trek up the mountain. For some us, such as Josh and I, this was a happy return to an old tradition. For others such as Mark, Sean and Jake, it was a new adventure to relish. For Brutus and Daisy, it was also something new, maybe a bit scary, and for the most part, heeled pretty close to Josh and Mark.
When we arrived at the top, Bryan and Paul organized the boys in preparing our camp fire while I, with the help of Howie, Josh, Sean, Charles, Mark, and Michael cleared the twigs and rough stuff out of the usual sleeping area. The trips to the top of the mountain were always a bonding experience. I liked to use the time around the camp fire and the time spend on our backs looking up at the night sky to try to bond with my campers and to help them bond with each other. Apart from the rest of the camp, it gave us all the opportunity to open up and do just that.
As darkness descended the black flies and mosquitoes arrived. We all lathered up on Muskol® and Off® and once we got the bonfire roaring, it tended to keep the worst of the bugs at bay.
"So boys, welcome to Mount Tonawonka," I said. "Some of you have been here before and for some of you this is a new experience. Tonight we're going to sleep under the stars and we're going to take some time to do some exploring of the night sky. I also like to use these nights to get to know one another a bit better. I'll start and then I'll throw open the floor to anyone else who wants to speak. You can talk about camp, talk about yourself, talk about things you like or things you dislike. Whatever you want."
"Some of you guys know that I've been a camp counselor here before. The summer that I was 18, my brother Andy convinced me to come up here as a counselor. I'd just left the military after being very seriously injured in a training accident and I was in a fair bit of pain and didn't know where my life was going. As it turns out, agreeing to become a counselor was the most important decision of my life. I owe much of my present life, my present family to this camp. I think you all know Josh. Josh and I met for the very first time here at Tonawonka and we've since become family. I hope that camp is as fun and as rewarding for all of you as it was for me."
Josh put his arm around me for a moment as I sat down and then he stood up. "I just want to add that someone very important to me, once said that everything happens for a reason. The fact that Tom has become my Dad makes that clear and I hope that if any of you are facing some problems that you'll take comfort in that and find the reason behind it."
"Josh was my best friend before he became my brother," Mark said. "Everything does happen for a reason. Tom is like my Dad too. It was because of him that I got to go live with my brother Bryan."
"That's kind of like Sean and me," Jake said. "We were best friends before we became brothers."
"Yeah. I've learned that family is what you make it. It's not just blood and DNA," Sean said thoughtfully.
I reached over and squeezed his shoulder and winked at him. He smiled back in return.
For the next hour, the group of us spent some time really getting to know one another. We talked, shared stories about our lives talked about our dreams and what we hoped for the future.
To close out our camp fire, Sean and Jake, who had brought their guitars up with them along with Charles and Stéphane surprised us all with a surprisingly good rendition of "Summer of 69" by Bryan Adams.
"You guys are really good," I said after they had finished. "You ought to join the talent show this Friday night."
"That was amazing," Bryan agreed.
"To say the least!" Paul added. "You guys have some real talent.
As the fire began to die down, we marshaled the boys to the sleeping area and we all laid out our sleeping bags. I smiled as the boys jockeyed for position to try to get as close to me as they could. Not surprisingly, Josh was by my right side. Brutus and Daisy visited each of the boys before finally settling down.
"Here's what I want you guys to do. Just lie back with your eyes open and stare up at the night sky. In a minute or two you'll get your night eyes and you'll be surprised at how much you can see. Listen to the sounds around you as well."
"Tom, what's that funny fog up there?" Sean asked a couple of minutes later. He was pointing to a swath of whitish light that stretched for the eastern horizon to the west.
"That's not fog. It's the Milky Way Galaxy," I replied. "You have to come way up here where it's truly dark before you can see it."
For the next hour we watched the night sky. We saw three or four satellites sail past and we lost track of the number of shooting stars that we saw streak past. A number of the boys had binoculars and everyone had plenty of opportunity to use them to get a really good look at the moon and at distant planets."
"That is so amazing," Mark said enthusiastically as he looked through my binoculars at the planet Jupiter and saw the four large Galilean moons that circle the giant planet.
"Check out those rings," Jake said excitedly as he handed the binoculars to Sean and pointed out where he could spot Saturn.
I had always enjoyed a love for astronomy and it brought me great pleasure to share it with my campers. It always brought a smile to my face when I had the opportunity to expose a young mind to the wonders of the universe for the very first time.
After a while the boys began to drift off to sleep. Josh was snoozing soundly in his sleeping bag and so was Mark. Jake was quietly chatting with some of the other boys and Sean was lying on top of his sleeping bag continuing to stare up at the stars.
"It's an amazing view isn't it?" I asked him.
