Monday, April 18, 2011

Here's to you Buzzard

You were a spiritual father to me and one of the reasons I am serving God today. Thank you for believing in me when I didn't believe in myself and seeing in me things I didn't see. I pray to pass that gift to others. You taught me the song, "When I get to heaven gonna walk with Jesus," and now you are walking the golden streets with Him. Somewhere in heaven, there must be a big day camp field. I can't wait to get there and sing camp songs with you. Here's to you, Buzzard:

“Hey, Dale, do you have a minute?”

“Sure, Dot. Come here so I can poke you. Would that make you a poke-a-Dot?”
I laugh as my boss playfully reaches out his finger and jabs my arm. His face vanishes underneath a grin that would put the Cheshire cat to shame as he explodes through the door of the camp office onto the sidewalk.

“Walk with me.”

He revs like a speed boat jetting in the direction of Day Camp, where he is scheduled to lead songs in five minutes. The ground disappears under his worn tennis shoes. I’m left staring at the back of his staff t-shirt and the khaki cargo shorts. His name tag, which reads “Buzzard” is swinging from his neck; grasped in his worn hands are a guitar case and Bible. I take a few jogging strides and fall into step beside him.

“What’s up, Kiddo?” he asks eyebrows lifting and smile furrows deepening on his brow.

“Umm, I have a situation I am not quite sure how to deal with. Some counselors said they saw two of my junior counselors making out in a movie theater. I know I’m not their parent, but I'm not a big fan of 14-year-old staff members making out while they’re here at camp. Well, I don’t really want them making out period. How in the world do I handle this one?”

Dale pauses a moment and scratches the back of his head, once covered in locks of sandy blond hair. He strokes the spreading bald spot encased by tufts of gray.

“Well, have you thought about… can you hang on one sec?” We have already reached the Main Camp field in an impressive thirty seconds. Dale spies two boys on housekeeping staff swinging from an old rope tied to a stout oak tree. “Hey, boys, what are you doing?” shouts Dale.

“We are looking for Mike,” comes the sheepish reply.

“Well, why don’t you look over by his office? I don’t want to see you just standing around.”

I give him a moment to let his frustrations pass before continuing. “So, I was wondering what I should do about these two kids.”

“What do you think you should do?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I am asking you! I know that this goes a lot deeper than camp. I mean someone needs to sit down and talk with them about appropriate relationships. I don’t want to be their parent. But, really, making out in a movie theater? I’m not quite sure what step to take.”

“Well Dot, I think your next step is a house call. Get them on the phone and see if you can go for coffee. This absolutely affects their ministry at camp, and you need to be caring enough to talk to these two teens about their decisions.”

“But, I don’t want to. That’s scary.”

“You can do it, girl. I trust you.”

“Alright, I guess. Thanks, Dale.” I watch the man next to me. As the executive director of Canyonview Camp, Dale has seen everything Christian camping can bring. He has been at Canyonview for over thirty years. If you name it he’s done it. From counseling cabins full of boys, leading biking and boating trips, life guarding, pouring concrete, moving dirt with the backhoe, teaching Bible studies, helping in the kitchen, reporting child abuse, hiring and firing staff, getting business men to donate money, answering phones, giving advice about teenage hormones—there isn’t much in the way of Christian camping that Dale doesn’t know about.

Even after so many years of dedication, he’s still as spry as he was in his twenties when he gave up military life to command a troop of counselors, support staff, and hundreds of children on their adventures at summer camp. He may be in his fifties now, but he’s just as strong as ever. The man will hoist a fifty-pound hay bale over his shoulder as if it weighed no more than his two year old grandson.

We are approaching Day Camp now. The covered foot bridge spanning the creek comes into full view. “Any boys yet?” comes the familiar question.

“No, not yet.”

“How does a girl as cute as you not have a boyfriend yet? That just amazes me. But you’re picky.”

“Yep, picky and proud of it.”

“Good, that’s what I like to hear.” Dale turns to look at me, his eyes full of father like adore. He reaches his arm across my shoulders and pulls me into a firm side hug. “You know what, I appreciate you. I really do. And I’m proud of you, Kiddo.” I smile up at him as he releases me, and we clomp over the bridge.

As the Day Camp field comes into view, we are greeted by the shriek of a screaming first grade boy with a bloodied right knee.

“What did you do this poor boy?” Dale inquires jokingly of the counselor leading the camper towards the staff room.

“He fell down on a rock," replies the frazzled counselor.

“Let me see your muscles,” Dale says to the injured child. The boy, hesitant to forget his tears, slowly displays a scrawny looking bicep. Dale reaches down to squeeze his flexed arm. “Looking good Muscles,” he says. One last big sniffle, a little snob, and the boy's tears are gone. We continue on our fast paced adventure.

The Day Camp Director has spotted us now. Dale takes a quick moment to look at his watch.

The young man looks at him nervously. “I wasn’t sure if you were going to show up.”

“What, I’m only one minute late,” says Dale.

The Day Camp Director introduces the Executive Director to the tarp of children who are gazing up with awe at the man in the staff shirt.

“Hey kids, this is Buzzard, and he is here to help us sing some songs.”

Dale takes center stage and whips out a guitar from the case he has been carrying. Checking to see if the instrument is in tune, he addresses his captive audience. “Hey kids, do you know what a buzzard is? A buzzard is a big, old, ugly, balding bird that eats dead stuff.” He points to the top of his shiny head. Campers and staff alike can’t help but laugh.

As I walk away, the melodic notes of guitar chords and child-like voices resonate through the field. I remember when I was the child sitting on the tarp staring up at the man. I reach the bridge; the sound of his tenor voice echoes in my ears. I look back. His eyes are cast towards Heaven as sings “Oh God, you are my God. . . I will learn to walk in your ways, and step by step you’ll lead me, and I will follow you all of my days.”

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