The Camp by Tommy Burnett (2013)

The Camp by Tommy Burnett (2013)

Note: The following is the second of two stories written by my late father.

December 3, 2013

Introduction to “The Camp”

“The Camp” was first written in the spring of 1995 while my father was working as a project manager for a Louisiana-based construction company on a construction project in Warner Robins, Georgia. His firm was a subcontractor in the construction of a new Frito-Lay® plant. During his downtime while at the job site and possibly in his apartment he penned the following story. I have always described it to others as being about the rise and fall of our beloved fishing and duck hunting camp and the fall of my father’s life.

I first laid eyes on this early draft on a weekend visit that April. At the time, I was a college student who was only weeks away from graduating with my B.S. in Forestry from Auburn University, which is located in the rural college town of Auburn, Alabama. Having not seen him in well over a year, we made plans for me to make the nearly four-hour drive over to stay with him.

Years earlier, he had been unable to find any work in his profession our hometown, in Mobile, AL, while separated from my mother. Out of money and feeling pretty dejected, he reluctantly moved back “home” to live with his mother and to hopefully begin a fresh start in Shreveport, LA. While his body made the four hundred and sixty mile one-way trip, his heart and soul never left the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. He got the job through his brother, a local attorney, who knew the construction company’s owner where, both, were members of some civic organization.

On a Friday afternoon, I made the drive from Auburn to Warner Robbins first heading south to Columbus, GA for forty-five minutes before turning east and traversing down many back roads winding through some of the most uninteresting farm country that I have ever seen over the next two hours. We agreed to meet at the red clay job site where I found several construction trailers clumped together upon my arrival and a towering structure that was coming to life off to my right.

The plant’s concrete walls stood some three stories tall and the roof was already in place. The inside of the building was still bare bones with only the “primed” sheet-rocked walls subdividing a large production area, which would soon to be producing the company’s latest and most top-secret potato chip, in the rear of the building while the front offices faced the street. After my brief tour, we walked back to his trailer.

As we entered his office, he sat down behind his desk while I found a seat on the desk’s front side. Almost immediately, my dad mentioned having written something as he simultaneously slid a typed document across the tabletop straight at me to read. This visit was already emotionally charged for me and I suspect that was the case for him, as well. After all, I was “a chip off the old block” and we had never been apart for this length of time before. For me, there was always a gravitational pull when coming around him that temporary filled some void inside me.

We always seemed to share more interests than either one of us shared with his wife and my mother. We were more like brothers, pals than father and son. He was the older irresponsible one who was always getting into trouble while I learned to blend into the woodwork, both, at home and at school. I don’t recall ever getting a stern lecture from him over my performance after a football or a basketball game, while fishing, hunting or playing endless rounds of golf with him. My troubles with him came primary from my struggles in school, my teachers and the notes they would send home with me, which produced at least one spanking, in the fourth grade, and some years later a near fistfight.

The circumstances that sent him packing and moving back to north Louisiana could have set off a powder keg of tears for both of us. Neither one of us wanted his life, his career nor our family to become so fractured. I don’t recall if the story had a title or if it was added years later. I picked up the narrative and began reading it.

After digesting only the first few sentences and realizing what I was reading the story began to produce a flood of memories and emotions inside of me causing my eyes to quickly begin tearing up. I was consciously fighting back the tears as I read on and he sat back in his chair in silence. The camp was built in 1986. At the time, my father was a general contractor whose “financially-shaky” company built residential homes, commercial buildings including metal.

He longed for a fishing camp or some escape up in the cypress swamps of the Mobile River Delta. As a child, I remember taking many fishing trips and boat rides on the delta’s meandering rivers and creeks always launching our small boat from Dead Lake Marina enjoying the sunny day and sustaining ourselves on an ice chest filled with Shasta® soft drinks in their many flavors, several cans of Vienna® sausages and a box of Saltine® crackers. Sounds tasty, doesn’t it? I liked drinking the grape sodas, black cherry, cola or whatever I could grab from out of the cooler while he preferred to drink only Crème soda.

