Summer memories: Second term at camp cut short

Camp Waldemar, Hunt, Texas
To continue with my story of Camp Waldemar: It was decided that I would return for the second year. My next door neighbor and good friend, Jane, was accepted, and we were two excited thirteen year-olds to be going away together. My grandparents had both been ill, and there was no plan that the family would accompany me.

My father rode the train from Hoxie with us to Little Rock, where we joined the other campers for the ride to San Antonio. This time the bus ride, the lunch at the St. Anthony Hotel, and the tour were enjoyable. However, the highlight was being welcomed with hugs by friends who remembered me – and yes, there were the squeals of joy! The feelings of acceptance that I had felt impossible for me were happening.

We were assigned to the same cabin, and I was comfortable with the girls and introducing them to Jane. We also met a girl from Forrest City, who became a friend of many years and later was a bridesmaid at my wedding. There was a lot of whispering and giggling during siesta.

I was working on another level in riflery, learning to canoe on the beautiful river, and still riding those horses.

Early one morning reveille was sounded early, and amidst the grumbling girls I heard my name called to come to the office. When I trudged down the hill, heart pounding, there were Cousin Jesse and Mr. Ragsdale. I was told that my grandmother was very ill, and they were there to accompany me home. She had had a stroke. I asked if she had died, and I was told my mother would talk to me when I arrived home. In my heart, I knew that my beloved “Mom” was dead, though the Ragsdales denied it.

We arrived in Memphis the next day. My cousin, Tandy Morris, met us at the station, and I told him I needed the truth. He verified that my grandmother had died, although my mother did not want me to know until she could tell me. I was not told that any arrangements for a service had been made, though it was to be held that very afternoon.

Upon turning into the long driveway for our home, I saw many cars. I walked into the house where I was greeted with tears, and then stood in the entrance to the living room. This room was thirty feet by forty feet and sported a fourteen foot ceiling. It was almost like standing on a stage as you entered, as there were five or six steps down into the room.

I was so unprepared for the sight. Mom’s casket was in front of the fireplace, and there were lines and lines of chairs all set for the funeral. I was later told that it was easier for my grandfather to have the service at the house where we all lived, but what a shock for a thirteen year old. He was practically bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis, although he dressed and attended the service and the burial.

It became time for the Ragsdales to return to their home in Texas, and I assumed I would accompany them and finish my term at camp. However, one night my mother told me she would rather I stay at home with the family. Of course, I agreed. The toughest letter was the one to my friend Jane, who accused me of deserting her. I am not sure she ever understood and forgave me!

That is the summer that I realized at thirteen how dependent my mother was upon me. Even for table setting – she would call me in and ask if the table looked all right, wondering if the forks appeared in the correct order, the cloth properly ironed, and the crystal sparkling. She sat at one end of the table, in Mom’s chair, and there was a buzzer at her feet which she would hit to summon Spot. He doubled as cook and server most of the time.

In looking back, my mother and grandmother were such a team. They each had their own phone number although living in the same house, and they often talked on the telephone to each other. I suppose it’s like texting room to room! It is easy to see why she wanted me at home, as Mom’s death was very traumatic for her.

The events of that summer ended my experience as a camper. I cherish the time spent at Waldemar and will be forever grateful to Cousin Jesse for her good heart and loving embrace.

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