"Yeah," he replied. "Do you think there's anyone else out there?" He asked.
"I don't know kiddo. I'll tell you what I do know. I know that the Milky Way Galaxy is one random and relatively small galaxy among hundreds of billions of others. It has over 100 billion stars in it and many are just like the sun. Even if 1% of stars in the universe are like Earth, that means that there are hundreds of billions of stars that could support life. The universe is about 13 billion light years across and if we're the only intelligent life out here, it's an awful waste of space."
Sean chuckled and then seemed lost in thought.
"What's on your mind kiddo?"
"I was just thinking. How stupid it is that people are nasty to one another or fight over stuff here on Earth when we're really so small in the big picture."
"Sean, I couldn't have put it better myself. You're a bright kid with a good heart and I'm really happy that you're getting along so well with Josh and Mark."
With that Brutus wandered over and stretched out next to Sean. "I think he likes me."
"Brutus likes everyone but he seems to be quite taken with you," I replied.
"I wonder if my Mom and Dad would let us get a dog?" he said thoughtfully before rolling over on his side and wrapping his arms around Brutus. "Goodnight Tom."
"Goodnight Sean. Sleep tight kiddo."
I lay there for a while and thought about Sean. He really was a remarkable kid who despite the hardships he had faced; his spirit had never been broken. He had been scarred both mentally and physically by the abuse that he suffered, but it was clear that through the love of his family, he was healing. In many ways, he and Mark were kindred spirits and I believed that it was one of the reasons that they were becoming such close friends.
I also marveled at Brutus. I knew that Dogs were very intuitive and had a knack for knowing exactly when they were needed and Brutus had latched onto Sean in a way that he had never done before with anyone aside from his own family.
The kids had had a great time on top of the mountain and the next morning we were on our way back to the main camp. I think everyone was looking forward to a shower and a decent home cooked meal. Paul's group was in the lead, followed by Bryan's crowd from Cabin 5. Our group of boys were following Howie with Michael, Mark, Josh and I pulling up the rear. Although Michael and Mark should have been up with their group from Cabin 5, they wanted to spend as much time as they could with Josh and each other. Paul and Bryan understood and I couldn't object. Most of the boys were bantering back and forth, laughing and shouting about the things they'd seen and done while they were on the mountain. It made me feel good that they had enjoyed themselves and had a lot of fun in the excursion and camping out under the stars.
We were about three-quarters of the way down the trail, when the four of us came across Marcus sitting on a log at the side of the trail. His back was a bit hunched over and his shoulders were sagging. He looked so forlorn and vulnerable. What made it stand out though was his size. Yes, he was stocky, not obese, and only about five foot two, but nonetheless he seemed to have been having a lot of fun trying to keep up to the older kids who had more endurance.
"Hey Marcus! What's up man?" Josh asked.
"I'm pooped man!" Marcus replied in his pre-pubescent voice. He looked flushed and he was breathing heavy. "God I'm thirsty!"
"Here," Michael said, "have a drink of water." Marcus wasn't hesitant at taking the bottle of water and swigged down a good six ounces of water. Michael walked away a few feet to talk to Josh while Mark and I stood there watching Marcus' breathing become closer to normal.
"Hey man," Mark said, "If you'd lose some of that baby fat, you'd feel a lot better."
"I know I'm fat," Marcus replied tearing up, "and I know I'm a baby.... ya.... ya don't have to remind me.... everyone else keeps callin' me chubby and fatso."
Before I had a chance to say anything, Josh exclaimed, "WHAT!"
In an instant, he was over to Marcus' side with his arm around his shoulder. "Marcus, you're just a kid who's waiting to grow up and I'll bet it's going to happen pretty darn soon."
"Marcus, I'm sorry." Mark said solemnly as he sat down on the other side of Marcus. "I didn't mean to make fun of you when I said that. I guess my tongue worked faster than my brain. Honest, you're a good kid and you work hard to stay up with the rest of us. You should be proud of that. It's like Josh said, you're going to grow out of it, you're voice is gonna change, and you're gonna grow some muscles too. Less than two years ago, I was a skinny runt of a kid.... just skin and bone. I've grown and trained and become a lot stronger and healthier. If you want, I can help you with that. I promise, I won't make fun of you any more. You're not a baby; you're just a kid waiting to become a teenager."
I was amazed and very proud as I watched Josh and Mark work their miracle with Marcus. My thoughts were interrupted.
"Tom," Michael said, "Could you come over here please?" I was looking at Josh who subtly nodded his head. I walked about ten feet over to where Michael was standing.
He spoke quietly. "Tom, I was talking to Josh and he said that Marcus was getting up through the night to go pee and then he'd drink more water. He does seem to have his moments of exhaustion sometimes. I know a kid at school and he described the same symptoms before they found out he had diabetes. Maybe it's the same thing here with Marcus."