The Mobile River Delta consists of approximately 20,323 acres of water just north of Mobile Bay. Second only in size to the Mississippi River Delta, the Mobile Delta is an environmental showplace that is 30 miles long and 12 miles wide. It covers more than 200,000 acres of swamps, river bottomlands and marshes. Congress named the Mobile Delta a National Natural Landmark in 1974; fewer than 600 sites have received this same honor. It is formed by the confluence of the Alabama and the Tombigbee Rivers. The Mobile River Delta is a complex network of tidally influenced rivers, creeks, bays, lakes, wetlands, and bayous. The Mobile Delta functions as a sponge, filtering impurities from 20% of the nation’s fresh water.

It is home to all sorts of wildlife including Bald eagles, ospreys, owls, herons, brown pelicans, Wood ducks and Mallards, Black bears, Bobcats, whitetail deer, the American alligator, snakes – water moccasins, turtles and a primitive, air-breathing fish called a gar. The lower delta with its shallow bays is an estuary producing a bounty of seafood including Flounder, brown shrimp and blue crabs. The delta supplies the food chain of larger fish, shore birds and humans living in and around Mobile Bay before flowing out into the Gulf of Mexico passing Alabama’s barrier islands along the way.

Between trolling over fishing holes and running up and down the rivers we would occasionally pass by old camps sitting high above the river’s banks. At the invitation of one friend and our CPA, Marshall Burden, my dad spent many days, nights and weekends at Marshall’s camp while hunting fowl in the winter, fishing in the spring and fall, playing cards, drinking beer and sipping on whiskey at night. I remember paying many friendly visits with my father to Mr. Burden’s camp before heading back to the boat launch.

His place was a palace in the eyes of the boys, but not fit for the ladies. It was hardly fit for rats. Going to the restroom always required cranking an old red cast-iron hand pump to fill the commode’s exposed tank with river water in order to flush. The ceiling inside the sleeping quarters had pink installation sagging and in some places falling down onto a top bunk. In a few areas of the room it served as an obstacle to be dodged while passing from the front of the camp to the backside where the kitchen was located. The kitchen windows looked out over a thick hardwood forest with green palmetto bushes mushrooming up from the wet forest floor. Every camp had a boat dock and Marshall ever so patriotic had a flagpole at the end of his where he proudly flew an American flag.

Each morning, in this silent swamp, Marshall would play “The Star Spangle Banner” over his loud speaker while sitting on his deck in his boxer shorts while wearing a white undershirt and drinking a cup of coffee. My father loved to tell the story of how Marshall, either out of irritation or simply as a prank, prematurely kicked off an early morning bass fishing tournament with an exploding bottle rocket. Some boats were already huddled out in the river and cocked while others were still filing out of the mouth of Dead Lake. His early start sent boats speeding off while leaving others confused and out of place. Once tournament officials figured out what happened they cruised over to his camp and asked him to never do that again.

The camps of the Mobile Delta are few and far between on the rivers, which creates an instant camaraderie among the owners, be they business owners, lawyers or blue collar city workers, all make an effort to get to know their neighbors and look out for each other’s property. To anyone who spends any amount of time “lost” in the delta for a single day or for the weekend it can lead to an instant romance, a love affair for this remote, quiet and Godly sanctuary. To visit, to roam where Native Americans once lived off the land and paddled the rivers and creeks in curved out cypress trunks for millenniums is truly inspiring and humbling. I am sure that my father’s experiences as a frequent visitor made him all the more hungry for an invitation to join an existing camp or to one day build his own.

