By Michelle Railey
Hey, welcome to Church Camp. It’s 1985 and I know you’ve just spent a month organizing your plastic glitter bracelets, sipping on Cherry Cokes in the glass bottles, buffing your Walkman, writing in your diary, and catching up on the adventures of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield at Sweet Valley High. Still, it’s time to unpack your travel-size VO5 and your Sears swimsuit in teal, hot pink, and purple. And your Bible! You’ll need it because your shorts are too short and it’s time to pray and welcome to Church Camp, 1985. There are spiders in the bathroom and high expectations for moral behavior. (Pro tip: Don’t sit next to a boy.) Crafts are from one until three: you can swim, fish, or do crafts, but only one at a time, for five days running, so choose wisely.
Crafts are good because, as it turns out, it’s a rainy and unseasonably cold week. Also, the one girl who went fishing sat on her hook and now she’s been driven to an emergency room far, far away, and everyone knows who she is, and how clumsy*, and my god, she literally sat on a fish hook and it stuck there so bad she had to go to emergency, so don’t go fishing…plus, the water is mossy and cold and there are live fish in there who will nibble your toes and bite your skin off…so you’re better off with crafts, which at least you can take home to your mother, who will dutifully hang it/them on the laundry room wall and pronounce that your varnish, acrylic, baby-food-jar, sculpy masterpiece is the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen.
It’s just too cold for that Sears swimsuit, no matter how many ruffles it has.**
So…in the mornings, while you’re at “church,” you’ll secretly be memorizing your “Verse of the Day” so when Warty Wanda (who did not actually have warts)*** comes to “examine” you after lunch, you won’t break a sweat, you’ll just recite. And then you will still have time to grab a Snickers before Crafts. If you don’t please Wanda, you will not make it to Crafts, let alone to the commissary to get a candy bar. Plus she’ll tell you your shorts don’t please God.
(Memorization notwithstanding, she’ll tell you that anyway. Probably daily.)
And that’s why it’s a really good thing to spend your morning memorizing the verse of the day. There will be no fun allowed for you until you do. So get it out of the way early: after the bacon and during the sermon. The sermon is not the point. The verse. The verse is the point and the only point. Just ask Warty Wanda. She’ll tell you. (Actually, don’t ask her. She’s mean. Just recite the verse. Perfectly. Preferably in long pants and on the first time.)
Warty Wanda has the tightest curls you’ve ever seen. They match her personality, which is also tight. And maybe her name is Marsha or Jane or, well, you don’t really know, because she is cold and mean and hates you if you can’t rattle off the V.O.D. (verse of the day).
But the way to make Warty Wanda hate you, really and truly hate you, so much so that Snickers lose their flavor and Craft time loses its pleasures (Sculpy notwithstanding): try out for talent night and sing “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston.
Sure, you’ve spent your week making up a song that Amy F. tells you is “so good.” It’s called “Dancin’, Dancin’, Dancin,”**** and even Tracy in the top bunk thinks it’s neat. But at the last minute, you chicken out and sing “The Greatest Love of All.”
Because children are our future. Treat them well and let them lead the way.
Which is approximately the moment in the song at which Warty Wanda, hallowed be her name, loses her mind.
“That song doesn’t celebrate Jesus.”
“But it’s about love and children who were made by …”
“That. Is. Not. A. Godly. Song.”
At which point, despite your perfect record on Bible Verse Memorization, you will not be allowed to be in the talent show. Children are not the future. Children are a bane and a curse: their shorts are too short. They sit on fish hooks. They sing “Show them well and let them lead the way” instead of “His eye is on the sparrow.” Children are heathens. They think of her as Warty Wanda and Wanda knows. Of course Wanda knows.
Wanda hates children. Wanda hates church camp.
And still, despite Wanda, Tracy, Amy, and you will be singing, late into the darkness, with Sears flashlights and Coleman sleeping bags, you all will be singing “Dancin’, Dancin’, Dancin’” because sometimes even Jesus likes it when 11-year olds make up their own songs and sing them, even if they are about music and godless dancing for fun, and not about Jesus or God or sermons or the V.O.D.
If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have made Wanda such a hard sleeper.
And he did. Praise Jesus. He did.
*Not clumsy. Sitting on a fish hook could happen to anyone. Anyone who’s fishing, anyway.
*** Who am I kidding? She had a big wart on one cheek. Possibly one on the forehead. (Sorry, Wanda)
****My own version. This is not like that time I thought I invented the word “incognito.” This was an original song with a common title.