Thursday, June 22, 2017



BSC, CA – New readers may wonder how I can speak of religion and magic in the same breath when to many people anything not from the church must be from the Devil. Being churched, I might have grown up the very same way, except my first magical encounter came via the church. It was in my last year as a kid. This time the next year I would be 13, a teenager in puberty.

It was also my first year of public school integration. The 6th grade was my first full year of attending class with white kids. It was 1956 in Louisville, Kentucky. Adult blacks and whites still remained socially segregated but the law of the land had changed on my shift. No more safe and secure within a sub-culture where my family held some status and renown. My world had shifted, opened up to a much larger world view. I could sense this.

I decided to test the boundaries of this school catercorner to the corner house I grew up in. From first grade to fifth, I walked to a school a mile or so away while a grade school existed just across the street I couldn't attend. Now that was changed. For a month I had my own general store, selling bubble gum, wild cherry cough drops, Lik-m-aid, and other assorted goodies I bought just to sell at school before class at a slight markup. It was a month long venture before they ended it. Also shortly after the school year started and I was placed in the back row though I wore glasses, the teacher peeped me holding hands with a cute blonde girl across the aisle. That happened on a Friday, by Monday her family had moved out of the district. Life was moving fast. I did not want to grow up. I wanted to stay a kid. Like a reverse BIG, puberty is when magic can happen; just before you turn into a teenager, while you are still pure in heart.

The Protestant sect, Congregationalism, brought to America by the Pilgrims, had been absorbed into The United Church of Christ earlier in the year. This brought a two week UCC sponsored camp on Lake Michigan to the youth members of my church. It was a given that this camp would be integrated, and probably mostly white. For me, it was two weeks away from the hot muggy air of the Louisville summer. This could be a new camp experience from the dismal time I had at Camp Sky High, where it had rained 10 days out of the 2 weeks I was there. That was the end of summer camps for me, till now.

This time was different also because a girl I had a crush on was going too. The school year had taught me that in most integrated situations, the black [Negro] kids tended to huddle or group together. This would give me the perfect opportunity to get to know this girl [Ann] on a friend level and an up for when we started the 7th grade in the fall. Maybe we could walk to school together in the mornings. I had a plan but no knowledge of Shakespeare, a person who believed in magic.

The bus stopped and the group of Louisville UCC campers got on. The other kids were from area churches outside the city limits, and also all white. I boarded the bus being one of the first in line, and quickly found a window seat. I love the window seat. Ann got on and found a seat of her own. For a moment, there was the chance for me to get up and join her. I could feel it and I sensed that she did too. Then I rationalized my shyness.

I had two weeks to get to know Ann beyond the social level of church. I had a window seat. The trip was at least three hours or so. What would I talk about? Even if there was another black kid in camp, that would be cool. I was local with Ann. And I had a window seat and two weeks time. Then a girl sat down next to Ann. I said to myself that I would say 'hi' and start a conversation as soon as we got off the bus. I enjoyed my window seat for the rest of the trip, occasionally glancing over at Ann's back as she sat in a seat more forward in the coach. Plenty of time, I sighed.

As the bus pulled into the camp, I could see the place was already full of kids. And this was a kids camp. The 6th grade age was the oldest bunch. Our cabin masters were probably 18, so we were thought of as kids. The place looked like fun. Ann and I could have fun here, I thought, as I got off the bus and stopped to look around before getting my bag from the bus.

“Hi,” came a voice from the left.

“Hi,” came a voice from the right.

Two girls approached me, one on each side, and they asked me where my bags were. I pointed toward the bus unloading, and one of them said, “Let's go get them and take them to your cabin.” I took one last fleeting look in Ann's direction. It would be the last look until we boarded the bus back for Louisville. Ann looked puzzled. I was puzzled.

I'd like to recall their names but I was 12 years old. I was not used to girls from outside my pecking order, being an only child in a generation of male-only cousins. Now instantly, it was if I had two sisters I never knew I had. They were both from the same small Michigan town down the road. One was a few months older than me while the other a few months younger. Since we were all six-graders and this was before modern food additives, we all had slim silhouettes, except the girls had baby fat that was cute and feminine.