Some of these wood-framed, rustic habitats, built in 1950’s, have been passed down from the first generation to the next and in one case that I know of one of them was recently passed down once more – to an old classmate, his siblings and to the grandchildren of the other original members. We hoped that our camp would enjoy a similar fate, but it did not happen. Our camp and many others were lost to Washington politics and to federal mitigation from the destruction of protected wetlands in the construction of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway during the 1970’s and early 80’s. Unbeknownst to my father and to the other members, not owning the marshy land beneath our camp would force us to one day surrender the keys to the front door when the feds came a calling with cash in hand and a law to carry out. In January 1991, some five years after sinking the first pilings we were forced to gather up our stuff and to move out. Everyone arrived at the camp with an empty boat ready to load it up except for my father. He was the only principal to be a “no show.” Once more, his inaction during an uncomfortable, but critical situation proved “par for the course.”

The opportunity to build the camp came about only when dad hired, “Mike Jones”, a college student majoring in building science at Auburn. They met through Mike’s father. My dad’s company had recently built an office complex on a barge for Scott Paper Company where Mike, Sr. was a district manager. This new asset allowed Scott’s Timberlands Division to float an office based at their Mobile, AL paper mill up the Alabama River system to their vast land holdings to oversee timber operations while remaining in direct communications with their land-based offices at the Mobile mill.

My father ever so generous and never one to say no brought Mike, Jr. on board. Mike as it turns out would the first and last company intern. He worked the summer of ‘85 and in the following fall quarter. Prior to heading back to Auburn, Mike and my father while possibly fishing in the delta made several scouting trips for the perfect site to build a camp. At the time, Mike, Sr.’s Timberlands Division oversaw the company land in question. There were few camps and almost no new ones in existence. Some camps in the delta owned-outright the land beneath them while most leased the land from Scott.

There was great pressure on Scott to lease out these campsites. Long after getting the go-ahead to build and by the time of near completion of our camp, my father learned that Scott had already passed a rule against leasing out any more land. We were the first to build a camp in many years and the second to last one before losing our rights to use it. We were forced to sell our camp to the federal government where it was then passed off to a state conservation agency before being abandoned completely and falling into disrepair after being gutted by looters.

In 1997, my father left Shreveport, LA and returned to the Eastern Shore to live out what would be his final years. After receiving “July 24”[1998], in the mail, I made arrangements to drive down from Atlanta, GA, the following August weekend to speak with him for the first time in well over a year. It was an emotional visit and turned out to be my last chance to make peace with him and myself. Irritated and disappointed with his drunken conduct over dinner Saturday night, I let him have a lifetime of suppressed thoughts on our ride back to his apartment. As I drove off that would be the last time that I would ever see him alive. I am grateful for the brief time that we spent together.

In November 1998, he was to drive up to Atlanta, GA for a family gathering over Thanksgiving. He never made the trip and was found dead, over the weekend, in his apartment by police. On Sunday, I got an early morning confirmation when my mother called. I reluctantly answered the phone on her second attempt. I drove home to prepare for his funeral on the following day. For many years, I was always concerned about his welfare while he was alive and drinking. Now, I had the burden of how best to give him a final and respectable farewell. How do you eulogize the town drunk that died penniless? That was the $64,000 question.

After arriving at my mother’s house, she showed me my father’s latest version of “The Camp”. I had forgotten about it. It turns out that they had been in communications in the recent weeks and that he had reworked the story’s ending before mailing her another copy. I sat down on the couch and read the story once again. I was moved to tears at both its beauty and the new reality. We both agreed that eulogizing him with his own words felt right and rang true to our spirit rather than simply asking an out-of-touch friend of his to speak on behalf of our family. Reading the story at the funeral service came with an inherent risk. We didn’t know how our extended family and friends would receive it, but there didn’t seem to be any other safe options. Here we were faced with, both, an opportunity and a crisis. There would be no second chances to get it right, either, we put on the all too familiar funeral service or we could possibly do it differently and surprise all those in attendance. 

We asked a family friend to lead this rather simple service in the chapel of a local funeral home. He was also given the task of reading “The Camp.” Within some thirty minutes, it was all over. I was eager to know what the reaction was from his old friends. I was the first family member to exit the front pew and to walk to the back of the chapel. As I was heading for the lobby a mutual friend of, both, my father and me intercepted me. Sara, who was some fifteen years my father’s senior, had known him during his sober days in the 1980’s and followed his long struggle afterwards.

