Seattle First United Methodist Church owned and operated Camp Indianola for many years. I was a counselor there for three summers.
The first summer I was there John was one of the fifth-graders. This was his first year at camp. John had a hard time as he was not one of the church regulars and knew no one. He’d been assigned to my small group, so I took a special interest in him.
He was not much interested in anything except spending time on the beach throwing rocks into the water. At the evening program, he would sit as far as possible from the rest of the group. Hoping to draw him out, I would go sit near him. Gradually he started to come out of his shell and participate in the small group and even sit up with the others for large group activities.
The following summer John was back. The week started out just like the first year. Sullen and withdrawn, he took no interest in anything — wanting only to walk the beach, throw rocks and sit as far from everybody else as possible. Using the same tactics as the year before, he came around to join in things more quickly than the previous year and even laughed when something amused him.
When I saw John’s name on the list the third year I expected things to be the same but decided to take a different tact. I looked for him on the ferry to camp and sat down next to him. I started to introduce myself, after all it had been a year, but he said he remembered me — I was the one who cared. With that for an opening I suggested he might like to start the week with the assumption that he’d have fun and plan to join in the activities from the start. Could we agree that he’d stick with the group but I’d see to it that he still had time to walk the beach and throw rocks in the water? He grinned and said “You won’t just leave me alone any more than you did last year will you?” I assured him I would not! That it was my job to see to it that he had fun! He agreed he would indeed stick with the group if I’d let him have time to walk the beach and throw rocks in the water.
The week went well. Near the end of the week John brought me a beautiful rock he’d found on the beach. I wanted to do something special with it so turned for help to Mary Ann Bigelow, our artist in residence from Olympia. Like most beach rocks, it was prettier when wet so Mary Ann sprayed it with an acrylic that made it look like it was always wet. When the acrylic dried, she fashioned a cage for it from copper wire which I then threaded on a ribbon and hung around my neck. John was so pleased when he saw it! He gently touched it and said “You really like it?” I told him I liked it because it was beautiful. A fitting gift from a wonderful young man.
I did not return to camp in the following years. College and marriage took my time, and my husband and I moved out of the area for a few years and then moved back. I had not had any contact with John. Shortly after we moved back to the area, the church held a reunion for campers and staff from previous years. The first person I saw when I walked into the room was the tall young man with black hair I recognized immediately as John!
When I called his name, he turned, spotted me and immediately showed a big smile! I expressed gladness at seeing him and asked what he’d been up to. He said “Sticking with the group, but still finding time to walk the beach alone and throw rocks in the water.”