The older one was more the leader and mature, while the younger one was still a kid like me. In the middle, I could be a kid and get silly, then say something kind of mature or see a mature point, and we would all laugh. Their complexions, eyes, and hair color were also different [brunette, red head]. From the start it was as if they had stock in the program. They acted like junior counselors and knew all about the place.

Right away they took me out to the woods and talked about the various trees. I never heard the 'Welcome to Camp' speech. We would bone out right after breakfast as the various groups were forming, blow back in after the lunch rush and grab some sandwiches, then meet up with the whole camp at dinner for vespers. After vespers on the dunes singing and prayers, we would all walk back to camp in a group then separate into the gender areas for individual cabins. I'd say goodnight then and we'd meet back up before breakfast and sit together, like at a school cafeteria.

Once on the third day in an adult counselor looked at me as the three of us were leaving the opposite way from the main group and said, “Don't you belong in so-and-so's group?” Before I could answer one of the girls, the older one, piped up and said, “Don't worry, he's with us.” When the counselor looked back at me, I offered the line Peter Quill said in the prison scene [Guardians], “I'm with them,” and left. Outside my cabin master, no other adult really interfaced with me and the girls, though I'm sure someone checked on us.

The fact that I was bouncing around camp, a scrawny black kid, with two white girls hadn't escaped my mind. It had only been a year since Emmet Till had been mutilated and killed in Mississippi. True this was Michigan, but this is Amerikkka, I thought. The third day in though, after my companion's words, I quit looking over my shoulder and started to really enjoy my situation fully.

The camp ground was part of a sand dune beach on Lake Michigan. Though it got in the 90s every day, the water remained a brisk 70-75 degrees. In the mornings we would hike around the woods of camp for awhile then make our way out to the dunes. We never got tired of the dunes, these tall mounds of snow white sand with big round pebble rocks and pine trees here and there. Where we sat you could see a light house about a quarter mile away and other beaches. When we got hot we would run out into the water a few times to get used to the cool and then enjoy the water for a while.

But the majority of the time, the three of us would lay on the soft dune sides, look up at the beautiful sky and clouds, and talk. We would talk for hours. Just 3 kids who didn't want to grow up. If we had been older, you would have labeled us intellectuals, but you can't be that at 12. You don't know shit, except for what is real to you. This real was 3 kids, three kindred souls, meeting at random, and enjoying the moment as three travelers before leaving the magic of being a kid.

Even now my eyes get wet as I recall this past memory and the emotion similar to the last scenes of Hank's character in BIG I felt.

I knew I was in a special time. It was temporary and it represented nothing outside this camp, no other place. I knew this because everyone else at camp was normal/typical. Having a typical frame of reference, I started to ask myself typical questions. Which girl liked me the most? Which girl was I attracted to, or infatuated with? The answer was always the same – both.

And as the days wound down into the second week, we all just gelled as 3 amigos, talking of fantasies about having adventures together in a storybook land, with the romance of puberty only hinted at in the good-bye kisses on the cheeks all around the last day.

As I rode on the bus back home, there was no going over to say 'hello' to Ann now. What was I going to say, hope you had a good time too? The chance to become more than a friend to the girl who was probably most like me in my social circles, would never manifest itself again.

I looked out the window as the scenery drifted by, a haze of landscapes, as I thought about the two girls I had just spent two weeks at camp with. This was an adventure I really couldn't tell anyone about. Gallivanting around a summer camp with two little white girls wouldn't make for pleasant conversation around my dinner table. It wasn't something that I could brag to my friends about, even the ones who were hipper than me. This wasn't something that I could talk with the cool adults in the fam about. Nope this was a one-off caper. I had already begun to lose their names in my memory when the bus rolled back to Louisville. Truthfully, I was still in a daze over digesting what had just happened the last two weeks.

The ride back home in the car was uneventful except my mother and aunt were glad to see me. They had missed me since I was the only kid in the house so they made a fuss about me being back. I had missed them too. Granny was smiling. At the house they quickly brought me up to date on what the latest haps were, as well as ask me about how the camp had treated me. My aunt took my bag to my room upstairs.

As I nonchalantly made jokes about how nice camp was with no rain, I was about to learn my first lesson about magical things.

Suddenly my aunt walked into the kitchen where we all were, holding up a pair of pastel purple girls jeans and said, “Whose are these?

End of part 1. See, Sisterhood to the Traveling Pants, Part 2 of My Summer Magic, coming soon

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