Her words were bittersweet and confirmed what my mother and I had long sensed. Sara stated point blank, in her raspy voice, “Ted, your daddy missed his calling and can I have a copy of that story?” Her declaration warmed my heart, but made me want to cry. I quickly reflected on my own dysfunctional career and I hoped that I wouldn’t be the next man in our family to miss the mark. The response among family and friends was much the same. There were immediate and feverish requests for copies of the story and suggestions that we get it published echoed throughout the funeral home.

What could have ended on a sad and somber note as we all piled back into our car for the ride home turned out to be another uplifting and rewarding experience. The risk of being honest and vulnerable to our family and friends was greatly rewarded. It’s rare for a dead man to speak at his own funeral, but my father, unknowingly, pulled it off.  When word of the story’s existence hit the street requests poured in for well over a year. The risk of publicly sharing our pain and his suffering through, both, “The Camp” and “July 24” has been therapeutic. Sharing the stories has brought us much relief. His sad death has given us a chance to reclaim our freedom and to move on with our lives. It finally brought to an end our family’s decade long suffering.

Our family isn’t alone. I have heard way too many similar tales from others. This country is in a lot of emotional and spiritual pain. We’ve denied it for centuries and we are paying for it, daily. The present financial crisis is a further confirmation of our insanity. What we’re doing as a nation, as an empire no longer works. It has collapsed. We don’t need change, we need a revolution. With such rotten guts, what’s the cure?

Tell your story, validate your life.  Don’t let the world define you, tell the world who you really are even if it’s from the grave. It’s never too late!

Enjoy,

Ted

Sources: Introduction to “The Camp”

Alabama Wildlife Federation, http://www.alabamawildlife.org/stewardship/mobile_delta_purchase/wildlife.asp

Dauphin Island Sea Lab, http://www.disl.org/

Outdoor Alabama: Fish and Fishing in the Mobile Delta, http://www.outdooralabama.com/Fishing/freshwater/where/rivers/delta/

Note: This writing project is and has been the primary purpose of my life for the past six years.  The pleasure I derive from sharing my life, my insights and wisdom with you along with the life that I enjoy can’t be fully measured or even appreciated given my history.  Every performer, every writer needs an audience to express themselves to, to show off one’s talents, you’re mine. I feel privileged to say this.  You’ve been generous to me from the very start and, along the way, you’ve saved my life.  Know that your time has never been taken for granted by this conscious writer.

I say all this to wish you and your family, “Happy holidays”.  I hope you’re able to enjoy your time off. Hopefully, I will catch up with you after the first of the year.

In October and November, I added faculty to this audience from Brown University, Dartmouth College, Dartmouth Tuck School of Business, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

 

N > 18,000

See attachment: The Camp

November 1998

The Camp

By

Tommy Burnett

It’s gone now.

The last time I saw it, it was a tattered skeleton, roof blown away, rafters weathered gray and exposed to the hot, humid, south Alabama summertime. Windows were broken, the front door swinging in the gentle afternoon breeze. The dock, now rotted, only the front deck was still intact. It had endured hurricanes, floods, divorces, personal failures, and lost friendships. Now, it stood lonely, abandoned, broken, nearly naked, and without dignity.

It broke my heart to see it.

Considered by everyone with any knowledge of the delta to be one of the finest camps around; almost majestically it stood eight feet above the soggy swampland on the banks of Big Briar Creek, between the Mobile River to the west and the Tensaw to the east. Interstate-65 was north and the causeway and Interstate-10 south. Only way to get there was by boat. On a map, it was just about the geographical center of the delta.

On my map, it is still in the center of my soul.

