Vespers in a Dead Kennedys Tight T-shirt

by Amy Turn Sharp


 

     In the mid 80’s my mom had my dad build her this tiny prefab cabin at Stoutsville non-denominational church camp in Stoutsville, Ohio. It was whitewashed and unfinished on the inside with only splinter studs showing. It had a loft area that was dark without electric and it was sweat lodge hot.  You had to hoist yourself up by standing on the wooden chair below the hole.  You had to use upper arm strength and really want to be up there in that darkness. My dad never came to the camp. I can’t remember him being there one time to spend the night. He certainly did not attend any services or hang out. And my dad he built the cabin while the sun beat down on his body. He was younger than I am now and he wore aviator sunglasses and would take off his shirt and pour water down his chest from a green thermos. He always wore sleeveless white undershirts and he was never tanned. He just built her the cabin and got in his El Camino and drove home.

 

     We spent many chunks of many summers there, but the summer I remember most was the year that “(I Just) Died In Your Arms” by The Cutting Crew was released. I must have been 14. It was the year that I took to wearing black or red cotton mini skirts with assorted skater or alternative band tees. I had hair that was long and I would tie it back with black scraps of ribbon to pay homage to Robert Smith. We had the same hair. (And twisted heart) My camp friends and me would bring our boom box to the playground and swing high with tan long legs to the beat. We sang out with Bonne Belle lips glistening in the sweet sun and did not care how it made us look.

 

    It was a barrage of Kirk Cameron looking boys at Stoutsville. The 80’s were pumping fiercely through all the teenagers and if you cut us all open John Hughes would pool at your feet. We hung out like clichés at the snack bar and didn’t listen to a word of the sermons. The cutest boys were growing their hair out in the back and using mousse and the girls were whispering about the abortion scene from “Dirty Dancing”. We were all moving back and forth like Ally Sheedy.

 

     But there was tremendous spiritual growth for me that summer, as I would sing hymns and act pious just for the attention of a very good boy. We attended the youth services during the day and then the big tabernacle service in the evening. I think there was something called “vespers” too but only the hard core nerds went to that. Mr. Stoutsville would hold my hand and mail me letters during the year. He was so cute. He made me mix tapes. He made me want to be good. I was only good at Stoutsville camp. Even as we would drive there on winding county roads, I could feel myself morphing into a better person. It did not matter what I had just done or how disappointed my parents were in me –I was golden as I entered the gates of the camp. I was washed and clean. The funny thing is that over the years of knowing Mr. Stoutsville I discovered that he too was simply acting good for the attention of a very good girl that was not me. Even funnier is that I ran into him in college many years later and he was a player. I was like a slurring wreck one night on hard liquor and he tried to take me home. I think I led him on a bit but something stopped me.  I just could not tarnish the story of us. Even if it was all a lie and old and the world never opened up for me and I never found this place of peace that the elders would always go on about- even with all of the things that did not happen I could not make it soiled.  Even to this day I can’t bring myself to facebook search him or anything. He just hangs out there in the ether of my historical religious minefield.

 

I worry about my soul.  I have had a strange journey with religion. I want so badly to find a place where I feel comfortable. A place that reminds me of the ninth decade of the 20th century and we all have way more than a few chances to get it right.