I had to grin to myself. When did I lose control? These boys were a lot smarter than I gave them credit for. "You might be right Michael. He sure does like the S'mores. Let's go talk to him."
I went over to Marcus, Josh, and Mark and before I kneeled down, I heard Josh say, "You don't have to take any of that crap from anyone."
"That's right Marcus," Mark said. "Those kind of people have a lot less going for them than you do. If I hear anything about anyone ever picking on you again, they'll have to answer to Josh and me."
"Me too!" I smiled as I tapped Marcus' knee with my finger. "You know that that's one of my rules.... don't make anyone here at camp unhappy. We're here to enjoy ourselves, regardless of who you are. Marcus.... do you get many of these tired spells?"
"Not a lot, mostly just before lunch and dinner." He answered as he took another swig of water.
"You're thirsty a lot eh?" I questioned off-handed.
"Yeah.... lots," he said as he took yet another swig.
Michael kneeled down beside me. Smiling he said, "Betcha ya must pee a lot too."
"Yeah, I guess. Water in, water out ya know." Marcus said quietly.
"Marcus, I'm your friend...." Michael said quietly, "please don't take it any other way. I gotta ask ya.... have you ever been tested for diabetes?"
"Diabetes? Hell no! What for? I.... I don't have diabetes!" Marcus exclaimed.
"Hey it's OK Marcus...." I assured him. "Don't go getting excited. Nobody knows for sure until they get tested, either way you'll be fine."
"Oh God, Mom and Dad are gonna hate me...." he almost squealed, "they're gonna be real mad about this.... diabetes.... Oh God, I'm gonna have to take needles forever.... I.... I hate needles." Josh put his arm around Marcus as he started sobbing.
"Marcus.... no!" Michael stated flatly. "We don't know yet and a lot of times it can be controlled with just the right diet and exercise. I know a kid at school, he has diabetes, and he doesn't have to take the needle. He keeps everything under control with exercise and no sugar.... AND he's the captain of the track team. I know another guy and he has to inject insulin, but he says it's no big deal. I watched him doin' it once."
"Really?" Marcus asked wiping his eyes.
"Yeah, really buddy!" Michael replied.
"Alright guys, we better hit the trail before they send out a search party for us." I said, now that Marcus was rested and feeling better about the situation. "Marcus, as soon as we get back to the camp, we'll go see Rachel and Andy and see what we can do about getting you tested. We might have to get your parents permission."
"Oh God no!" Marcus said quietly. "Mom and Dad are in Europe for the summer."
"Not to worry Marcus," Mark said as he pulled Marcus to his feet. "We'll work something out. Tom, Andy, and Rachel will know what to do. Let's hit the trail."
We were just ten feet down the trail when we heard Bryan. "Hey you slow pokes! I was getting worried."
I looked up and there was Bryan coming towards the boys headed by Brutus and Daisy. It was a bit of bedlam while we settled the dogs down with their happy greetings. While the boys went ahead with the dogs, Bryan came over to me and put his hand on my shoulder.
"What happened Tom?" He asked.
"Bryan, we won't know until we get him tested, but Marcus may be diabetic." I answered quietly.
"Damn, that'll be hard on him, but ya know there's a few other kids here that are diabetic."
"Yeah, I know," I said, "but the initial shock is tough on a little guy like him. However, you know Josh, Michael, and Mark.... they'll do whatever has to be done to keep his spirits up."
Bryan giggled. "THAT.... I DO know!" He looked up and down the trail and pulled me into a hug. "It's against the rules, but..." We kissed each other briefly with a lot of passion. "I'm still in love with you Tom. Let's go look after the boys."
"Not so fast Bryan," I said holding him as I kissed him. "I love you too.... never doubt it.... NOW we can go look after the boys."
We laughed as we headed quickly down the trail to the camp. We needed those few stolen moments to reassure ourselves that one day at the end of the summer, we'd have moments that were more intimate.
When arrived back at the cabins, my boys were gathered out front talking to Howie. "It's not a great big deal Marcus." Howie was saying. "There's three of us at camp this year that are diabetic. One of the girls is on the needle and she has to test about six times a day. I test twice a day, but I'm not on the needle, I have to take a pill twice a day. It's no biggy. It's kinda cool in a way. Rachel, Andy, and the cooks make sure we eat right and they serve us special meals. I guess.... we're special."
"Howie, you're a good man!" I said with a big smile. "You're in charge while Marcus and I go to see Rachel and Andy about getting him tested." I put my arm around Marcus' shoulder and steered him away from the cabin. Markus reached out and grabbed Josh's shirt sleeve.
"I want Josh to come with us." Marcus said.