Grown men and their sons had built it. Pat Sims appropriately called it our “fort.” Southern boys have always built forts; it was the first for some, the last for others. The camp, like the forts of our youth, was built on dreams, imagination, hard work, and virtually no money. None of us were carpenters. We owned an assortment of hammers, saws, and tools but we were not carpenters. We were all chiefs. We all enjoyed being in charge, telling each other what to do. We were planners, organizers, managers, lawyers. We debated and argued for hours about the best way to do things, often doing very little. Work parties were generally followed by some reflective beer drinking. On a couple of occasions, the reflective beer drinking preceded the work outings and production on those days was limited to picking up the empty beer cans before returning home.

It took a year of weekend labor to build. The logistics of hauling pilings, lumber, and metal roofing in our small skiffs was both a nightmare and dangerous. Boats were nearly sunk and swamped on more than one occasion. We carried our boys and our dogs. We fell off of the roof, off of the dock, and out of ours boats. Our boys handed us boards, helped with nailing, and learned the art of skillful southern cussing. The dogs were a pain in the ass.

The finished product was pure delta luxury. The camp had one large open room, a closed bathroom with toilet, lavatory, and shower stall, a kitchen with a gas range, sink, and cabinets, a fireplace and pot-bellied coal stove. The furnishings were bunks for ten, tables, sofas, and plenty of rocking chairs. Electricity was a generator, water had to be hauled from home. Photographs of past hunting and fishing trips adorned the walls. An American flag was always flying from the deck railing when anyone was in residence. Every fort had to have a flag.

A large tree stood on the west side of the deck that served as both shade and annual nesting for a family of wood ducks. Raccoons, egrets, and a thousand bullfrogs were our neighbors. The area surrounding the camp was not suitable for man. It was jungle. The thick lush foliage made wandering around afoot impossible. Hostile critters, snakes and alligators, were so numerous that we worried when our dogs ventured off. It was a zillion miles from civilization, thirty minutes when you reached the hard road.

The Mobile-Tensaw River delta is one of the splendors of south Alabama. Approximately fifty-five miles long and eight to twelve miles wide, it is an estuary that twenty percent of the fresh water in America flows through. It is a maze of rivers, streams, and creeks that all eventually empty into Mobile Bay. Wildlife abounds in the form of deer, black bear, beaver, osprey, bald eagles, and hundreds of species of water fowl. The brackish water is teeming with black bass, bluegill, speckled trout and redfish.

The lower part of the delta is marsh with open bays with names like Polecat, Chuckfee, and Bay John and are bordered by tall marsh grasses with very few trees. Further north, our camp was located in the swampland that harbored the majestic cypress and countless varieties of lowland vegetation. The wildflowers are beyond imagination in the fall; beautiful purples, oranges, and rust. Springtime lilies and lily pads are so thick that you can walk on them. The creeks and streams, many with unofficial and colloquial names like Short Paddle, Houseboat, and Two-Dip, meander quietly, softly, and slowly, along with the ebb and flow of tidal forces and gravity. To the unappreciative, it is just a swamp.

To me, it will always be heaven.

Camps, like forts are never finished. There were always things to do, special projects to build, one more gizmo that would make life easier. By December 1986, with the fireplace and stove installed, we concluded that it was time for our grand opening. On a Friday, with duck season to open the next day, we organized for our first night. Some of us left work early to make final preparations and others waited until our boys were out of school.

I will never forget the look on our boys’ faces when they walked into the camp that night. It was Santa Claus, the first surprise birthday party, pure and raw emotional excitement. All were wide-eyed and clearly pleased. Our sons had made honest contributions to the building and we purposely made each one a part of the camp. Unconsciously, we all thought that the camp would be passed from one generation to the next.

There were ten of us there the first night, a couple of dogs, and more gear, guns, shotguns shells, sleeping bags, and crap than you have ever seen. Cabinets were stocked with enough food for weeks, “emergency” provisions in case we were ever stranded. In front of a roaring fire, we each took turns bragging about how nice the camp had turned out and recounted tales of our trials and tribulations in the course of construction. Whiskey was drunk, cigars were smoked, light lies and laughter filled the room.

