Everyone in camp was crazy about Mel. He was exciting and unpredictable and always very loud; even more so than most junior high program directors. My fellow sixth grade campers chased him everywhere and cheered everything he said. Most of his sentences ended with something like, “…WHADDA YA SAY, GANG?!” Mel had a perfect flat top buzz cut and a very big smile. As I watched him that first day I noticed his eyes didn’t quite match his smile, they were busy scanning the cheering throng for non-participators, like me. I felt like the only eleven year old on earth who didn’t realize how great Mel was, so when he caught me not cheering I jumped in with enthusiasm. Go along to get along.
I woke myself up in the middle of my first night at camp by throwing up in bed. The cabin was completely quiet and I sat up feeling better, having just taken care of business. My flashlight however, revealed the need for new sheets and I had no idea where to get any. I pushed softly on my sleeping counselor’s shoulder. “What in the world is that smell?” he inquired with his first waking breath. “I need new sheets,” I confessed. “That’s okay. Let’s get you to the nurse,” he said, rubbing his eyes. He was a kind teenager and we walked together to a very nice but sleepy nurse who gave me some Pepto-Bismol and new sheets. We remade my bed together and I went back to a fitful sleep.
I awoke to an empty cabin. I felt too dizzy to sit up but could hear voices just outside the open door. “He had a tough night,” I heard my counselor explaining. Then in a rare whisper came the voice of Mel, “Well if he’s not up after breakfast, someone’s going to be sorry.”
Once they left I dozed off again, then woke suddenly and forced myself to sit up. I pulled on my clothes and was tying my shoes when Mel came tip-toeing in with a big smile. This time even his eyes were lit with pure joy. His unbridled delight made me smile as well, until I heard the tinkling of ice and saw the pitcher of water he brought out from behind his back. When he realized that I wasn’t still in bed and there would be no “baptism,” his smile dropped like a brick. His face went from disappointment, to hurt, then to some version of guilt. “You better…. get yourself to chapel,… pronto, buddy,” he sputtered before he left.
That day I stood there and stared at Mel as the others cheered. He never looked at me the rest of the week. When my Dad came to pick me up, I asked him, “Do you know a guy here at camp named, Mel?” He responded flatly with the standard line he always used when not wanting to speak ill of someone, “Yeah, he’s quite a character.” I smiled. Even at eleven, it felt good to share my Father’s instincts.