I looked at Josh – he shrugged his shoulders and said, "Sure Marcus.... no problem." I noticed that Jake had joined us as well.
We walked in silence, my arm still around Marcus' shoulder and as we passed the boys at Cabin 5, we didn't have to say a thing – Mark and Michael just fell in behind us – as if they were duty-bound.
When we entered the office, Rachel was busy behind her desk studying a bunch of papers in front of her. Andy was off in the corner at his smaller desk. The six of us stood in a line in front of Rachel's desk, but didn't say anything. After a moment, she looked up.
"Rachel...." I said, but she cut me off with an index finger to her mouth. She took a moment and peering over the front of her desk, quickly looked at each one of us individually from head to toe.
"Well I don't see any blood, so that's a good sign," she laughed. "OK, what's up guys?"
"Rachel, we have reason to think that Marcus here may have diabetes." I began. "He's had periods of exhaustion, he's drinking a lot of fluids, and of course that leads to a lot of trips to the latrine."
I still had my arm around Marcus' shoulder. "Is that right Marcus?" Rachel asked with a reassuring smile.
"Ye.... Yes," he answered nervously.
Rachel looked out of the corner of her eye, rather suspiciously at Josh. "I almost don't want to ask, but what's your part in this Josh?" I heard Andy giggle in the background.
"Well Rachel, actually I'm just here for a bit of moral support, but there is something else," Josh answered. I had to smile as I heard Andy giggle again and watched a big smile come across Rachel's face. "Some of the kids have been teasing Marcus and calling him names. It's not funny and IT'S NOT RIGHT!" Josh exclaimed. "Marcus is a great kid and he can't help being the person who he's meant to be. We're all different here, but we're all here to learn and enjoy doing it. When you exclude someone from the fun by degrading them, then the victim's life becomes less rich and they won't learn how to get along with others or how to make new friends. THAT'S what's happening to Marcus and I won't stand for it. We... can't tolerate it."
"I won't stand for it either," Jake said emphatically. "Marcus is a neat kid and he's in my cabin so if anyone makes fun of him, they're making fun of me too."
I gave both Josh and Jake a pat on the back and smiled at both of them. I was truly proud of both boys for their willingness to step up.
The room was silent as we digested Josh and Jake's sobering words. After a moment, Rachel looked at Marcus and nodded with a reassuring grin. Marcus was smiling for the first time since we met him on the trail.
Rachel raised her chin and looked at Mark. "Again, I don't want to ask, but what's your part in all of this Mark?"
"I agree a hundred percent with Josh and Jake," Mark began. "I made a disparaging remark to Marcus and although I didn't mean to be mean, from his point of view I can understand why he thought it was. From here on, if I hear of anyone belittling Marcus, I promise that I'll have a few words to say to them, AND I'll be reporting them to you, Andy, Bryan, or Tom. What's it hurt to be a good guy? It's not hard to be a nice guy and support those around you. More important than that though, whether Marcus is diabetic or not, I'd like to set up a special exercise program for him while he's here.... that is if you're willing Marcus. Marcus, honest man, you're at a point where it could do you a lot of good. Wha'da'ya say?"
"Count me in on that," Jake said "Dad takes Sean and me to the gym and we work with a trainer. I can show you some of the stuff the trainer showed me."
Marcus smiled. "A personal trainer.... my friend is going to be my personal trainer.... yeah, I like that."
"OK Michael.... your turn." Rachel said. "I can only imagine what your part in this might be."
"Well it all came about one day last year at school when I found a classmate in the boy's washroom giving himself a shot of insulin. He wasn't supposed to be doing it there, but the nurses' office was all locked up. Anyway, we got talking and I learned a lot about diabetes from him and what the early signs were and the treatments that were available, plus I did a bit of research about it on the web. When I saw the signs in Marcus, I had to say something. Believe me Marcus, the treatment for controlling diabetes isn't that difficult when it's detected early, and it really doesn't hurt any more than a scratch or a mosquito bite..... least that's what my friend told me. I've watched him test himself and give himself his insulin shot and he didn't even wince. He says the needles are so sharp these days, you don't even feel it. I won't mind giving you a hand at first, that is, if you have to. Right now, until they do a blood test in the lab, we won't know."
By this time, I was just smiling, looking up at the ceiling, checking out the light fixtures, the pattern of the holes in the acoustic panels. I couldn't have been more proud of these boys.
"OK fellas," Rachel said smiling, "here's what's going to happen. Andy and I are tied up today with the construction of the new canoe stands and the delivery of the new canoes. Marcus, I have the consent form from your parents to do what is ever necessary to look after your health in an emergency and we're going to use it considering they're in Europe for the summer. So Tom, you're going to have to take Marcus to the clinic at the hospital to get him tested. I'll let you know all the details...."
