One of my fondest memories of my childhood was meal time at a family camp we attended every August called Camp Campbell. It was a YMCA camp up in the Santa Cruz mountains. The caretakers and cook, (Alfred and Olga) were patients of my father, and my mother was the only woman (very prestigious at the time) as part of the board of trustees. Three of my mother’s sisters and their families would come from far away and also attend with our family. They all were in charge of many of the staff positions running all the “fun stuff” happening. It was pure childhood freedom with all of my cousins; swimming, row boating, stay-up-late camp fires, family fun nights doing skits and square dancing, mini hikes, and even a real life “Snipe” that lived in the woods who scared little children who did not go to bed.
One of the traditions I love and remember most was right before meal time. To call all the families, who stayed in small rustic cabins in a half circle around a larger lodge and outdoor chapel, was this big metal bell that was screwed into the side of a wood post, part of the covered walkway structure of the wooden lodge near the entrance to where we ate. The bell was so cool and big. It sat there shiny and strong like a sentinel for the camp. It was a serious job to ring that bell. No one was appointed the job. It was the one who sat by the bell at the time Olga, the cook gave the signal it was time to eat. The bell was rung three times a day.
What happened next was that every child that attended camp wanted to be the one to ring that bell. So earlier and earlier in the day, we would sacrifice our adventures or craft time to go sit on the wood ledge next to the bell to claim our position and mark our territory. It was a tricky strategy to try to figure out the best time to go. Sometimes siblings would get in push-off-the-ledge and I-was-here-first-you did-it-last-time squabbles. But when the signal came to ring, the fiercest and noblest one holding on to the bell-pull that connected to the clapper was literally appointed King of Camp Campbell for the moment (this was not a gender issue, all of us wanted to be king). The rest of us submitted to the position, tucked our sorry tails between our legs and left to eat.
Until the next meal time…
After we stood on the benches to match the height of our parents and sang the same Scandinavian dinner prayer before we dove in to the delicious homemade food. (I’m guessing it was Olga that contributed to the choice of blessing.)
“Be present at our table Lord. Be here and everywhere adore…” (I made up the rest with my own words and don’t remember the real ones). “Peace ber sing let angram that we. May ever let we eat now in peace.” And then the long…”A M E N.” I loved that part and sang it with an actress flair; loud and strong with my best “churchy” voice.
We climbed down and sat, waiting for the table helpers (which I never got to be because I was too young to carry the food) to bring our meals. Then we ate and connived when we would line up to do the bell once again.
Often, after eating, we would pass by the poor sucker who gave up all his afternoon swim or boat time by sitting on the ledge by the bell directly after we ate. We would stare him down as kids do, and he would stare back understanding the sacrifice. Those kind did not deserve the title as “king” because they did not fight for the sacred position. Then off we ran to play–free.
“Be present at our table, Lord;
Be here and everywhere adored;
Thy creatures bless, and grant that we
May feast in paradise with Thee. AMEN”
(I was pretty close…)