The scent of pines trees replaced the grimy smell of his mother’s alley apartment. Croaking echoed instead of sirens and traffic. Stars were sharp as they pierced the dark sky. Miles from the city and back up in the hills the night was full of commotion. Everything was different for Joey.
“Joey do you have the mapping paper?” James asked as they headed up the trail.
Proud of his new backpack Joey patted it with confidence, “Yep, I double checked before we left.”
“Look, no clouds. Looks like we are going to be able to plot out all the consternations. How about the sextant?”
“Yeah already, James, I got it. This thing weighs a ton what do you have in your pack?”
Camp Red Feather’s intention was to create interaction between the urban youth and the world of nature. Designed for boys without fathers, its mission: to get kids off the street for a week each summer.
Weeks of after school visits and meetings about camp activities had brought Joey out of the shell James had been afraid he couldn’t break through. Street kids were a tough lot and Joey knew nothing different. James had been hesitant to join the street mission at his new church. He knew how hard kids could become when left on their own, but he knew he had the skills the program was looking for. As a boy scout for as long as he could remember and plenty of unproductive time, he met their qualifications
The other reason for hesitation came from a feeling James had harbored for a long time. He believed that he would never have children. Coming from a shattered home, he didn’t feel equipped to raise children. The meetings had helped settle his mind and he had asked the team to pray for his concerns.
Earlier James had watched as Joey unloaded the pack. Some of the items were familiar but others were not. By the time the pack was empty the bunk bed was covered. Joey had separated all the camping gear into two piles. James could see questions forming in the eleven-year-old mind.
“What’s this weird thing?” Joey had found the sextant.
“The sextant wa-” sniggers came from the lower bunk. James raised one eyebrow and continued, “Old timers used the sextant to map out the stars. We are going to use it on our hike tonight to get us to the camp fire.”
Activities filled the afternoon swimming and woodworking class for Joey while James rummaged around the kitchen for campfire snack ingredients. For dinner James had promised “Hobo Bundles” and Joey was curious. He jumped right in when it was time to prepare the meal. While the other boys were setting up picnic tables, Joey made the hamburger patties as James chopped the vegetables. He tore off sheets of tinfoil, filled trays with food, and carried them outside.
“Man, I never thought this crazy thing would work, but here we are. Hey, there’s Dan, catchya after campfire, OK?”
The boys went off to find thin but sturdy stick. When they returned brandishing swords, they saw the table covered with marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars. Older boys instructed the new campers how to make the campfire favorite. Flaming marshmallows and gooey chocolate brought back old memories and made new ones.
Songs, skits, stories and smoke filled the night. Prayer sent sticky fingered boys down the hill followed by exhausted men. Joey remembered his date with James. They extinguished the fire and returned to the cabin. No showers, no fussing about lights out, both campers crumbled into bed and sounds of snoring filled the cabin.
The remainder of the week was hectic. Various classes, swimming, eating and bonding filled the days. As sweet, as smore night was James knew he wouldn’t like the taste of closing day. Camp was quiet and moods matched. Breakfast was oppressive. Joey helped James turn the mattresses then they added their initials to the others carved into the center post.
Joey waited for James to close the door. “I made something for you. Made me for one too.” Small hands reached into back pockets and pulled out handfuls of wood and leather. Two wooden necklaces, both painted red, one read “Big Red Feather” the other “Little Red Feather.” “The teacher helped me do the wood burning.”
Tears threatened as James bent down so Joey could bestow his gift. James scooped him up for a hug, which cemented this friendship.
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