"Josh, Jake, Mark, and Michael are comin' too!" Marcus exclaimed.
Rachel looked at the four boys with a look of concern. All four of them nodded their heads. "OK then.... Andy, you'll have to look in on Howie once in a while and give him a hand if he needs it while Tom's gone. But first things first." Rachel pinched her nose. "The six of you have to hit the showers and get changed. While you're doing that, I'll make an appointment with the doctor and give you the details by the time you're ready." Laughing, she concluded, "Now git... the whole smelly lot of you."
With a few giggles from the boys, the six of us were out of there in a flash, showered, and redressed. I spoke to Howie about the activities for the day, and that he could call on Andy at anytime for help if he needed it, then we stopped in and spoke to Bryan to give him the head's up, and back to Rachel's office just as she was closing her cell phone. The kids would all be breaking out into the respective camp groups starting that morning so the disruption would be minimal. Howie and Paul would have no trouble with the CIT group in my absence.
She gave us the directions to the hospital in Huntsville, the name of the doctor we had to see and the consent form from Marcus' parents. Rachel's last words were to Marcus. "Don't worry about it Marcus, you're in good hands and you'll be OK."
"Thanks a lot Rachel," I said, "after we've finished with Marcus' tests, we're going to do some shopping. It's Bryan's birthday a week tomorrow. We'll be back for supper for sure."
Our trip to Huntsville was uneventful – mostly a lot of banter going on between the boys – each doing their best to keep up Marcus' spirits. No doubt about it, he was uptight about the outcome of today's examination. I was hoping he wouldn't overreact when they took the blood test.
When we arrived in the doctor's office, he was surprised that Marcus was followed by a contingent, but smiled appreciatively. During the interview, I was surprised when we found out that Marcus' birthday was the same as Bryan's.
The doctor listened carefully as Marcus explained his symptoms and Michael spoke of how he'd had his suspicions. Before sending us down to the lab, the doctor listened to Marcus' heart and lungs, checked his blood pressure, and explained he'd have the blood and urine results in about an hour. Then, with a requisition for a urinalysis test and blood test for Marcus, we headed for the lab.
Going for a pee was no big deal, Marcus knew how to do that, however he wanted Michael with him when he went into the little room where they extracted the blood from his arm. Josh, Mark, Jake, and I never heard any squeal of pain or anything, so I was guessing everything went well for the few minutes Marcus was in there.
During those few minutes that we had in the little waiting room, Josh, Mark, and I briefly discussed what we could do for Marcus' and Bryan's birthday.
When Marcus came out of the little room with a smile on his face, a small band aid on his arm where the needle went in to extract the blood, I was relieved. Walking behind Marcus, Michael gave us all a nod, a smile, and a thumbs up.
From there, we headed for some lunch. It was one PM and we were all hungry. Mark, Jake, and Michael worked out a deal with Marcus. Whether he had diabetes or not, it was time to initiate some diet control for his future. Marcus looked at them warily.
"Let's hit the Dairy Queen!" Josh suggested. I was a bit apprehensive about that, but it was the grin on Marcus' face and the looks of discernment from Michael and Mark that made me giggle at the contrast.
"Hey it's OK guys," I said before an argument started. "You'd be surprised what we'll find on the Dairy Queen menu that will suit Marcus to a 'T'.... diabetic or otherwise. They have grilled chicken burgers without the fried coating, we have to have the carbohydrates that are in the buns, and if we order ONLY a small order of French fries, that should do us pretty good. The four of us can have anything we want to drink, but Marcus, the big sacrifice you can make is to stick to a diet soft drink. Also, on the diet side Marcus, you still have to have some sugar in your system.... so one small plain cone for dessert. What do you think?"
I could tell by the big smiles, the boys were happy at the idea. For me it was a test as well. I wanted to serve by example, so when we got to the Dairy Queen, I ordered what Marcus and I were to have. When we saw the menu, I saw that they served side salads as well, so I ordered one of each for Marcus and I. I thought I'd let the others order burgers if they wanted to. Then Josh ordered.
He said, "I'll have the same with a regular Coke." I was proud. I was pretty sure when he'd suggested Dairy Queen, he was thinking of a double cheeseburger, onion rings, and a chocolate shake. The only difference in our meals was the fact that Marcus had a large diet Coke while the rest of us had regular Cokes.
"Me too!" Mark added, "except I'll have a regular Coke."
"Make it three!" Michael followed.
"Four!" Jake added with a laugh.
As expected, Marcus was very thirsty and drank about a third of his Coke before he followed my lead and tackled the salad. I was impressed – he ate the whole thing before taking on the chicken burger. I wasn't really counting, but it seemed he only had about four French fries and then declared that he was full after he drank the rest of his Coke. He was happy to pass the remainder of his fries over to Mark and Josh.
