Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Wild Times in the Bless All Mess Hall
(This is my narrative essay that I wrote for English. It's about Camp Barnabas. :D )
Staff holler, “Welcome to dinner. Please remember Quiet Doors!” A popular variation of the phrase is, “Welcome to Quiet Doors! Please remember the dinner.” They shout in vain attempt to keep the horde quiet. The deck creaks and I hear the soft ba-doom of wheelchairs rolling over deck planks. 400 people press onto the deck, waiting for the blessed words, “Dinner is ready!” Sweat trickles down my forehead, and I swipe it away with my thumb knuckle. Behind me, a camper tells his counselor a joke. In front of me, a little girl plays with her singing doll. Beside me, my own camper, Mark, clings to my arm, anxious for the anticipated feast. “Remember,” he slurs, “I predicted we would have macaroni and hot dogs.”
The moment of glory comes, the “Bless All Mess Hall” doors are propelled open. Mark pulls me forward, still holding my arm for balance. His unnatural gait jerks me down and then forward, down and forward. Feet shuffle, chairs roll, and campers bound for the doors. The Quiet Doors do their magic and the previously chaotic mob, settles down the moment it marches through them. Mark drags me inside and whispers, “Smells like macaroni.” Before I can reply, a wave of scent slaps me in the face, the over-head fan blasts and the drastic temperature change makes me shiver. The Mess Hall feels like a different dimension. Mark mutters something, but I press the tip of my finger against my sweaty, upper lip to remind him to respect the Quiet Doors.
The waft from the kitchen penetrates and remaining silent gets harder by the second. A camper steps forward to bless the food. Everyone around me shifts in their seats. After a long day of swimming, canoes and archery, stomachs are on their hands and knees, begging to be feed. My head is bowed, but I hear stomachs complain. Finally, the awaited words are spoken, “Great job on Quiet Doors! Let’s eat!”
Steaming bowls of food are rushed to the table. Mashed potatoes, chicken, rolls and – Mark was right – macaroni are plopped onto our plates. Manners fall into the background; between passing plates, laughing, talking, and enjoying the scrumptious morsels, no one remembers to chew with their mouths closed. The macaroni tastes incredible. The roll melts in my mouth and butter drips on my chin. Crispy batter on the chicken crunches. Cold, sweet tea washes it down.
Max sits across from me. He cannot walk or talk because he has cerebral palsy. I say, “Hey, Max, are you having fun?” Max giggles in response. Conner, his counselor, laughs at Max’s enthusiasm then lifts a water-filled straw up to the camper’s lips. Max sucks the water, but a little dribbles out on his shirt. Conner grabs a napkin and wipes up the water.
Like an African drum rhythm, a slow beat starts at one end of the room. Boom, clash, boom, clash, clash! Everyone snatches utensils and bangs them against the table. Counselors and campers join the “Jungle Rhythm” until every soul in the room is contributing. The noise is deafening, but as quickly as the noise begins, it stops. Applause explodes in the room.
The Bless All Mess Hall is the gathering place at Camp Barnabas – a summer camp for special needs children. It’s a regular camp with “normal” activities, adapted so that every child, no matter his or her disability, participates. The campers come from all over the country. Many are teased in school or neglected by their parents. Here, attention – the good kind – drenches them.
As I watch campers and counselors, like Max and Conner, I realize that this is what life is about; loving unconditionally. Counselors are having chug contests with their campers, kids are building airplanes with their napkins, and laughter is abundant. The counselors give themselves, unreservedly to their campers and the campers are forever grateful for that slice of selfless love.
Another chant is launched, “Blow the whistle! Blow, blow the whistle.” The cooks succumb to our demands and a shrill whistle pierces the thick voices. The whistle is the beloved dessert signal. Brownies are ushered to the table.
As the campers receive their tasty treats, dramatic moments of chocolate obsession take place. After Mark takes a bite, he stutters, “Ash-a-ley? You’re awesssome.” Tears spring into my eyes as another Jungle Rhythm begins. No, I’m not awesome. We’re awesome; all of us. “Yes,” I conclude to myself, “we are far more alike than different.” Thank you, Camp Barnabas.