Return to Memories

Tom Kale


Sight – Greatest visual memory?  There are so many, but two that stand out would be the runners emerging from the fog during mile run…and the same fog engulfing the camp-wide capture the flag game…there had always been something magical about the early morning fog at Deerwoode!…Oh, I thought of another one…Bill was cutting a tree down behind cabin row and he had a rope tied up in the top of it (don’t know how that rope got up so high in the tree, now that I think about it). If Bill couldn’t drop the tree uphill, it would crash down on one of the cabins or on the bathhouse.  So, Bill tied that rope to the back of the tractor and as that tree started to fall, he stood that tractor up on 2 wheels and rode it like a bucking stallion…I really thought the tractor was going to come all the way over, but that tree did fall uphill in the end.

Site – Best or top of mind spatial or physical location memory? When I think of sites that were special to me at the camp, I would have to say the woodshop was my favorite hangout and last year it was pretty cool to walk up there and see it again.  It looked like it did when I last saw it only more dusty.  I still have that dulcimer I made.  Another site that comes flashing back in my mind was the old campfire area up behind the swim lake.  There were just so many cool things that happened up there with cabin songs and skits.  I hiked up there last year too and saw where it used to be.  Wish it was still there!

Sound – Most impressive sound memory?  Once again there are a couple for me.  The first is the sound of Crazy Jack screaming all night long from the top of the mountain while we were pioneers.  He had come to visit in the middle of the night and when he came around in front of the shelter someone kicked him the nuts and he took off screaming…all night long!!  The other would be the sound of the old JC car…I miss that car…it was so unique and almost impossible to explain to people that never went to Deerwoode.  That car was involved in so many things that were part of the experience of being a camper and also a JC…I basically learned to drive a manual transmission on Puff and that car…wish we could re-create the wild ride in some fashion for the reunion!   And I can still picture running in the fog and feeling like you were all alone except for the music you could hear blaring from the PC gym…that was a cool sound!

Touch – Physical recollection?  Once again, it would go to that running the mile early in the morning with the dew still on the grass and if I remember right, most of us ran barefoot.  That and the squishiness of the mud at the bottom of the canoe lake when you were trying to sneak up on the Indians on the island…I was always worried that there was going to be a snake or a snapping turtle…

Smell –  The smell of the mud in homesick ditch…that was good mud!!  LOL…

Taste – What’s the best dining hall memory?  Actually, my best memory of the dining hall was the meals we had the week before camp started.  We ate so well that week.  There was fresh lamb, fried turtle, and fresh vegetables from the garden.  I also remember one time when we churned butter from the cream we accumulated each morning from Mr. Mayes’s milk delivery.  I remember we all took turns shaking that jar and we had a big mound of butter on the middle of the JC table.  That stuff wouldn’t melt on the hottest of days, but it was the best butter ever and I have still never tasted butter that good since then! 

Fear – What scared you most?   That would be my first year at camp.  We had something happen each time we played farmers Indians  and pioneers.  First was the Crazy Jack incident at the pioneers shed.  I still remember waking from a pretty good sleep and looking up as Crazy Jack was peering over the side of the shelter.  Tim Kelly was sleeping on the end closest to the wall and we got so scared he rolled over me and two others in his sleeping back to get away from Crazy Jack.  Then when we were Indians we had another experience.  We had heard the stories of the yeti that lived on the other side of the river.  In the middle of the night there was something running around in that field behind the canoe lake.  It freaked everyone out, and no one was able to offer an explanation of what it was. Then when we were farmers, Tim Kelly and I were left to guard the flag while everyone else went on a raid of the other two camps.  We sat back-to-back on a milk crate and listened to the wild dogs barking up in the woods.  We both thought we were going to be attached by a pack of dogs…we had sticks in the fire ready to pull in defense if needed.  Funny how I never felt scared walking around camp at night except for those times.  Never was scared to go to the pioneer shed on a raid or to sneak up on the Indians from the back field along the river, even with the things we had experienced.

Embarrassment.  Lord, how many ways are there to be embarrassed?  The JC system was such that we were reminded of our failures on a daily basis each night when we would get a summation of our fines.  The worst one I can remember, though, was my week to be on mowing duty.  Bill had a band new tractor and new field mower which I was so excited to get to use.  I loved driving a tractor and relished the chance to do it any chance I got.  Well I take off on the brand new tractor and I am just mowing away…getting it done and feeling so good, except that I forgot to release the parking brake and I was too stupid to think that a cloud of smoke behind me was a sign that something wasn’t right.  Bill came out there and saw that smoking tractor and jumped my ass for burning up a brand new set of brakes.  I can’t remember how big the fine was, but I remember the dressing down I got that night about how stupid I was.  But I didn’t get fired from mowing, and I learned from my mistake, and the whole thing made me tougher.

Greatest triumphs at Camp.  My greatest triumph was definitely personal.  It wasn’t an athletic one or anything.  Although, the second year I was a camper was pretty special because I started camp not having the strength to do a pull-up or climb the rope to the top of the gym and ended the summer accomplishing 5 pull-ups and easily climbing that rope…but the greatest triumph for me was during my JC year.  That was the year Bill started building the big ski lake by widening homesick ditch.  I spent a lot of time that summer driving the dump truck.  I got such a rush as a 15 year old from driving the heavy equipment.  I remember helping with raking and bailing the hay.  We had that dump truck out in the hay field and piled the bales on to a height that at my age seemed like 10 feet above the cab of the truck.  All of the JCs climbed up on the top of the stack and I was the one that got to drive that truck up to the barn through the trees.  I still remember the rush of adrenaline weaving that loaded truck up the hill and never losing one passenger or toppling that load…that was my biggest triumph!! 

You know, thinking about these things brings back such good memories.  I had been to other camps before I came to Deerwoode.  I had a good experience (Sky Valley in Hendersonville) and a horrible one (High Lake in McMinnville, TN).  Deerwoode shaped so many things in my life even though I was only there for 2 years as a camper and only 1 as a JC.  I learned so much in how to do things and to take pride in what I did,  I already knew how to cook for large numbers (learned that at High Lake — instead of going to camp activities, I hung out with the paid dining hall staff and they showed me how to cook). But when I took on the Assistant Chef job for a week, it is still one of the most amazing jobs I have ever had.  Making sure the rolls were done in the middle and not burned on the bottom while being perfectly brown on the top was a crazy job with those old ovens. And pizza nights…holy cow…but what I really learned was the value of doing an honest day’s work, doing it right, not cutting corners, and being proud of what you did.  If you made a mistake, you owned up to it, took responsibility, you paid for it, but then you moved on.  You were allowed to make mistakes, allowed to learn from them, and to keep going.  That was the essence of Deerwoode to me as I look back…Plus we were allowed to be boys — do boy things, and take boy risks and use those experiences to learn and build.  I love telling people about some of the activities we did at camp, especially the Wild Ride, and guys almost always appreciate it while women act shocked that we were allowed to do these things, much less that they were sanctioned by the camp…

Lastly, I can still picture that morning walk from the PC gym to the dining hall, before sun-up, when no one else was up…heading to start cooking breakfast…the sound of the gravel crunching under your feet…the animal noises from nature area…and the smell of the dew on the grass…and that always brings a smile to my face!!