Michael summed up my feelings quite nicely. "I'm proud of you buddy," he said as we headed back to the Jeep for our drive back to the hospital for the verdict.
When we opened the door to the doctor's office, he sat behind his desk and smiled broadly when he looked up. That was encouraging.
With a laugh, he said, "Marcus I'll bet you've been pissing like a race horse."
Marcus nodded his head, "I guess," he said with a grin while the rest of us stifled our giggles. We'd all been witness to that today.
"Marcus," the doctor continued, "the blood test you took gives us a picture of what your average A1C levels have been over the past three months. The bad news is that you are diabetic. The good news is that it's not severe.... your level is around 10.5. Any range between four and seven is considered normal. You have two things going for you. First, you're going to be thirteen soon and should be having a puberty growth spurt. That's on your side and with proper diet and exercise, you'll probably end up close to the same weight you are now, but you'll be taller and leaner. Older people who get diabetes later in life don't have that advantage. The other thing in your case is that we can treat it initially with medication in the form of a pill."
"No needles?" Marcus asked. The happy look of relief on Marcus' face was contagious. We were all smiling.
"No. No Needles. However Marcus," the doctor looked somewhat sternly at him, "if you don't exercise and if you don't eat properly, you'll continue to gain weight and your glucose levels will climb into a danger zone.... higher than they are now. THEN we will have to control those high levels with insulin injections. However, I'm betting that with a bit of a rest from too much sugar, your pancreas is going to be able to keep up to the levels of insulin that's required with a proper diet. The great thing you have on your side is that you're young and will probably live to a ripe old age with this disease and it will have little effect on your way of life. Now I'm going to give you a live demonstration of how to test your own blood."
The doctor went on to demonstrate how Marcus would now have to test his blood level three times a day. When he talked about having to prick the corner of his finger around the edges of the fingernail, I even winced at the thought. However, he said that it would be okay if Marcus took the sample from the arm. True to form, Michael wanted to be a guinea pig to show Marcus how it was done. When the meter read the results of the drop of blood, Michael's reading was 6.9. We explained what we'd just eaten and the doctor then understood why the level was so high. Marcus winced slightly when his skin was pierced, but he took on a brave smile once the shock was over. His reading was 11 on the meter. Then the doctor gave a short spiel about diet and how it would be necessary to answer cravings such as chocolate, that were on the no-no list. He ended up saying that he'd be forwarding a copy of all the tests to Marcus' family doctor. After that, it was a simple matter of getting the prescriptions from the doctor and heading for the drug store in the nearby mall.
While the prescriptions were being filled and the pharmacist was showing Marcus and Michael how to use the testing kit, Mark, Josh, Jake, and I went through all the free literature that was available about diabetes and diets. The amount of information that was available was a bit overwhelming for all of us, but we took it for future reference anyway. In addition, the druggist told Marcus that he had to carry glucose tablets with him at all times, so that if he ever got that fatigued feeling again after a lot of strain, he should take one. I was amazed at the costs of diabetic testing supplies; however I knew that one way or another, Rachel would make sure I was reimbursed.
Then we hit the town to go shopping for birthday presents. Marcus, Michael, Jake, and Mark went off together to explore the shops. Josh and I went at a different pace. It was Josh that spotted a very well crafted willow high-back chair and he took a few pictures of it.
"Dad, do you think the kids in the camp could make one of those for Bryan's birthday?" He asked.
"Wow!" I answered. "That would be quite an undertaking to be completed in one week. Let's ask Andy when we get back."
"Maybe we can make a few other things too.... you know.... souvenir things that he could take home to Calgary." Josh continued.
"Good idea," I agreed, "but let's not forget that it's Marcus' birthday too. One thing for sure, we have to get birthday cards. Maybe we can find something over there in that gift shop."
We scoured the gift shop and picked up more than a dozen cards each for Marcus and Bryan, plus a few souvenir things that we thought Bryan should enjoy as reminders when he got back to Calgary.
We met up with Marcus, Michael, Mark, and Jake at the Jeep and headed back to Tonawonka. The trip back was a lot happier for Marcus – he'd gotten used to the idea and was relieved that he didn't have to take insulin injections. Both he and Michael poured over the literature about diet restrictions – what was permitted and what wasn't – while Mark started to lay out a plan that would give Marcus a lot of exercise. Coming with us for our runs in the morning before breakfast, and a lot of swimming and canoeing, were high priorities for the beginning. Marcus said he'd give it his best effort because he realized from the literature that he was reading, it would be a lot more difficult for him later in life. What a mental turnaround he'd made since this morning – I was impressed and very proud of all the boys.
