Photos (most of 'em) by Chuck Bryant
Best as I can tell, these photos reflect summer camp from about 1972 through 1980. Most of these come from senior camp, both as a camper and as counselor. Many of the earlier color prints especially are blurry well beyond my Photoshop skills, but most figures remain recognizable. They provide too much documentation of now truly frightening hairstyles and, shall we say, a unique fashion sense.
I hope the pictures let you smell those concrete block cabins. Feel the breeze wafting through the chapel. Enjoy the occasional relief of air conditioning in the offices and clinic. Smell the dirt of the trails and the roads. Fight off the sometimes carnivorous mosquitoes. Struggle for consciousness at 7:00 a.m. or earlier on summer mornings. See the rich omnipresent green of the broad fields and forests. Feel the sunset spreading itself over you as you sit on the logs. Hear the crickets in the evening. Recall the sensation of constant hormonal intoxication. And certainly feel the sudden sploosh of a water balloon.
All this stirs up in my mind some of the best times of my adolescence, even into college.
The trudge to breakfast. Cleaning up cabins for the arbitrary but then significant award. Bible classes, chapel, arts and crafts, sports. Lunch, always watching for elbows on the table. Quiet time, discussion groups, some sports, swimming (separated by gender, of course), and if we're lucky, throwing a counselor or adult into the pool. Free time for ping-pong, tetherball (Herb Traywick and I had an ongoing death-duel), or other recereational activities, certainly including the pursuit of romance, trying to manage the hormones rampaging through our bodies. Dinner, maybe including silly or devo songs, more chapel, socializing at canteen, another devo. Lights out at 11:00.
Stage whispers about a wild boar escaping from a nearby farm set up the occasional use of the Dunbull, a coffee can with a wet rope tugged through a hole punched in the bottom, amplifying an awful groaning sound that effectively conjured up images of something vicious in the woods—good for a few gasps and even screams as campers hiked up along the dark trail from the bonfire area to the main camp. If the Dunbull made a nocturnal visit during elementary school sessions, inevitably some campers would need to wash their bedsheets the next morning. Shoot, I knew exactly what it was when I heard it, and it unnerved me.
Goofy skits for Friday night, sometimes original (especially if Matt or Perry had input), otherwise usually derivative, almost always fun regardless.
Overall, kids just plain having fun, enjoying life. And maturing along the way, which means it wasn't all laughs and hugs. Whatever else transpired, we could count almost indisputably on one thing remaining constant: humidity. Pervasive, oppressive, sweltering, 290% humidity.
And equally pervasive, but not at all oppressive, the annual opportunity to see old friends, make new ones, and have some good times with other nice kids and some really decent, caring adults. None of us was perfect; some of us had no clue what sort of moral and personal issues others struggled with even then (at least I, for one, today can only shake my head in amazement at my own naivete in high school, and my dogmatism). Certainly during senior camp many of us at least dabbled in romance, even if in nothing more than making plans to dress up to sit with a special someone at Friday night's "banquet." Many started or shared more enduring bonds here; some of us enjoyed a whole week with someone already special.
Some of these hearts remained intertwined beyond camp, a few even beyond high school. Most didn't, of course. That whole growing-up thing.
And I can't imagine a better place than Wiregrass as a catalyst, a proving ground, for going through some of the most delightful and poignant experiences of it. Some of my most exquisite four-star memories formed while I sat on the poles outside the girls' cabins, walked across the field to the pavilion, down the trail to chapel. Many blissful, some now bittersweet, all of these neural ephemera still vivid, priceless and precious.
I'm sure WCYC meant just a week's diversion for some. But those of us who came year after year, and especially those who also came as counselors, did so because we had something special here. We learned the ebb and flow, balancing the excitment of Sunday afternoon with the heartache of Saturday morning farewells. A few of those would happen surreptitiously Friday night after skits, before the final-night mischief might unfold, leaving many of us with very little sleep.
Others of us might feel sad, but a week-long endorphin overdose overrode the sturm und drang of goodbyes. Even so, some of the most tough-acting guys would at least get a little quivering-lip look at some point. The census would dwindle from sixty or eighty down to twenty or thirty, down to a dozen or so, to a couple or three of us finding out that the campus really can become quiet and empty. Eerie.
In this mesozoic era predating e-mail, many of us swapped street or PO Box addresses. In the following weeks and maybe months we would further pursue friendships, to varying degrees, via the USPS. I became a fervent letter-writer. At least one year I came home from senior camp with 26 addresses and I got a letter out to every one in the next three days. Most of those resulted in maybe two or three letters exchanged. Some of us stayed in touch, actively corresponding for years (and now having discovered electricity, some of us do keep in touch via e-mail).
I can still recite several of the home addresses and zip codes of people I met, mostly from all over southeast Alabama and northwest Florida. Some of them I'd visit riding my bicycle from Andalusia to Evergreen, Opp, Enterprise, Elba, Dothan, Ozark, and Bonifay. I've saved all my mail (below), almost completely from the years of these photos, and probably 90% from people I met at WCYC or Tuscaloosa's Youth In Action workshops.
Yeah, try doing all this via e-mail and IM.
I had no idea how much I'd love looking back at it, now some three decades later for the earliest photos. For some of us, these pictures evoke only good feelings. For others, revisiting the WCYC days may nonetheless reflect a sort of Paradise Lost, whether through the decay of friendships and marriages, an evolving worldview of religion and spirituality, or just life's miscellaneous slings and arrows. That said, I still emphatically affirm that most of the good things enduring in my life have some roots deep in the fields and forests of Wiregrass.
Whatever your circumstances, thanks for visiting here. I hope you enjoy the photos. Please share the website with others who may want to recall these experiences. Be well.