After a feast fit for king, we each staked out our bunks and claimed our individual spaces that would remain the same for years. We loaded the fireplace, turned out the Coleman lanterns, and climbed into our sleeping bags for our first night in the delta. We were all twelve years old, far too excited for restful sleep. Dogs scratched and licked, jokes were cracked, some snored, some farted. We all giggled. It was your first night at summer camp.

I can not recall a harsh word ever spoken at the camp. With the assortment of personalities of members, it is amazing how well we all got along. The extended members of our families, our dogs, could not tolerate one another. Mine, a male Chesapeake Retriever named Bach was, indeed, a handsome creature. Ramsay Stuart’s male Black Labrador, Knight, looked like a field trial winner. In truth, neither was good for anything except so-so companionship. I do not recall either dog ever retrieving anything more than a stick thrown from the dock. Knight was probably the best decoy retriever in the delta but he could never quite get a handle on picking up real ducks. Bach’s claim to fame was getting lost for a month, causing more grief and aggravation than I am willing to admit, before finally finding his way home. A fort needed dogs. We had two. They hated each other.

Visitors were always welcomed. One of my favorites was Albert “Torch” Hollingsworth. He loved to hunt and fish and he always brought with him enough irreverence and devilment to keep things lively for a few days. Our boys and their friends enjoyed his company, too, and respectfully addressed him as “Mr. Torch.” Late one night, after the adults had retired to sleeping bags, Torch was holding court with my son and several of his friends over a final few hands of poker. Torch, after a hard day of hunting and drinking, mostly drinking, was clearly on the same level as the twelve year old boys at the table. He was rambling on with his standard tall tales about various matters of absolutely no consequence when, after a pause in the conversation, I heard one of the youngsters innocently yet seriously ask him, “Mr. Torch, did anyone ever tell you that you are full of shit?” I can still hear the howling from the direction of the sleeping bags.

We laughed a lot at the camp, mostly at each other.

My Dad visited the camp in our first spring. We spent two nights and three days enjoying the riches and splendors of the delta. We caught a few bass but I think he really enjoyed exploring and the sight-seeing. Slow boat rides, drifting in the current, listening to the birds and gurgling of the water, was good for your soul. I could see a peacefulness and tranquility in his deep blues eyes that made him a stranger to me. We were at ease; didn’t talk much, communicated a lot. It was his last fishing trip.

He was an intense man. I often described him as a “no bullshit kind of guy.” He was a product of the Great Depression and it affected his every action. He was cautious, deliberate, conservative, and deep down I believe that he always retained the fears of his youth. I never remember him ever referring to growing up except to talk about working. Maybe he never really got to just be a boy. Don’t think that he ever had a fort.

He gave me my first Pleuger Supreme and was in his presence when I landed my first largemouth. As a child he took me on many fishing trips but I do not remember those experiences as being a lot of fun. It was serious business, more like work. I never remember laughing, or as Ted and I would sometimes do, mimic and make fun of one another, never feelings of closeness or oneness. Fishing, for me, was rarely about catching fish. My dad had a purpose for everything he ever did.

I didn’t. I never felt his approval or acceptance. I loved him and I know that he loved me. I will never understand why we could not look at each other and say it.

Our wives had tolerated our weekend absences from home during the construction of the camp, but when it was finished, you could feel a certain irritability creeping in as they watched us pack our bags on Fridays for another two days of just the guys. The problem was that we all talked too much. They found out that we were having fun without them and, naturally, it was more than they could bear. Finally, they all ganged up on us and, reluctantly, we agreed to sponsor an afternoon outing with the wives.

The camp was not a condo at the beach. Curtains did not match. The tablecloth and the carpet clashed. Flushing the toilet was a trip to the dock to fill a five gallon bucket. These girls were Junior Leaguers.

Our first coed trip was on New Year’s Day.