When we arrived back at Tonawonka, we were corralled by Rachel and Andy right away. Once Marcus told them he was diabetic, but only on the pill, they were relieved. Rachel called the cooks right away and told them that they had another diabetic meal to add to the others that they already prepared.
Then Josh showed his pics that he'd taken of the willow chair to Andy. Andy agreed that it would be a great project and that Paul should be the one to head it and guide the kids on its construction.
Rachel pulled Josh aside. "Josh, you were pretty emphatic about teasing the younger kids this morning," Rachel began. "Would you give a short talk about name calling and belittling in the dining hall after the dinner. The kids might listen to you better than if it came from an adult that seemed to be lecturing them."
Josh grinned broadly and raised his eyes to Rachel's. In a quiet voice he replied, "I'd love to!"
"One thing though Josh," Rachel warned smiling. "Don't mention any names. We don't want to centre out any of the victims nor do we want to bring attention to those that are bullying. Let them figure it out for themselves and change their ways on their own. Let's let them know what it's like to be a nice guy."
"Gotcha!" Josh replied with a smile. "I can do that. They don't call me Naughty Josh for nothing."
I looked at Rachel and smiled. Quietly, I said, "You may have unleashed a tiger you know."
Later that day, in the dining hall, when everyone was just about to start their dessert, Rachel stood up and said, "Josh Chambers has a few words he wants to say to each of you.
Josh stood up, squared his shoulders, and smiled broadly.
"Yes, I'm Naughty Josh and I love a joke just as much as anyone, but when is a joke not a joke? I want to tell you something that I learned about a week and half ago." He looked down at the top of the table and the smile left his face. Looking up, he continued, "A long time ago, during the Second World War, the Nazis had a number of concentration camps. A survivor of a Nazi concentration camp told me that he and the other prisoners hated the concentration camp guards so much that when they were finally set free after many years in the camp, they couldn't remember how to be happy or love anymore. All the love he'd ever felt before his prison days and years, had been replaced by hate. Those prisoners should have been happy to be free of the tyranny.... jubilant and loved their liberators, but they just couldn't express it. They had forgotten how. I learned that when you make someone feel bad over and over again, that person you're picking on may change and their thinking will change from considering you as a friend to someone who dislikes you.... maybe even hates you. Consider that.... especially here at Camp Tonawonka.... maybe you've mean-mouthed someone and in doing so, you've changed their ability to love and be your friend.... into someone who now only knows emotional pain and hates you and, in the end, doesn't expect anything better from anyone else. When you take away a persons ability to love and replace it with hate, I think you've committed a mortal sin – one that maybe your victim CAN'T live with." Josh paused and looked around at the faces in the room. He certainly had everyone's attention. I glanced at Mark – Josh certainly had his attention.
"A person very, very close to me," Josh continued, "came very, very close to that end because of such hateful abuse. With time.... a lot of love to drive the hate away, and with deep understanding, I'm so VERY happy to say he's still with us.... right here.... right now.... in this room. Maybe we can't all excel at mountain climbing or run the hundred-yard dash as fast as someone else, but if nothing else, that person can be your friend. In considering our fellow man, we should remember their good qualities and realize that their faults only prove that they are, after all, a human being.
"When is a joke not a joke? When the person you're telling the joke to isn't laughing.... when the person you're talking about or the person you're teasing feels sadness and anguish instead of happiness.
"Think about it.... a smile is contagious and so is happiness. We're here at Camp Tonawonka to have a summer full of fun away from the thumbs of our parents.... so that by the end of the summer, we'll have learned to climb a tree, row a canoe, build a fire, and maybe even survive in the wilderness without help. More than that though, we should have learned how to appreciate the friendship and support of all those around us. I'm kind of a veteran at Camp Tonawonka and over the past years, that's what I've learned. I thought that maybe that's something you should know. Thanks for listening."
There was a split second of dead silence as Josh sat down and Mark stood up at the same time.
"I'm Mark Callahan. This is my first time at Camp Tonawonka. Josh and I ARE very, very close.... as close as I am to my real brother Bryan. I did come.... very, very close to THAT end that Josh spoke about, and it's not a place I ever want to be again.... and it's a place I don't want anyone here to be. Today I had the honour to witness the happiness and courage in a boy who deserves our respect. I learned today that each of us deserves the right to happiness and I'll defend anyone's right to that happiness just as I hope that each of you will."
You could have heard a pin drop except for the noise of Mark sitting down and Marcus standing up, not with his feet on the floor, but he stepped up and stood on the bench, so that everyone could see and hear him.
