Summertime, camp songs and eternal impressions

I love summertime. To be fair, I love every season we get in the beloved Ozarks, but I especially love this time of year. Maybe it’s in part from remembering the carefree feelings of my youth, but I love playing in the water (lake, ocean, creek, sprinkler, you name it), cooking outside, longer days, and all the other activities that only happen in the summer. I love the nostalgia I feel when I see fireworks stands going up, VBS posters all over town, popsicles filling up my freezer for any niece or nephew that happens to come by, and when the churches start to send the kids off to one of my most beloved of all summertime hallmarks – church camp. 

As I saw pictures of our own kids at church head off for camp I couldn’t help but entertain the rush of church camp memories that came flooding back. Early mornings, late nights, enriched friendships, hilarious memories, horrible food, sugary shared snacks, singing – lots of singing, and bugs – so very many bugs. But this time, my memory reel locked in on one camp counselor I had in 6th grade. Her name was Patty (maybe Patti? Pattie? I really don’t know). And I’m sure she had a last name as most people do, but all I remember was her first name. She wasn’t the youngest or coolest camp counselor. She was a mom volunteer who not only drove her own kids to camp but was also assigned a room of rambunctious (read: wild), impressionable girls. I haven’t seen her since that wonderful week of camp in 1998, but she’s forever stuck in my heart and mind for two reasons and I’d like to cover here. 

One: We made a song about her and our cabin would sing it to her morning, noon and night

You see, Patty was a coffee drinker. Frankly, to put up with 5 girls in a cabin at Baptist Hill for an entire week you would have to be, but Patty would get multiple cups of coffee throughout the day and forget to take them back to the cafeteria. She quickly amassed a small collection in our room. Our helpful response was to create a song, pointing out her actions and it went a little something like this (Sang to the tune of Here We Sit Like Birds in the Wilderness):

Patty Watty steals all the coffee cups,
Steals all the coffee cups,
Steals all the coffee cups.
Patty Watty steals all the coffee cups,

My memory is foggy on the last line, but you get the idea. 

We were so precious. 

Apparently in all the Bible lessons we had that week, not one time were we convicted to help our dear Patty with carrying a single coffee cup to the caf. Nope. But the service we did offer was to sing our song on que at full throttle at any time, day or night. 

God bless Patty. 

What was her task for the week that would require such a level of coffee consumption? Well, keeping us alive, getting us where we were supposed to be when we were supposed to be there, and preventing us from  acting like total hooligans was her aim. Oh, and while she was accomplishing all that she was trying to help us learn more about God, His word and other Christian principles. No big, if you’re an old timey lion tamer by trade with the tan hat, whip and chair. We were wild, feral critters out from the rule and reign of our parents. Dear old Patty is all that stood between the civility our parents had worked so hard to instill in us and us becoming an actual part of the woods we ran through at camp (and I doubt a single one of us cared about personal hygiene whilst doing all this running). But we were always where we needed to be and when we needed to be there. We were always cleaned up for chapel with our Bibles in hand and we were always ready to sing our ode to Patty Watty and her coffee cups. 

God bless Patty.

Two: Her lasting impression

I don’t remember a single lesson she taught or even if she taught us. I don’t remember a single prayer she prayed or if she ever voiced one over us. What I remember (more than anything related to coffee cups) is what she said as we all parted ways on the last day of camp. After everything was cleaned, packed, and winding down our parents arrived to come get us. As bags were tossed into my mom’s truck and the last hugs were being given out, Patty pulled up in her 80’s Astro van to say goodbye. She had to have been incredibly exhausted as she introduced herself to the moms and said goodbye to our cabin. I wondered if she would spend the time telling the moms of the heroic act she performed in trying to tame the wild beasts she was given charge over, the horrible song and ridicule she had to endure or if at that point she could even muster words from her exhaustion. What she did say, I haven’t forgotten for 23 years. 

“Keep serving the Lord, girls.” 

And then she nodded at each of us, rolled up her van window and drove off into the Baptist Hill sunset. Never to be seen again by me, but her words in that moment burned themselves into my heart. “Keep serving the Lord.” 

God bless Patty. 

For all I know, she poured everything she had into lessons I would never remember. For all I know, she poured her heart out in prayers that I can’t recall. But God used her exhausted parting words to be lodged deep into an 11 year old (unregenerate at the time, to boot). Words that ring the truth of Josua 24:15 “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Patty didn’t have the ability to know the ebbs and flows of life that would come to me after parting ways, but the truth of her biblical charge still rings loud and clear. 

I’m forever grateful for you, Patty Watty. As a coffee drinker and as a grappling servant of the Lord I say, “God bless Patty.”

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