Our standard launching point, Hurricane Landing, was the first taste of what the delta was about for some of these ladies. Hurricane was ninety percent beer joint and ten percent fishing camp. The sign above the cash register said it all: “Beer is not just for breakfast anymore.” One of the regulars, once described as “the fat fellow, the one with more tattoos than teeth,” was not untypical of many of our new friends and fellow delta-dwellers. It was amusing to watch our wives reactions as our comrades hailed us by our first names as we launched our boats.

The family outings were fun. We were pleased that our wives accepted and approved of our fort as a worthwhile endeavor. In hindsight, we should have utilized it more for that purpose.

With the passage of time, the camp was being used with less frequency. Our boys were growing up. Girls, sports, and other activities were more important that spending weekends in the delta. Others had obligations, both personal and professional, that prevented regular attendance. Instead of weekends filled with lively conservation, laughter, and the rancor and banter of the early years, the mood at the camp was changing.

There was a pending divorce, a business failure that destroyed a long and serious friendship as well as other personal tragedies. I was the only person to go to the camp regularly. I spent many weekends there alone, contemplating my future and, silently, secretly, reluctantly, facing the demons of my past. I was afraid that the camp and me had seen our best days.

My last duck hunt was a solitary one. The delta was never more beautiful. It was a clear crisp winter morning, the cypress trees, still dressed in their finest fall colors were incredible, brilliant shades of tans and browns. The sky and water were as clear and blue as I have ever seen. It was not a good “duck” day; none were flying. It did not matter. That morning I had a feeling that I was sitting in church, alone. It was God’s real church, the one He created and crafted with His own hands.

Later that morning, as I raised my shotgun toward the two approaching wood ducks that had ventured too close, it suddenly occurred to me: “Why are you doing this?” I quickly pulled the gun away from my shoulder and watched as those two beautiful birds gracefully and gently landed among the decoys. In my life, I had already killed too many of God’s innocents.

It was a spiritual moment, with very special and private meanings, one that I treasure.

Near the end, the days of friendship, fellowship, and good times were long gone. I neither fished nor hunted but I would go there every time that I had the opportunity. The camp, like me, and most of my relationships, had fallen into a state of severe deterioration. The camp, like the forts of my youth, had become my special hiding place.

Being alone in a desolate and remote place can be a peaceful and tranquil experience. It can also be emotionally terrifying. I was never afraid of the dark, the desolation, isolation, or loneliness. I was afraid of everything else.

My world had crashed. I was too confused, too full of rage and resentment, of self-pity, to try to sort out how to pick up the pieces. I had deserted my family, physically and emotionally. I started drinking again after years of recovery in A.A. The deep dark secrets of my past were haunting me like a bad nightmare that would not go away. Guilt and Shame were my only companions. Too lost and blinded in my own pain, I could not pick up the tools that I knew were available to repair the damage.

Both for me, and the camp.

The last time I saw it, it was a tattered skeleton, roof blown away, rafters weathered gray and exposed to the hot humid south Alabama summertime. Windows were broken, the front door swinging in the gentle afternoon breeze. The dock, now rotted, only the front deck was still intact. It had endured hurricanes, floods, divorces, personal failures, and lost friendships. Now, it stood lonely, abandoned, broken, nearly naked, and without dignity.

It reminded me of an old and long-lost friend, someone that I once knew very well.

 

Copyright © 2013, 2010, 1998. All Rights Reserved. “The Camp” by Tommy Burnett

My other essays can be viewed at my blog – http://www.tedburnett.com. I can be contacted via email at – tebjr1@yahoo.com.

 Ted Burnett: I'm an American thought leader and pioneer on the subjects of human, organizational and societal development and health. I write about the role that integrity, dignity, sanity play, as well as, on the topics of spirituality, faith, freedom, happiness, problem solving and risk taking. I produce and deliver original, world-class commentaries on business, political, social and spiritual matters to a global audience of world leaders, chief executives and key decision makers, top faculty and notables in the fields of academia, banking, business, foundations, government (including heads of state, lawmakers and governors), healthcare, media, non-profits and policy institutes. Website: www.tedburnett.com