One of my first adventures away from home was going to summer camp when I was nine and ten at Lookout Mountain Camp. The camp head, Mr. Morrison came to our house to show movies of the camp the winter before. There were great old timbered buildings up in the mountains about sixty miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee. All of the boys would be from through out the south, and I was quite excited. The movies were filmed showing as much of camp activity as a youngster could ever imagine, with horseback riding, archery, riflery, skinny dipping, crafts, and camping. My mother enrolled me and I was off to camp for a month that summer. What I did not realize until I arrived at camp was that I would be one of the youngest boys at the camp. A few other boys from Decatur would attend the camp including our minister's son Rickey. We were assigned to a cabin of eight campers and one consular. About forty cabins were arranged around a half mile long perimeter. My cabin was right next to the showers. There would be about three hundred boys to deal with and being one of the youngest ones would not help. However, the camp was run on military discipline so there were not too many hassles. The whole camp would assemble every night before dinner in the large dinning hall for taps in dress whites. My consular was from New Orleans and he would always run interference for us whenever we messed up.
My biggest nightmare was having to learn to swim the river since I was an inexpert swimmer. I nearly drowned every day. I soon took to avoiding swim practice when ever I could. Instead I would spend most of my time in wood working shop or leather crafts. Horseback riding was lots of fun, but lifting the saddles was quite a strain. In archery we were taught how to make our own bows out of lemon wood. I won all of the badges on the riflery range and was made a young member of the National Rifle Association. We would go on several day hikes which would include much rough housing and skinny dipping in the many streams we crossed through out the mountains. There were occasionally dances with girls from the neighboring camps which were fun, especially since two of my sisters were attending nearby camp DeSota.
Whenever I wanted to avoid some camp activity I would go over to the infirmary and talk to the nurses who would give me a pass for missing said activity. The main problems with free time was all of the boys wanted to play Civil War games and I was one of only four Yankees in the camp. Needless to say we always lost, although it was great good sport. One of the highlights of the summer was parents day when all of the councilors were given a three mile radius to hide from the campers. At the start of the game the campers would spread out looking for the councilors and anyone that made it back to the gymnasium without having shirt ripped off would get a certain number of points. It was a good way to get even with a number of councilors who we disliked, and a number of councilors were stripped naked in front of the parents as they made their dash for the gymnasium. The campers always won the event since there were far more of us. I particularly hated the trampoline since it always seemed to jar my brains.
The one dreadful experience at the end of one session was when my parents showed up several days late to pick me up. However, I eventually had fun having camp all to myself except the skeleton crew. Many good times were had at camp and I always remember it with the fondest memories.
Most summers my family would drive North up Route 31 to Holland, Michigan for two weeks on the shore at my grandmother's cottage. There were always about thirty cousins around not to mention Aunts and Uncles and other distant relatives.
We would always stop by at my father's parents in Champaign, Illinois on the way up and back. The shores of Lake Michigan were white and sandy with huge sand dunes and plenty of fresh water two hours north of Chicago. The cottage had no insulation so there would be cool nights and the kerosine stove in the kitchen was the only source of warmth. I spent many long pleasant days sailing and rowing with my cousins and sisters. I never succeeded in waterskiing although I tried a number of times. I was not really an accomplished swimmer and when I went too far out in the breakers, I was always nervous. Once I rowed too far out in the old row boat and was practically beyond the horizon. My sisters and I would spend much time building castles and other structures and picking black berries off the bushes that kept the dunes from eroding.
Sundays were always at the Dutch Reform church with my grandmother and cousins, aunts, and uncles. There were many Dutch reform churches in Holland and I think we attended them all. My grandmother went to church every day of her life. The Dutch Reform were very strict then. They did not allow drinking, dancing, smoking, television, and movies. My grandmother did sin occasionally and watch Lawrence Welk or Ed Sullivan. We always had to read from the Bible after dinner and from the Dutch Reform weekly prayer list. My grandfather had died in the 1930's and my Uncles were heavily involved in Civic activities through the church.
My mother's sister Ardene had chosen to marry a lawyer and live in Dallas. They would occasionally join us some summers at the Lake. One of my uncles was an undertaker in nearby Freemont. Two of my uncles ran dry goods stores for my grandmother. My youngest uncle was an orthodontist. I never met my oldest uncle who was my grandfather's son from his previous marriage which made him a widower when he married my grandmother.
I had a second cousin who was a dentist, so my sisters and I would spend a few hours of pain having our yearly cavities filled. My sisters all had braces installed by my orthodontist uncle, however, they never persuaded me to have braces, so to this day I have overlapping front teeth.
One of my main preoccupations while at the cottage was playing endless games of shuffle board at a neighbor's court. Also in the evening I would go down the road and play many games on the pinball machine at the local penny candy store.
For some reason I was preoccupied with digging holes on the beach and burying one of my sisters or cousins up to their head, so that it looked like a decapitated head was lying on the sand.
The evenings were usually spent reading and in conversation with my sisters and cousins. We would go into town daily for errands and to visit my grandmother who was always excited to see us.
Once we went to visit my uncle the undertaker in Freemont, and I had the unnerving experience of walking into his work room which was on the ground floor of the house where there were a number of bodies laid out for viewing. That was the only time to date that I've seen a dead body, and I've always avoided funerals.
Another one of my amusing hobbies on the beach was sifting sand with a magnet for iron filings that were washed ashore from the steel mills to the south. I was very proud to have a whole jar of these filings.
On the trip back from Michigan we would stop at my father's parents in Champaign. Frequently grandad would take us down to one of his farms to play with our distant cousins. We spent many hours playing in the corn fields, and once two of my cousins took me out in the woods to play with baby wolves. There were also a few fights in the chicken coop throwing chickens at each other.
One of the perks of my father's job was that he had use of several company planes. He once took me along on a business trip with a dozen Japanese business men down to Pensacola for a day at the beach. One of the Japanese tried to teach me the art of paper folding. He made me a paper from which I forgot on the plane.
My only acting experience was in a second grade play when I played one of three Pandas, and I had to memorize two pages of dialogue which I did hours before the play. I also had brief experience modeling children's clothes at the local country club.