"Today I learned that life can give you a bad deal," he began, "but I also learned that I can deal with it because of the friends that understood me and gave me courage. I learned something else too. The power of forgiveness. Today Mark said something to me that he didn't mean to. He apologized and I forgave him.... not in words, but in my head. From that little thought, I gained a friend..... actually, four friends..... friends that stayed with me through a pretty scary time today." Then Marcus smiled broadly and put his hands on his hips, showing defiance. "You want to be nasty? Go ahead, I know I'm just a little squirt, but remember.... I have the power.... the power of forgiveness. If you don't give me the chance to forgive you for teasing me, you won't have the chance to be my friend and ya know.... I want you as a friend.... pretty even trade, I'd say. All I'm saying is that life IS pretty scary and we can't do it without each other. That's what I learned today."
The applause and roar of appreciation from the kids was spontaneous as Marcus sat down and Josh put his arm around his shoulder. I looked over at Rachel as she applauded. Looking at me, she mouthed, "WOW!"
I noticed that night as our thirty or so campers huddled around the campfire in a big circle, a number of kids went over to Marcus; I thought to say thanks for a good speech. Two in particular even shook his hand. A sign of apology and forgiveness? I wondered about that.
When things settled down, I stood and told a short chicken joke that everyone laughed at. Then I challenged anyone to top it. Some of them were real groaners, and others were very funny. I think the winner came from Bryan.
A man ran to the doctor and said, "Doctor, you've got to help me. My wife thinks she's a chicken!"
The doctor asked, "How long has she had this condition?"
"Two years," the man replied.
"Then why did it take you so long to come and see me?" asked the shrink.
The man shrugs his shoulders and replied, "We needed the eggs."
That night at lights out, I made the rounds of my cabin and spoke to each of my boys in turn. I just had to start with Marcus.
As I sat on the edge of his bunk, I touched his shoulder. "Marcus, you are one of the bravest twelve-year-olds I've ever known. This morning you were facing a very frightening situation, but you spent the day facing the danger step-by-step, then at dinner, you astounded me with the way you just stood up and spoke from the heart. You challenged everyone's bravery in that dining hall tonight."
"I was really pumped with the way everything turned out today. After what Mark had said, I was no longer scared.... and the words just came to me. A couple of guys at the campfire tonight said they were sorry.... they didn't know they'd hurt my feelings. I think everything's going to be OK from now on. Can I come running with you guys tomorrow?"
"You bet Marcus.... we'll be glad to have you."
"You did good today Jake," I said as I stopped by his bunk. "I'm proud of you for sticking up for Marcus."
"Nobody should have to put up with getting teased especially for something they can't help," Jake replied.
"Kiddo, you've got a kind heart and I really hope you never lose that sense of justice that you have. Goodnight Jake," I said sincerely.
"How about you Sean? How was your first day of Computer camp?"
"It was cool. This afternoon, Bryan showed me all kinds of neat stuff and me and Melissa are working on a special project together."
"Very nice. Glad you had a good time."
"Too bad we didn't see any bears," he giggled. "Mark really is a fun guy."
"Yes he is Sean, but as you've found out, Mark has a serious side too." I said.
"Yeah, he does. That little speech as suppertime was awesome. Josh and Marcus were awesome too. It gave me a lot to think about.... courage." Sean added.
"You have plenty of courage yourself, bud," I said sincerely and reached out to give his arm a gentle squeeze. "You know I'm really going to miss having you and your brother and the rest of your crew around after this week." I said.
"I think I'm going to miss you guys too. Brutus especially," Sean said as he reached out and petted Brutus' head. Brutus had begun following me around the cabin as I made my nightly rounds.
When I finally got to Josh, I sat down on the edge of his bunk. "I was really proud of you today too son," I said. I reached out and ruffled his hair. "You never cease to amaze me son. You always have the knack for saying exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. That alone has got people very far in this life and there is so much more to you."
"Thanks Dad," Josh said as held out his arms for a hug. "I love you Dad."
"I love you too son," I replied and hugged him tightly before tucking him in for the night.
With all the boys settled in for the night, I went outside and sat on the porch next to Howie. "You did good today too, Howie. I was really impressed with how you stepped up to help Marcus."
Howie blushed slightly. "I guess that's what we're supposed to do," he replied.
"Yes and no. Our job is to keep these guys safe and sound, but the really great counselors go beyond that and pour themselves into the job. I can tell that you'll be just that type of counselor."
"I had good teachers with you and Paul. I can tell how much you care about these boys."
"Caring is important. If you care about your charges and take the time to get to know them, this stops being a job and becomes like a family of sorts. The hardest part is saying goodbye at the end of the summer."
Howie and I chatted on the porch for about half an hour before we retired for the night. As I usually did, I fell asleep almost immediately with thoughts of my campers, my family, and most of all, my son in my mind.