From the time I was about 5 years old until I was a teenager, I spent every day of every summer at a local day camp. This camp was run by a man named Beefy. He was named Beefy for all the reasons that you might imagine -- he was a large, hulking, man with hands like sides of beef and fingers like sausages. He wore his hair in a 1950s flat top and he had an ever-present chaw of tobacco in his cheek, and usually had tobacco juice staining the corners of his mouth. Woe to you if you happened to get a bee sting in his presence. He'd pull out a big, slobbery, hunk of tobacco and press it to your sting. Definitely a case of the cure being worse than the ailment!
Occasionally Beefy wore khakis and a cotton shirt, but his uniform was a large pair of denim overalls.
And Beefy was gruff. He could yell like a drill sergeant -- I'm pretty sure a stint in the army was somewhere in his past -- and when he yelled jump, you yelled back "HOW HIGH?" The more he yelled, the higher his voice went (in my family, whenever someone would start to yell and their voice would start to rise we'd always say "Don't get Beefy tones with me!) We campers lived a little bit in fear of him. Getting "sent to Beefy" was the worse punishment that could be imagined. If you got caught throwing rocks, you had to fill your socks and your pockets with rocks and walk around with them in there the rest of the day. If you were older, and male, and you committed a more serious offense, it was the slingblade for you. You'd be sent out to sling blade the high grass that grew around the camp lake. In the blazing hot sun. No lawn mowers at this camp, no sir! Just testosterone fueled arm strength and a sharp blade.
I don't think I need to say that this camp was not for the weak. We were on the go from 9:00 to 12:00, each hour spent on an outside activity such as canoeing, riflery, softball, or playing dodgeball in the gym. Nothing was air conditioned. We would cool ourselves by visiting Whippoorwill spring, an ice-cold spring that bubbled up on the property, but whatever you do! DON'T PUT YOUR HANDS ON THE DIPPER! After a lunch at which you dared not complain about the fare, we retired to the (again, un-airconditioned) cabins -- boys to one cabin, girls to another -- for the nap. You didn't have to sleep but you could NOT talk. There were many children who did not last more than a day or two at camp. My cousin who usually spent a couple of weeks with me in the summer absolutely detested it. I loved it. I used to use it as a test of whether I would like someone or not -- Could you handle camp? If not, we probably wouldn't get along. It just meant you didn't have "the stuff."
Now, I was a good girl so I rarely got in trouble, but even Beefy and I had a run in or two. As you got older at camp, you could get into leadership positions, but you had to be an LIT first -- or Leader in Training. Basically that meant you got to be slave labor. The most dreaded assignment as an LIT was kitchen duty. That basically meant that you got to stand around in the kitchen all day and have Beefy yell at you.
I remember once I was helping get lunch together and he yelled "Madden, get that blue pot down from that shelf!"
Um. There was no blue pot. There was a black pot. And a couple of silver ones. But no blue.
"Where, Beefy? I don't see a blue pot."
"THAT BLUE POT RIGHT THERE, MADDEN!" he yelled as he reached up and grabbed the black pot.
But Beefy had a soft side, too. And he could impart a lot of wisdom. Once, as a leader I made all my girls go the bathroom before we went down to the rifle range, which was quite a hike. "You better go now" I warned "because there's no bathroom down there and WE WILL NOT come back to the bathroom."
After we had been at the rifle range for some time, one of my older girls came up to me and said "Hannah wet her pants." I approached Hannah -- she was seven and she was mortified! When I asked Hannah why she didn't tell me she had to go she said "You said you wouldn't let us go to the bathroom." I could have died right there on the spot.
I couldn't leave all the girls with my LIT, so instead I sent Hannah up to the camp office with her. I felt like I was sending Hannah to the lion's den. What would Beefy say? Would he punish her? But I needn't have worried. Beefy found her some extra clothes and had someone wash and dry her clothes for her so that none of the other campers would find out. He pulled her into a hug and told her "Don't you let anybody make fun of you about this. If anybody gives you any problems, you just tell me and I'll take care of it."
But probably the thing that Beefy is most well known for in my house is one of his sayings. He might not have originated this saying, but he is the first person I'd heard it from. Many a parent struggling with a rebellious teen sent their wayward offspring to Beefy. I mean heck, it was almost like boot camp. And he did set a few back on the straight and narrow path. But a few were not to be helped and left camp and down the road found themselves in trouble with the law, living a life of petty crime or drugs. But Beefy had an interesting outlook on these young men, for they usually were male, an outlook that may hold a nugget of truth -- "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit."
I think I'm going to cross stitch that and hang it in my living room.
6 years ago